Designing a Custom Guitar

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Style / Model

More than any other factor, the shape and size of your guitar will determine the sound and playing characteristics. Here are the current Skipper models. New models are being added all the time, so if you don't see what you're looking for here, contact me.

Smallest of my guitars is the "Wee Skipper." The short scale length makes the instrument easy to fret, and the sound is full and resonant, and will make the beginning player want to continue.

  • body length: 15-3/4"
  • lower bout: 12-5/8"
  • waist: 7-13/16"
  • upper bout: 8-7/8"
  • thickness: 3-1"2"
  • scale length: 23"

The 0-14-fret is next in line, size-wise. Surprising volume and balanced tone emerge from this small body, and the narrow waist makes it very comfortable to hold.

  • body length: 18-7/16"
  • lower bout: 13-3/8"
  • waist: 7-7/8"
  • upper bout: 9-7/8"
  • thickness: 4-1/16"
  • scale length: 24.9"

The oo-s (slope shouldered) joins body and neck at the 12th fret, a configuration that produces a unique tone that's bold and complex, reminiscent of the best of small-bodied vintage guitars.

  • body length:19-5/8"
  • lower bout: 14-1/8"
  • waist: 8-7/8"
  • upper bout: 10-1/8"
  • thickness: 4-1/16"
  • scale length: 24.9"

The 00-14-fret is a slightly larger version of its 0-sized cousin. This design allows more up-the-neck access than its slope-shouldered brother.

  • body length: 18-7/8"
  • lower bout: 14-1/4"
  • waist: 8-7/8"
  • upper bout: 10-5/8"
  • thickness: 4-1/8"
  • scale length: 24.9"

The 000-S (slope-shouldered) is larger still, with a voice to match. An ideal solo instrument, it's also gutsy enough to carry its weight in a group situation.

  • body length: 20-5/16"
  • lower bout: 15"
  • waist: 9-1/4"
  • upper bout: 10-3/4"
  • thickness: 4"
  • scale length: 24.9"

The OM and 000-14-fret guitars are identical but for scale length. The sound of both is well balanced, the 000 complex and strong, with the OM's longer scale length providing even more power.

  • body length: 19-7/16"
  • lower bout: 15-3/16"
  • waist: 9-1/2"
  • upper bout:11-5/8"
  • thickness: 4-1/16"
  • scale length: 24.9" / 25.34"

The Dreadnought is the bluegrass standard -- bold and loud, with a powerful bass end that will drive an acoustic band's rhythm and a mid-range that will cut through the clutter for a lead break.

  • body length: 20"
  • lower bout: 15-1/2"
  • waist: 10-7/8"
  • upper bout:11-3/8"
  • thickness: 4-7/8"
  • scale length: 25.34"

The Slope-shouldered Dreadnought meets the sound expectations of a dreadnought in a more aesthetically pleasing package and with a cleaner, brighter top end.

  • body length: 20"
  • lower bout: 15-3/4"
  • waist: 10-1/2"
  • upper bout: 11-1/2"
  • thickness: 4-7/8"
  • scale length: 25.34"

The 0000 is the big boy in the line of Skipper guitars. Designed to specs by George Gruhn of Gruhn Guitars in Nashville, this guitar has the balance of an OM and the power of a dreadnought.

  • body length: 20-1/8"
  • lower bout: 16"
  • waist: 9-5/8"
  • upper bout: 11-3/8"
  • thickness: 4"
  • scale length: 25.34"

Though the bulk of my work is in the steel-string field, I also build a nylon-string classical guitar based on my interpretation of a 1912 Ramirez.

  • body length: 19-5/16"
  • lower bout: 14-1/4"
  • waist: 9-1/4"
  • upper bout: 10-3/4"
  • thickness: 3-7/8"
  • scale length: 650 MM

Additionally, if you can envision a guitar of a size I haven't yet built, my adjustable forms allow me to quickly and easily produce a new model. Share your ideas with us, and we'll see what develops.
Model Backs and Sides Other Choices Request a Quote

Materials

Top (Soundboard)

After size and shape of your guitar, the selection of top material will more than any other consideration determine the sound of your guitar. The following species are available:

Red (Adirondack) spruce is my tonewood of choice. It grows right here in Appalachia, and has the highest strength / weight ratio of all the tonewoods, and was the wood used on the most prized vintage instruments (and to build early aircraft). The tone of this wood is powerful, and won't break down when it's played hard. It sometimes has reddish streaks, and the grain is seldom as tight nor as even as some other species. I often have 50+ sets of this wood on hand, so I can offer a very wide selection.
Lutz spruce is relatively new to my stable of woods, but one I'm quickly learning to love. A genetic cross between Engelmann spruce and Sitka spruce, it's found in a very limited altitude and geographic area in British Columbia. It has headroom similar to red spruce, with a very complex tone. Grain is tight and even, and the wood sometimes has pinkish streaks. Due to the small growing area and the fact that others are catching on to this wood, my supply is sometimes temporarily limited to the sets I have on hand.
Carpathian spruce is an European tonewood that is also growing in favor with me. Light in weight, light tan, and with tight, uniform grain, it produces sound that may not have the power of red spruce or Lutz spruce, but that is very resonant and complex. I've found it especially well suited for smaller-bodied guitars, where the quality of the voice, rather than maximum volume, is the primary consideration. I buy this wood from a wholesaler in West Virginia, who has a dependable and ready supply.
Engelmann spruce, from our West Coast, is a light-cream colored, very uniform and tight-grained tonewood that I find best suited for the softer sounds of a classical or small-bodied instrument. Though it's softer than the other spruces, and not as stiff, it is perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing of the spruces. These tops often exhibit a lot of "silk," or prominent medullary rays. This wood is always available from any number of sources.l
Sitka spruce, also a western domestic tonewood, has been the standby of instrument manufacturers for many decades. Tone-wise, it falls between the powerful red and Lutz spruces and the complex Carpathian and Engelmann spruces. The preponderance of the guitars you've seen and heard most likely had Sitka tops. The wood is strong, light, and tight grained, the color, while uniform, can vary quite a lot from piece to piece -- new-wood white to very dark. This is the most available of all the tonewoods.
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Back and Sides

The back and sides of a guitar serve two purposes: acoustical and ornamental. While a guitar's sound is primarily determined by the model and the soundboard, that sound is "flavored" or "colored" by the back and side wood. Generally speaking, in my experience the lighter woods like East Indian rosewood, mahogany, and walnut produce a dry, focused tone while the heaviest and most dense woods like cocobolo or Macassar ebony offer more sustain. Others fall between these extremes. These are just a few of the woods available, and are all woods that I have used on my guitars. Many more choices can be found by visiting our " Links" page.

East Indian Rosewood is one of the most common woods used today. It is light in weight with an attractive grain and good availability. Mahogany is a very stable wood with little apparent grain, but can still be quite attractive, especially when stained.
Cherry is a dense domestic hardwood that makes an excellent tonewood. Figure ranges from subdued to wild, as with this example. Cocobolo is a heavy, oily Central American wood with bold figure.
Walnut is lightweight and porous, with beautiful, variable grain. Bostogne walnut exhibits a lot of color and stunning figure.
Honduran Rosewood is dense and heavy, with great grain and color. Curly maple is a hard, heavy domestic wood with a pleasing, traditional figure.
Birdseye maple is scattered with "pecks" or "eyes." Blistered maple is similar to birdseye, with a more subtle grain.
Macassar Ebony is an Indonesian wood with stunning figure. Supplies of highly figured sets are somewhat limited. Morado,is known as Pau Ferro, shows a lot of brown, gold, and yellow.
Ziricote is quite brittle and hard, but its beauty makes up for its workability. Red Elm is an excellent tonewood that varies from caramel brown to cream.
Paela is a dense wildly figured, orange wood. Leopardwood boasts a spotted appearance reminiscent of a snakeskin.a
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Other Guitar Design Considerations

Neck-to-body joint: the neck can be joined with a dovetail (left) or can bolt on through the head block (right). The dovetail joint is simple and traditional; the bolt-on is more time consuming, but makes future neck adjustments a much easier task.
The headstock can be solid (left) or slotted (right). Though this is often determined by the model and style, the choice is open on some models. The slotted headstock is both more time consuming and as a general rule demands more expensive tuning machines, but can provide a definite aesthetic boost.
The conventional bridge can be a belly bridge (left) or a pyramid bridge (right).Again, this is often, but not always, determined by the model chosen. Different wood species are also used for bridges. Nontypical bridges can also be created to complement a special motif or to accommodate different circumstances or requirements.
The beveled edge is a feature that is both visually attractive and also provides an enhanced level of playing comfort. An underlying structure is required, and the complexity can multiply exponentially if the beveled edge is combined with intricate top or side purfling.
Also becoming increasingly popular is the sound port. While the port itself is a simple matter, it also opens up the interior of the guitar to close inspection. Though the insides of our boxes are always neat and clean, the sound port forces us to consider the interior appearance at a new level.

Many questions about a Skipper guitar can be answered by watching the construction step by step. A wealth of this information is available in my Archives section, where all the instruments I've built in the last several years are presented in detail.


Other Choices

The following design choices are common to many instruments, and will be discussed in detail on other pages. Click on any of the links to navigate to the proper area.

Model Tops Backs and Sides Other Choices

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