For musicians who don't wish to settle for the average retail guitar, ordering custom acoustic guitars is a good way to ensure you are getting exactly what you want. Many artisan luthiers and companies specialize in giving you a custom experience that incorporates every detail you desire in a dream guitar.
Custom Shops for Acoustic Guitars
The following companies and luthiers are recognized for their superb craft and custom experience.
While many boutique guitar builders are cropping up around the world, almost all of them are trying to build a better Martin guitar. Why not just start with the original? Martin started in the 1800s, and the Martin Custom Shop will do masterful artisan-level detailing, from wood type to neck size to finish to inlays.
According to Martin's FAQ page, the custom ordering process is as follows:
- Locate the Martin dealer nearest to you using their Locator tool.
- Go to the dealer and request information about ordering a custom Martin.
- The dealer will provide custom ordering options and once you decide what you want for your guitar, Martin will come back with a quote.
Non-custom Martin guitars can range from a few hundred dollars to $150,000. Custom Martins have a baseline of about $3,000 give or take and can go thousands of dollars higher depending on how exotic and custom you want to get.
- Pros: Martin has been developing and refining its luthier craft for almost as long as the United States has been a country. For that reason every guitar they make, whether a lower end model or a high-end custom, comes with the highest quality of artisanship that exists in the acoustic guitar market.
- Cons: For the reason above, Martin custom guitars also tend to be the most expensive, easily costing many thousands of dollars. If you're going to go custom with Martin, be prepared to pay top dollar.
Collings Guitars is one of the bigger boutique guitar companies in Austin, Texas. These beautiful instruments are completely customizable. You can have a Sitka spruce top with Koa back and sides, a flowerpot headstock inlay, and a cutaway body style. These are fantastic guitars.
- To order, go here to review your options.
- After you know what options you want, go to your nearest dealer and let them know you'd like to order a custom guitar. They will walk you through any paperwork in-person, then give you a quote and timeframe, which will at least be four or five months (which is the timeframe for standard models.
As you can see in their price reference guide, a custom model can cost many thousands of dollars if you add extras. The minimum price is probably about $4,000 to $5,000 depending on the wood you choose and any other additions.
- Pros: Collings is a prestigious brand with high-profile artists such as Zac Brown and Ray LaMontagne.
- Cons: Its prestige means it is expensive, though not quite as expensive as a Martin.
Santa Cruz is another fantastic guitar company with a sterling reputation. You can customize your body wood, top wood, neck and tuners, as well as your inlays, finish, pickups, and more.
- Go to their custom options page and click on each major category of custom option, such as "Neck" or "Top Woods" and review the options within each choice. Decide what you want. Make notes on paper or on your phone.
- Take your options to the nearest dealer and begin the ordering process in-person. The dealer will quote a price and time frame.
- Pros: As detailed on their What's Out Secret? page, Santa Cruz guitars are unique for their ultra-boutique, heirloom quality instruments and their use of re-purposed wood. They mimic the methods of master violin luthiers and do painstaking hand voicing and tap tuning of the wood of each guitar to ensure maximum sustain and overtones in each instrument. Their guitars are world-class and beloved by top artists such as Brad Paisley, Ben Harper, Eric Clapton, and the late Johnny Cash, just to name a few.
- Cons: Santa Cruz only makes about 700 guitars a year, which is very small compared to major builders. For this reason and because their ultra-fine luthier technique is in high demand, their custom guitars can be quite expensive. Their non-custom standard guitars run about $4,000 to $5,000, which means their custom guitars usually cost more, ranging from about $6,000 to much higher (like this $22,000 guitar).
Famed guitar luthier Dana Bourgeois produces fantastic instruments in his shop in Maine. He has produced instruments for such musical luminaries as Luke Bryan, Lonestar, Rhonda Vincent, and Monte Pittman who plays for Madonna.
- Go to their custom options page and review the options available. Decide which ones you want for each category. Make notes on paper or on your phone.
- Take your options to the nearest Bourgeois dealer and begin the ordering process in-person. A price and timeframe will be quoted.
- If you don't live close enough to visit a dealer in-person, you can contact Bourgeois (through the "nearest dealer" link above), and they will help facilitate the ordering process with a dealer.
Bourgeois guitars range from about $4,000 to $20,000 depending on how customized and elaborate you get with the model and options.
- Pros: Bourgeois is another ultra-boutique acoustic builder, which means each guitar gets extraordinary personalized attention. The founder still picks the wood for each guitar that is made and does voicing and tone tapping work with each piece of wood.
- Cons: Like Santa Cruz, the extra attention of a boutique artisan costs more than many other guitar builders. You're paying for an extremely high quality instrument, but it can get very expensive. Bourgeois seems to be slightly cheaper on the whole than Santa Cruz, but all of that depends on what you order for your customization.
Taylor, like Martin, has become a well-known name brand in the acoustic guitar world. Although it is not necessarily in the category of an ultra-boutique small artisan shop like Santa Cruz or Bourgeois, it makes very high quality guitars used by countless stars such as Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Jason Mraz, Switchfoot, and dozens of other artists and bands.
- To order a custom Taylor, like the other makers, you must go in-person to a Taylor dealer, or Taylor gives you the option to contact them directly online to get the process started.
- Their price list shows all the options you can have for a custom guitar, and you will want to examine this closely in preparation for ordering your Taylor.
- Taylor, either through the dealer or directly, will help you figure out what you want for the custom order and also provide a quote and timeframe for completion.
Standard non-custom Taylors range in price from about $2,800 to $9,000. Custom orders will likely be on the higher end of that range or even higher depending on how decked out you want your custom guitar.
- Pros: Taylors have a slightly lower price range than the high-end artisan boutique shops (though again much of that depends on what you order for your custom guitar). Taylors also tend to be available at more dealers than boutique shops because of the well-known brand and large operation.
- Cons: Although you'll getting one of the nicely made instruments in the history of acoustic guitars with Taylor, it's not a small ultra-boutique operation like other shops.
Tips for the Custom Ordering Process
Keep these three things in mind as you navigate the ordering process.
- Don't order a custom guitar if you have an urgent deadline. As you may have noticed above, custom acoustic guitars take several months to receive once your order them. Don't start the process if you have a crucial deadline for the instrument in the near future.
- Do a research-only trip to the guitar dealer before ordering. In the sections above, the ordering instructions all mention going to the guitar's dealer nearest you to start the ordering process. However, before you fill out the custom order forms, go to the dealer and play a number of guitars by the brand that you want and ask the employees for information about the different parts of the guitar. Ask them what it means to have different neck shapes or wood types and how it changes the playing experience and sound. Take notes, bring them home and then sleep on it until you've digested the information and know exactly what you want.
- Don't forget to research quality cases. If you're going to spend thousands of dollars on a new guitar, make sure you've asked the guitar store for good case recommendations that will keep your custom treasure safe and sound.
- Equip yourself with the knowledge and know-how to take exceptional care of your guitar. Do your homework before you get your guitar from the shop. Fortunately, because custom guitars take so long to make, you will have plenty of time to turn some corner of your living space into a workshop for cleaning and maintaining your guitar.
The Value of the Custom Guitar Journey
If you're serious about your craft, commissioning a custom acoustic guitar is a fantastic decision and will likely be one of the most satisfying experiences in your musical journey. It will also be an educational experience that guides you through the little details of what makes an acoustic guitar exceptional.