My latest passion/diversion

Headstock with custom decalWhat have I been up to lately?  Building my own electric guitar.  William and Ashley both have Fender Stratocasters, and I have bought, then sold a couple different Gibsons to try to find something I like, spent quite a bit of time at Guitar Center playing various axes.  Eventually I realized the Strat just seems perfect. 

Designed in the early 1950’s by Leo Fender, it is STILL the mainstay guitar of SO many successful musicians.  The list of guys that consider(or considered) it their main guitar stretch from Buddy Holly, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa,  Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink Floyd, to John Mayer and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The Strat’s where it’s at. 

Rather than buy another of what we have, I decided to build my own from parts I selected myself.   It’s still the same guitar, just a ‘custom’ version done exactly like I want.  I started with an unfinished body mostly shaped and routed, then started searching for the neck and other bits and pieces I needed.   William helped me with soldering, polishing, installing the tuners, and in general, being another set of hands and eyes to help be sure everthing was set right. 

Basically, it has become my obsession over the last couple months to get it finished.  Of course, it took much longer than I thought, but I really couldn’t be happier with the result.  I have a full picture gallery of the complete process here  You can click each photo to read the description of what process I was working on, and also access full size photos.

 I used a Swamp Ash unfinished body.  A birdseye maple neck, with rosewood fretboard. I wanted to build a pretty much vintage correct Strat, with my own upgrades as I saw fit.  The basic inspiration was from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Number One Strat(pictured at bottom of page), thought I obviously did not try to ‘copy’ that guitar, with the enhanced grain, different coloring, different wood, etc. that I used  But I used vintage style tuners, tremolo,  saddles, string tree, and real bone nut  just as would have been on a 1950’s or 1960’s Strat.  I did the contouring on the body to be similar to that era.  An amber tint to the neck gives that older, vintage, yellowed vibe rather than the bright white maple of a brand new Fender.  The decals on the headstock are Fender inspired, but my own take on them.   I even stuck a small quote from Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones on there.  The finish is old school Nitro Lacquer, just as used back in the day.  At one time used for automobile finishes, it’s too toxic for that use these days.  I replaced the modern, cool abalone fret marker dots with cream colored clay dots, to also give a more vintage look.  I think it came out pretty nice.  It’s a joy to play, when I can wrestle it out of William’s hands.

Harper Custom Stratocaster

Tobacco Burst StratocasterThe back.  Note the neckplate with big letter H and my name circling it.

This is what I started with

This is the body that I actually started with.

Copy of SRV’s #1






Above is a copy of the actual Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar that was the starting point for what I was wanting to do.  Below is a Fender replica guitar of the same.  I wanted to do something like this, but actually build a better guitar than I might buy off the shelf, with my own twist on it. 

Fender Replica

SRV Last Call

SRV was killed August 27, 1990 in a helicopter crash following a concert in East Troy, Wisconsin, headed to Chicago.  Also on stage that night had been Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan. (though obviously none of them were onboard the helicopter)











7 Responses to “My latest passion/diversion”

  1. chase Says:

    Hey, there you are! Glad to see you getting back into running, c’mon out and play! I’m thinking of The Bear in idado this coming October … in? I could pick you up in SLC …

    Love the guitar, very cool, you are a man of complicated hobbies. You’ll have to check out our old guitar, it’s a 1950s era Les Paul double cutaway, the first double he made, very cool. Alas, I never play it, prefer the old accoustic …

    (cool motorcycle, btw!)

    Denver’s great, loving it out here, summer finally arrived!

  2. Birddogbobby Says:

    Howdy Dave!

    Great work on the guitar! The finish came out beautiful. Who did you use for your supplier for the nitro? Did you buff it out on a buffing wheel or use a hand held buffer?
    You and William should be very proud of your first project…it looks like a custom shop guitar!

  3. Dave Says:

    Oh man, a 1950’s Les Paul? You know that’s worth some money!
    The Bear? I don’t think I’ll be ready to go that far by October.
    Didn’t you already do that?

  4. chase Says:

    Naw, did the Bighorn 100, not the Bear, I hear it’s tough … also planning on the H.U.R.T. out in Hawaii if I get in. I’ll know in August …

    Yeah, the guitar is certainly worth some dough, it just doesn’t get played much. Got an early 1960s tube amp to go with it … I should learn some rock licks and bang out some Chuch Barry or something with it …

  5. Dave Says:

    OH, yea, the Bear is the one with almost no aid or markers right? That’s right up my alley! Don’t tempt me!

  6. Dave Says:

    Don’t mess with that tube amp, give it to me. Yea, that Chuch fellow could sure play a guitar.

  7. Paul Says:

    I loved reviewing the photos of your Strat build and the LP. I am starting my 1st build and wondered how you did the headstock decal and the neckplate engraving. I agree with you, that Leo had the great design, but we are building these guitars. I want my name on the headstock. Any info you can provide will be appreciated.
    Where are you in FL? I am a retired Sarasota Co Deputy Sheriff now living in Knox. TN.