Custom or off the shelf?

Custom built guitar or off the shelf?

John Wallace Guitars DMP B model GuitarSo, the question is, custom hand-built or just off-the shelf? This is a veritable debate, and a dilemma every well-established musician faces. But I’m hoping that this article will provide direction to your thoughts and clear up your doubts. You’ll ask, how? Read on…

The first thing which is appealing about customized guitars is their looks. First impressions can matter. And having your guitar custom built makes it more of an extension of your self. Your guitar shows your attitude and your music. The way it is shaped, the color, the styling, the inlays, and the headstock, every part has ‘you’ in it. It may be said that even off the shelf can be found to your liking, but could you find the one model which is completely yours? There is something personal missing in these rows upon rows of guitars in the showrooms, because, you know what? These were built for anyone and everyone who has the money to buy them, the guitar you buy is not just for only YOU. When you dream up that perfect guitar, you give life to the instrument. This instrument will be with you every time you play, and through this you’ll be expressing yourself, so what can be better than if you give birth to it, know it inside out and feel it thrumming to your heartbeat? Well, nothing.

The argument coming against this is why does one buy off the shelf guitars then?

Well, you know, not everyone knows what he/she wants from a guitar. So, they prefer well-established brands, whose models are known to produce a type of music and they make do with that. And not every guitarist knows his own music from the very beginning, so to know themselves, and create their own identity in the crowd, these mass-produced guitars are tried out. You can’t expect a learner to start ordering custom guitars, because, it is simply not practical. But once you know what you play, and what you’ll be playing, it’s better to move on from these run off the mill products to one of your own.

Some will ask, custom hand-built, only for looks? But, hey, the beauty goes way deeper than that, it is not just skin deep. What happens in guitar factories is guitars are like ‘assembly-line’ produce. Set of specifications, designs, and machines and thousands of guitars are produced. But individual attention is not paid, and can’t be paid, because these companies sometimes employ hundreds of people, and they have a profit to make. What happens is that, irrespective of the wood, keeping quite a wide error margin, specifications are calculated, so that more or less the sound quality is maintained, but never or rarely the perfect sound. It’s a matter of luck and chance if every component of the guitar sounds in perfect unison, but if you’re buying yourself a custom hand-built guitar, that is more of a certainty than a chance. It’s simple; you have more chance than ever to get something which sounds like you, because it’s for you.

It is an undeniable fact, that if you get a luthier to build a guitar for you, you will be getting what you want, provided it’s a top class guitar craftsman. And anyway, you aren’t going to invest money if it’s not someone who knows what they’re doing.

John Wallace Custom Guitar DMP B vintage lemon burstWhen the whole process is done by hand, the involvement of a human being is what makes the difference. The maker gets his wood, and feels it; he knows what he will be building. The person then knows what sound the guitar will be producing once it is crafted into shape. So, if you tell the builder what you need, he will know what wood to use, what shape to create. Every piece of wood has an identity, which will give tone and voice to the guitar made from it. Each guitar created will be unique.  The other aspects of building; the finishing, the designing, the fingerboard inlays; though adornments, also add to the overall feel of the guitar, though subtly, and impart the attitude to the guitar.


If you know who you are, if you know what you play, you will know what guitar you need. Is it truly your machine or is it just another? You would be wise to get one custom built, rather than keep hunting for that perfect piece.

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