Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - Mistakes Were Made: How Not To Order a Custom Suhr Guitar

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Mistakes Were Made: How Not To Order a Custom Suhr Guitar

 One of the biggest of many mistakes I've made was when I ordered my Suhr guitar back in the pleistocene epoch!

Not a Suhr.  Kit guitar body for "the ultra-light guitar lessons over-the-shoulder for 5+ hours a day project".
 Horrid with no clear coat (yet).

 I was in a position where my present "daily driver" was in bad shape, needed new frets badly.  My #2 had become my go-to guitar because of that, and it too had gotten pretty bad fret wise.

 Tired of refretting, or getting bad refret jobs, an opportunity came in which to order a custom guitar from John Suhr, who was about to establish himself as the pre-eminent electric guitar builder (for various reasons).  He also came from the environs of the Usenet newsgroup in the nascent days of the internet; he was a "real" person I routinely saw online.  Unlike Tom Anderson, James Tyler and some other great builders. 

 I thought I had reached a nexus point, time to step it up a notch.  I had to sell my clean amp in my 2 amp set up, some pedals, another guitar - and then desperately saved for a month while I was already on a ramen-noodles diet budget.


 1) I was too intimidated by the investment I was making to order what I should have.
 What I mean by that is that I was too conservative.  All of the guitars I'd liked the sound of were very light.  My favorite sounding guitar was ironically a basswood '83 Squier Strat - that weighs nothing.

 Basswood had/has a bad rep back then.  Ibanez RG's were made out of it, and it was associated with shrill metal tones.  Those were the only guitars I had experience in basswood with at the time really, and my strat, which I considered a fluke.

 So I ordered a "light weight swamp ash" (that's actually fairly heavy).  A good, kind of safe choice.  And it sounds kind of good and safe.  I should have taken my chances with basswood, modern prejudices aside. Today I'm wondering what roasted/torrified basswood sounds like.

 2)  Another aspect of the above is that I chose black.  Like Darth Vader black.  Plain black.  My mindset was again, it's safe - I knew I would at least like it, if I didn't love it.  It's a great, thin finish, one thing that's cool about the guitar is that finish is starting to shrink and the grain of the body is starting to be evident.  Nice. 


 When I was a little kid I was massively into building plastic model kits.  As part of that I begged my parents into getting me a cheapy Badger air brush, and I proceeded to try to make versions of what had been a fad in the early 70's, Kustom Van Paint Jobs.  Candy colors, AND special manipulations of metallic paints - drips, and "freak drops".  I painted my bike this way, and numerous skateboards.  Later as I got into skateboarding more seriously, a friend's father ran a car paint shop - and I was always envious of the the crazy but pro Kustom Van Paint Jobs he'd have on his boards.

 John had just started offering drips, but I was reticent; I was a bit more, and how do I know I would like it?

 I would have loved it.

 Most importantly though, here's the big mistake: while I appreciate insanely figure maple drop tops, I'm not super fond of them for myself.  A number of students have ordered Suhrs on my recommendation with nice tops - because of this mistake:



 I should have gone with a root beer drip, or what I now realize has been my favorite color since I saw something similar on a motorcycle as a 5 year old: arancio borealis metallic orange, now a Lamborghini color.  Anrancio borealis drip.  Yep.  I should have done that.

 To the reader of this, if in a similar predicament: get a crazy drop top, or a "crazy" paint job!

 What's really dumb is that I was known for always playing put together part guitars, most of which had crazy paint schemes (metallic drips...) or stickers.  None looked *nice*, however.  Had I gotten a Suhr with a metallic drip it would have been another story.

 3) I ordered a Floyd Rose on it.  

I swore off locking trems about 10 years ago.

 I'd think "this is an aspect of what I've learned from my John Coltrane/Branford Marsalis with Sting sax phase".  Unfortunately that's also what Allan Holdsworth was thinking, and another ultra favorite of mine - David Gilmour, who now has actually played sax on one of his solo records.

 I'm influenced by both of them but hated hearing someone reference either if I use the bar, or why I had it.  So I just stopped using it.  I may return to it one day, but for now I'm back to vintage spacing Strat bridges. 

 So the best playing guitar I have, that sounds good and I paid a lot for had an entirely wrong bridge as I see it in the year 2019.  Great.  But the neck is spectacular, but in need of new frets. Oh well  Not that I could have predicted I'd decide this at the time, but never the less - there it sits, next to a kit guitar backup with similar accoutrements. 

 Now I record mostly with .... the aforementioned basswood Squier Strat.  Whose neck my Suhr is partially shaped after.  Dumb.

 While I couldn't have predicted Mistake #3, #1 and #2 were dumb and I regret.  I find myself giving a variation of this spiel to a student or 2 every year when they ask about getting a Suhr, and thought I should put it here in case someone else is about to make a similar mistake.


 Seems obvious, doesn't it?

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