By Jason Epstein
Based out of Eugene, Oregon, Fox Hollow Guitars isn’t just a place to purchase an instrument; they’re the areas premiere custom “luthier” (maker of stringed instruments) and repair shop. We spoke to the mastermind behind it Fox Hollow Guitars, Don Greenough about his process and the challenges and rewards of custom guitar building.
SoundCtrl: Can you talk a bit about the process behind custom guitar building from concept to finished product?
Don Greenough: Usually I am mulling over something that bothers me about a design or type of guitar. For example the sharp edges of the body, poorly placed controls, or the discomfort of reaching the higher frets. Of course, if you are building for a customer, you need to give them what they want to the best of your abilities. From there comes the sketches and the design of jigs and guides to help accomplish the developing concept. A lot of time cutting pattern pieces, getting them to fit properly, and making sure that the modifications don’t compromise the integrity of the guitar comes next. Finally, if the changes can be applied to the guitar under construction, they must be added in the strongest and most attractive way possible.
SC: Is there a difference in the length of development between building acoustic or electric guitars?
Don: There is not much difference between an acoustic or electric guitar as far as development goes, but especially if an electric guitar is a solid body, the actual construction is much easier. As far as the length of development, there is no way to predict how long it will take to solve a particular problem.
SC: What’s more important, the technology, functionality, or artistry behind custom guitar making?
Don: By far and away, playability and quality of sound are the two most important qualities to look for in a guitar. If a guitar is not playable, no one will play it no matter how good it sounds. Conversely, if the guitar sounds horrible no one will want to play it [either]. There is a need to do attractive work because that is what attracts people to your work; people do judge the guitar on its looks a great deal. Almost all factory guitars have near perfect finishes and look great. It is not ‘til upon closer inspection you find things like an abalone shell decal for the rosette instead of real inlaid abalone, plastic trim instead of wood, plywood tops instead of solid ‘sika’ spruce, or fret-board dyed black to look like ebony instead of using ebony. The finished work gives you a chance to show off your skills, abilities and artistry. Technology is important in that it should allow you to use better tools, techniques, or superior materials in new and innovative ways. But playability and sound are paramount.
SC: What are some of the most challenging projects that you’ve worked on?
Don: I made a custom guitar for a young rising star in our area, Savanna Coen, a young (14) blues singer who has been on stage with Buddy Guy and was a featured performer at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon this Summer. We talked a few times about what she wanted and set out to design it as I built it. There were many unforeseen problems and challenging situations that popped up along the journey to completion trying to fit the requirements into the confines of the body. It was fun figuring out the problems, but it took a long time. She was very patient with me and I finally finished it, hopefully giving her the best guitar (for her) that she will ever find.
SC: Where do you procure all of the different pieces (i.e. electronics, wood etc.) for your guitars?
Don: My wood supply comes from everywhere. I’ve found wood in garage sales, people’s sheds, given to me by friends, and of course, commercial sources. Electronics come from online suppliers and local electronics stores.
SC: How are the guitar’s colorful designs created?
Don: Most of my guitars utilize the natural colors in the wood, but woods with more neutral tones like maple can be dyed in almost any color you can think of. The figures in the wood give all those wonderful patterns, and seem to pop off the surface when highlighted by the stains.