The cover of my CD “Jury of my Peers” has some pretty interesting aspects to it. First off, the cover photo features an actual courtroom filled with guitars representing the judge, witnesses, lawyers, and jury. Then, there’s the unique gold guitar that I’m holding. Two years in the making, this guitar is a one-of-a-kind, custom built guitar designed by me and my friend Steve Reuter of SLR Guitars. It was built by him in his shop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. For all you gearheads, I’ve outlined the whole story here, with Steve’s perspective as well. Read on, or skip around to get all the info on this original guitar.
Chatting with my friend Steve Reuter about his venture into guitar-building, I’d mentioned an old guitar I was holding on to that had a Kahler tremolo bridge that is no longer available. I’d asked him to repaint the guitar, and Steve stated it would be easier to just build a new guitar with that trem! So, we set out to do that as an exploratory project for him while he worked on other builds.
Shortly after I went ahead and Googled Kahler, and actually to my surprise the company was still in business! With the use and popularity of other systems, I hadn’t heard from the company for years, and since I had almost worked whammy-bar solos out of my playing, I hadn’t paid attention. I noticed that Kahler made a seven-string tremolo, and since the low B has become a part of my playing, I contacted Steve and asked if we could go the seven-string route. He’d never designed a seven-string, so he was up for what would become the first challenge of the guitar.
We discussed the body style, and what I really wanted was something different, not the typical body styles that dominate the market, but I didn’t want it weird for the sake of being weird. I’d mentioned when I was growing up Neal Schon had designed a guitar that was briefly produced, and that I’d wanted one. So Steve suggested we build a Schon-inspired version in our project, and take it up a notch as a seven-string.This was a fun adventure for me, as Steve would email me asking what type of wood I wanted for the body, neck, fretboard, etc. We discussed options for the headstock, and I threw another curveball when I wanted a solid color, as Steve had only been working with wood stains to this point. We eventually decided on Gold.
There were several headstock styles Steve and I discussed, as the original Schon model had a tilted headstock, but we wanted something more modern. Once we decided on the style, Steve had mentioned he hadn’t decided on a “Reuter Guitars” logo, so there wasn’t anything to represent the guitar on the headstock. I suggested the idea of adding both our autographs to the headstock. So Steve took our signatures and added them to the front.
The beauty of the the Reuter Guitar neck and headstockIf you notice the guitar on the front of the CD cover, the signatures are not there. At the time of the photo shoot, the guitar was not finished. The headstock was not fully painted or lacquered, and our signatures are not present. The top nut was not on the guitar, the back plates were not cut or attached, and the strings were loosely placed on the guitar and not playable. I didn’t even attach the whammy bar for the photo shoot because I was worried about any additional stress before it got done. Actually, I didn’t even want to see the guitar until it was fully finished, aside from photos. I really wanted to have it on the cover, however, so I had Steve loan it to me in this state.
With the trem system, I drew a line in the sand that this would be a ROCK guitar. Most of the time, when I get a guitar, I want it to create as many sounds as possible, so I can play other styles with it. My guitars are versatile to play in many genres based on where, what, and who I’m playing for, but this guitar, it was going to be a rock guitar.Seven strings, tremolo bridge, no tone control. I’m a big fan of Seymour Duncan pickups, and they had just released the Pegasus and Sentient seven string pickups; pickups specially designed for low-end heavy lead playing for Prog, Metal, Modern, and Thrash, so they seemed like a natural choice.
The Animaniacs were my boyhood heroes! Well, not quite, but I’ve been a fan of cartoons all my life, and I was immediately impressed with the Animaniacs. I’d had some old stickers and told Steve I wanted Yakko’s image put onto the guitar, and he worked with the images and made it happen, not without more than a little stress.
We had discussed various fret markers for the neck, but ultimately I just decided I didn’t want any on the guitar, similar to the classical guitars I have. Steve has done some amazing inlays, however, and was eager to do some kind of inlay on our build. Steve wanted to put my “dp” initials logo on the neck, but we had a small debate as to where. He wanted it to go on the 12th fret, where most single-marked guitars place them, but I disagreed. I felt that since it was a seven string guitar, the marker should just go on the seventh fret! So it was my decision, and it’s different than most guitars, and to me, it’s the perfect place for it.
Steve was nice enough to create a detailed list of the guts of the guitar:
So what do I think?! Well, for two years I got to hang & correspond with my friend as he showed me aspects, elements, and possibilities of this guitar. I got to give input, answer questions, look at options and suggestions from Steve, and see what has become my guitar get built from the ground up. Anyone can go to the music store or online and buy an artist signature guitar of practically any player in the music world today and it will look, play, and probably sound just like them. But the opportunity to pick out every element of everything you like about a guitar, and have that put into something that you dictate, that you control, that’s 100% unique.
The guitar took considerably longer to build than Steve had anticipated, but I didn’t mind; it’s not like I didn’t have enough guitars to play while I waited! With Steve operating out of his house, he was hindered by weather and temperature fluctuations, which messed not only with paint, but with the comfort level of the shop itself! Plus, Steve was involved with other builds, as well as family, social, and business activities.
Overall the guitar plays amazing! Having a trem like this is like learning to play a new instrument in a lot of ways, but a whole lot of fun. I’m really happy with the choice of components, and to be able to play something that I got to see be created is really cool. The journey was as exciting as the destination that’s for sure. I can pick this guitar up and it plays and sounds like something you’d buy off the rack, except everything about it was custom designed based on our ideas. You’d never suspect playing this guitar it was hand built in Cedar Rapids. I asked Steve to do some rewiring of the pickup selector, and I was having some issues keeping the guitar in tune, which Steve addressed and fixed, and I think there was an issue with the pickup height? But I didn’t have to have any alterations on the action or any other major issues.
I wish it could have been done in time to track with it for the album, but I’m itching to use it in a session. I haven’t even played out live with it yet; I didn’t want to debut it just “anywhere” when we were out doing our supporting shows earlier in 2015. Actually, this guitar is so valuable to me, I’m apprehensive to play it out live much at all! But I want to run it thru the hoops, cuz I know it can take it.
If you’d like to see more designs from Steve, including his guitars for sale, visit his website at SLR Guitars.
This photo session was done at Cast of Thousands Photography Studio by my good friend Keith Nester. Aside from being an excellent photographer, he’s a great musician, who also played drums on two songs on my new release. Keith has an amazing studio, and understands how to capture “the sound of the picture”, being a musician who knows how to represent the image of the music, as well as any subject or concept. If you’re in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa area looking for a great photographer, or you want a great photographer and are willing to make the drive from wherever you are, contact Cast of Thousands.