Everything You Know About Guitars Is Wrong
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Below is a an exact copy of the Esquire article April 23, 2007
Q & A
Everything You Know About Guitars Is Wrong!
Why a Canadian guitar-maker named Alex Csiky is flipping Les Paul the bird.
By Sharon Clott 4/23/2007, 7:01 AM
Your guitar sucks.
That's pretty much the mission statement behind Zachary Guitars, a tiny outfit run by Canadian rocker Alex Csiky, whose 100% do-it-yourself ethos and fuck-the-mainstream mentality produces some of the finest instruments ever crafted. Csiky takes churlishness to a new level, building his guitars from scratch (he even makes guitars from Ikea furniture), eschewing the industry-standard maple for pine, and hand-selecting his customers. You see, not everyone is worthy of a Zachary guitar -- customers have to prove themselves first.
Does it really matter if someone buys a Zachary versus a Fender Stratocaster? It's all strings and wood, right?How did you turn a $15 Ikea table into a $2,000 guitar?
All the flames, quilted maple, and exotic things you see on music shop guitars don't add anything to the musical instrument in terms of the way it sounds. Iím sick of it. In 1995, I bought Paul Reed Smith guitar online and spent $2,000. It was just an unappealing piece of plastic. They mass produce these things and finish with thick coat of polyurethane plastic. It feels fake, which destroys the sound because it can't resonate. Those things are frauds. I knew a lot about guitars and I knew I could do something better, so I took all the negative things about the Paul Reed Smith and created a guitar that is totally the opposite in design and philosophy. And I've been making them ever since. Mine are finished with oil rather than plastic, so people can really bond with it. One of my customers said touching my guitar is like touching the naked body of a woman. It's very organic. You want to touch the wood. The human body doesnít bond with artificiality very well.
I thought about using a table kit from Ikea because it was a revolt against all the fancy-figured, artificial-looking wood on guitars that they use as a marketing gimmick. Just the fact that it's from Ikea would really educate people as to what their priorities should be when buying a guitar. The table already had the wood cut thick enough, and it was made out of glued-together pine. To build it up, I bought another piece of pine for $10 at Home Depot. (The finished product is shown above. For more on the Ikea guitars, click here.) I chose pine because it's one of the best tone woods in the world. It has the best resonance and the best vibration from the string. Pine is a very close relative to spruce and cedar, which have been used on acoustic musical instruments for thousands of years. This guitar became a point of controversy. It was a shock to people -- they assumed that pine was a junk wood since all the fancy guitars are made of flamed maple, quilted maple, spalted maple, and other exotic hardwoods, most of which do not reproduce the vibration of the string very well because they're hard and heavy. But I sold that guitar for $1,500. Today, I'd sell it for $2,000.
What other materials did you use?
I made one called the "Horror Show Guitar." It was a revolt against companies that make fake vintage guitars. So I did the same thing the big companies did -- fake the vintage part. I used a torch and burnt it and scratched it up and hit it up with a hammer and that whole bit. (View the "Horrow Show Guitar" here.) I made another one out of discarded pine from Home Depot. I called it the "Dumpster Guitar." Instead of saving wood they donít want or offering it at a discount, they throw it in the garbage. It's a crime to waste wood. (View the "Home Depot Dumpster Guitar" here.) I've got enough skill that it doesn't matter what kind of wood I use -- it's going to be a great guitar. That one had the most incredible sound. Even though it had a solid body guitar, it sounded like an acoustic guitar, due in large part to the pine, which blows the fancy guitars away. After all, what we want from our musical instrument is the sound, right?
Can't anybody make a guitar with the right woodcutter?
Making guitars by hand is a lost art. The only people that do what I do are people like me and then some home hobby tinker-types who donít really sell their guitars or arenít successful doing it. There are a lot of fancy woodworkers out there, but they make crappy guitar-looking objects, which show no artistic skill and are not good guitars -- even though the wood may be very fancy and expensive. All the rest aren't handmade. Everything else you see is made by putting raw wood into a machine and then a neck comes out or a body comes out.
Who buys these things?
A lot of people buy guitars for all the wrong reasons -- I don't cater to rich lawyers or doctors who can't play. There are plenty of companies who cater exclusively to them. I am not like that. I am not trying to be arrogant here -- itís just a matter of making sure the guitars will be used. If you can't play, the guitar will be useless to you. These are not guitars to put behind glass or hang on a wall. These are not for looking at -- they are for serious players. Anyone can buy my guitars as long as they prove they can use it and are deserving of it. I don't work my ass off for a month to have the guitar go to waste and not be used. Since I only make 15 per year, itís like giving away puppies. I make sure they go to the best homes. It's more of an adoption situation than a retail operation.
Visit Zachary Guitars to see if you're worthy
I was looking up info on guitar builders and I camp across your site. Despite the fact that it was very difficult to navigate I found your work to be stunning. You have addressed everything that I have found wrong with music and solved it with an instrument. As a club owner I see the best and worst sides of music. I often find myself flinching at what people call music and pack the room to see while other very talented artists play to a practically empty room. I am an amateur guitar builder and I started for many of the same reasons you did (based on what you said in your Equire interview). I think that the modern guitar is nothing more than an overpriced Wal-Mart toy and and true guitarists should open their minds to something more than the mass produced copy of what some famous guitar player says they should play.
My two cents. Nate Miller (The Venue)