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Personalized Guitars

We consider building custom instruments for our customers to be both a great honor and a great responsibility. We realize that in most cases our customers have been dreaming, and possibly saving, for many years before they come to us. The instruments we build are literally someone's dream, and the fact that they have put those dreams in our hands is not something we take lightly. -Tom Zurawel

Although there are no limits to the imagination and therefore no limits to what we can build, there are some general considerations and traditional concepts worth mentioning. We couldn't possibly cover every aspect of instrument design and construction in just a few short paragraphs, but with the worksheets we've provided and the information found here hopefully we can help you pick the right materials and design elements for your next masterpiece.

Worksheets

We offer our worksheets as a guide to designing your own instrument. We have created both an acoustic and an electric instrument worksheet. If you have ideas that are not covered on these sheets, please don't hesitate to add your own specs. And if there are items that you're unclear on or don't have answers for, that's fine too. These worksheets are only a starting place and are intended to help you fully envision your design. We will be more than happy to provide you with as much or as little guidance as needed. It is our job to make your dream a reality and if these worksheets make the planning stage easier, great. If not, we will still do our job and build your dream!)

Right Click a link and choose 'Save As' to download a PDF to your computer
Acoustic WorksheetElectric Worksheet
Read the Z-Max Warranty Here Z-Max Owner's Manual

Body Types

Stringed instrument construction can generally be broken into three broad categories: Hollow body or “acoustic” design, Solid body or “electric” design, and Semi-hollow body design, often referred to as “chambered.”

Solid Bodies

Solid body instruments are just that, solid. They are generally constructed from one or two pieces of solid wood that are cut and shaped to a particular design. It is not uncommon however to use 2 different types of wood: one for the main portion of the body and a second laminated top piece added for aesthetic or even tone enhancement. This type of construction does not allow for great acoustic volume and is reserved for instruments that will be fitted with electronics allowing for electronic amplification.

Hollow Bodies

Hollow body instruments generally come in a “flat-top” or “arch-top” styled shape and are designed to maximize the resonance of strings and project enough sound to not require the aid of additional electronics or amplification. This is not to say that electronics cannot be added, or that they are even uncommon. It is often desired or even necessary to capture the acoustic sound of the instrument and magnify it for projecting to a large audience or for easy “plug in” recording.

Chambered Bodies

Semi hollow body instruments are an attempt at combining some of the benefits of both solid and hollow bodied instruments. In most cases these can be thought of as solid body instruments with chambers cut or routed into them. These “chambers” can offer a number of benefits. In instruments constructed of particularly dense wood or of large design, they can help in reducing the weight and making for a more comfortable instrument to play. They can also be used to enhance the acoustic properties of the instrument, making for a more resonant, fuller sound.


Body Designs

One of the most defining qualities of any instrument is it's shape. We specialize in custom orders and creative requests, and the shape of your instrument is only limited by your imagination. In addition to traditional designs, we offer some of our popular Z-Max models below, which can be used for easy reference. And, of course, you can submit personal designs of your own (awesome art skills not required) and we'll work with you on making it a reality.

Model 1

Blade Runner

Dream Wraith

Hellfire

Nashville Lester

Nightshade

Shogun

Spellcaster

The Impaler

Shadow

Double Neck Shadow



Necks

Considered by many to be the most important aspect of instrument construction is the neck. It is the user interface; the area which the artist will certainly be in contact with most. There are many considerations when selecting a neck and it is advisable to play as many different styles as possible to find what feels best to you.

In addition to woods used in constructing the neck, one must also consider the number of frets or lack thereof, the fretboard radius and the neck profile. Fingerboards are often rounded to conform more naturally to the players hand. This is called the radius and can range anywhere from a tight 7 1/4” as seen on many vintage electric guitars to completely flat, as is the case in some nylon stringed instruments.

The neck's profile is the shape at the back of the neck where the player's palm is in contact. These profiles are often named after letters that resemble the shape. A classic “C” shape for example or a slightly fatter feeling “D”. some like a wide thin neck while others prefer a neck that is just the opposite. This is an area where personal feel is key. There is no right or wrong, better or worse, only what the player prefers.

There are other considerations as well. Options such as scalloping the fretboard, wherein some of the wood between the frets is removed giving the neck a scalloped appearance. The size of the fret wires, binding or lack there of, one piece or multi-piece construction. All these things effect the feel, look and or tone.

As with all things, we will work with you to help you select the neck design that's best for you, answer any questions you have, and offer any input we feel may be helpful. Our worksheets offer a checklist of considerations and may be very helpful, but it ultimately comes down to what feels best to you.



Wood Types

Whatever the design of your instrument, your choice of woods will have a dramatic impact on the instrument's sound. Tone, sustain, volume, weight and overall “feel” are all affected by the wood used, as well as the instrument's visual appeal. Depending on the construction of the instrument, wood selection can have more or less of an affect but it is an important factor in any design.

Mother Nature is a wonderfully unpredictable and surprising woman and every piece of wood is different from the one before. There are, however, some general expectations for any given species. These are in no way to be taken as hard and fast rules but merely general guidelines to keep in mind when selecting wood for your project. This is by no means a conclusive list of available woods and many of those listed, such as maple and rosewood, come in numerous variations. These are just some of the more common woods and their general descriptions to help you get an idea of what's available and how it may affect the construction and outcome of your custom instrument.

For more detailed information or answers to specific questions we encourage you to contact us here at Z-Max Guitars. We will gladly answer any questions, discuss the tonal impact of different woods, and send you pics of some the variations of species and figuring. There are a number of woods we don't even touch on in this brief list, but that does not mean they are not available to you. Again, this is just a short summary list to get you started; we will be very happy to take as much time as needed to talk you and work with you on finding just the right woods for your project.

By referring to one of our worksheets, you'll be able to consider all the different components made of wood. Depending on the instrument design, the components' size and location, your choices will have varying impact on the end result.

Alder

Straight grain, fine textured wood with orange brown coloring and no outstanding figure. Moderately heavy and soft.

Ash

A traditional solid body wood, light brown in color with straight grain and coarse texture. Moderately heavy, hard and strong, but is relatively easy to work.

Basswood

Once considered a poor mans wood, basswood has made a name for itself as prominent players have opted to have their “signature” guitars made of this light weight underdog. Its wide tonal range and lack of weight have made it a popular choice in recent years. Its grain and coloring tend to be rather bland making this a good candidate for opaque finishes or graphics.

Birch

Close grained, hardwood that is both tough and elastic, light in color.

Bubinga

An even, fine texture with whitish sap wood, reddish brown heart wood and lighter, red to purple veins. Bubinga is a hard and heavy wood with “gum pockets,” making gluing difficult.

Cedar

Cedar is a popular choice for classical guitar soundboards. It offers a slightly darker alternative to the more common spruce, both in tone and color. Although not as strong or elastic as spruce it is a more stable wood, when dealing with changes in moisture content. It is liked for its warm color, straight grain and excellent tap tone.

Cherry

Cherry is a well known hardwood with an attractive grain. It tends toward the brighter side of the scale and due to its stiffness is occasionally used for neck construction.

Chocobola

A member of the rosewood family and is particularly similar to Brazilian Rosewood. Its color, grain and tonal qualities make it an excellent substitution for its highly regulated and therefore expensive cousin. Its high oil content makes it very difficult glue.

Cypress

Cypress has become a mainstay in the construction of flamenco guitars. Used for the back and sides of many flamenco blanco as well as the tops of steel stringed guitars. It offers a rich full sound with great volume and projection, a bright attack and great sustain. It has a slightly brighter sound than that of a flamenco negro, which is constructed with rosewood back and sides.

Ebony

Ebony is a dark, often completely black wood with good strength. It is an extremely popular choice for fingerboards on almost any acoustic instrument, as well as for tailpieces and bridges.

Goncalo Alves

An attractive “honey tan” color with a tone similar to mahogany. Light weight but only slightly porous.

Koa

Features a wavy, curly grain with a moderately coarse texture. Light and dark bands in the growth rings often producing various attractive patterns. Ranging from a light brown to an attractive reddish brown. Is difficult to work and prone to tear out if tools are not kept sharp but offers a high luster. Often available in highly figured specimens.

Mahogany

This is a fairly heavy open grained wood. It offers a warm tone and is a very popular wood in the construction of necks and bodies of both acoustic and electric instruments. As back and sides, it lends an excellent punch, firm mid range and quick attack.

Makore

An extremely high figured wood with a strong “bees wing” texture. Visually very impressive, making it an excellent choice for transparent finishes on acoustic instruments. Color similar to mahogany but less porous and a little more dense, imparting a slightly deeper tone.

Maple

A strong, hard wood that comes in a great variety patterns such as quilted, bird's eye, curly and many more. Its stiffness makes it an excellent choice for necks. It tends to have a bright, sustained tone and the figured varieties are excellent candidates for laminated tops and for beautiful natural finished instrument.

Padauk

An open, straight, dark grained wood with rich red to purple heart wood and light beige sapwood. Often bright orange or crimson when cut but changing to a darker rich purple.. Coarse texture with large pores. It is an easy wood to work and glues very well. In the case of acoustic it's a good choice for back and sides in all respects. Although a bit harder to bend it is stable, and produces a strong tone.

Pau Ferro

A non porous wood similar to Indian Rosewood but with more brown, yellow and gold colorings. It is also heavier than Brazilian and Indian Rosewood and glues well. It has an excellent tap tone as well. A good choice for acoustic back and sides.

Pine

Although not seen as often today as it once was, pine is still a viable option for the construction of a solid body guitar. It is light weight, resonant and offers a wide range of tone.

Poplar

Straight grained soft wood with a relatively unexciting grain pattern. Poplar is, however, a very underrated wood with an excellent range of tone with good sustain. Its an excellent choice for solid body construction.

Rosewood

The rosewood family offers many beautiful specimens, ranging from a chocolate brown to purplish red. It is a heavy, dense, open grained wood often used for fingerboards or acoustic bridges, and is known for its warm sound.

Spruce

A popular soundboard wood on acoustic instruments, spruce is a renowned tone-wood known for its clarity, response and broad range. It is a light, relatively soft wood and makes for a responsive, comfortable solid body instrument as well as an acoustic top wood. Sitka Spruce in particular is a preferred steel string soundboard choice. Its strength and elasticity enables it to withstand a great deal of abuse. Although its stiffness has made it a favorite for steel string instruments, it has also been used with great success in many classical guitars.

Walnut

A traditional choice for acoustic back and sides, walnut offers a dark, rich colored heart with straight grain pattern. Moderately heavy and hard. Produces a striking instrument with a crisp, dry tone and strong fundamentals.

Wenge

A very dark, distinctive wood with a strong “partridge” pattern. Even, consistent color and grain. It is a very tough and strong wood with a high resin content making it difficult to glue. Heavier and stiffer than rosewood but softer and with larger pores.

Ziricote:

A striking looking wood, similar in appearance to Brazilian Rosewood but in shades of grays and olive greens. Heavier than most rosewoods and somewhat brittle, but makes up in tone for what it lacks in workability. Becoming a popular choice for acoustic back and sides, as well as well fingerboards on a variety of instrument.



Electronics

When designing your instrument, another area that needs consideration is the electronics and their controls. In the case of an acoustic instrument you may or may not want any electronics at all. Many musicians find them a welcome addition to their acoustics that gives them the easy option of plugging directly into to mixer for recording or amplification for playing to a larger audience. These units usually come with a small on-board equalizer that helps shape the sound. A built in tuner is another option that many find helpful.

These units come in a wide variety of pickup options and in a wide range of pricing. “Under saddle” piezo pickups tend toward the higher end but reproduce a very “acoustic” sound and depending on the options you select, also allows for operating through a MIDI processor. It's both of these features that make piezo pickups a popular addition to solid body electrics as well as acoustics.

Of course, in the case of an electric guitar, bass or other solid bodied instrument, the electronics you choose become more than just an option: they are a necessity.

At the heart of an electric guitar or bass is the pickup. It is largely responsible for the way the instrument sounds and almost entirely responsible for its volume. Tone, volume and sustain are all greatly impacted if not determined by the choice of pickups. As mentioned above, the addition of piezo pickups can allow an electric guitar or bass to sound fully acoustic or to be processed via a midi module to sound like virtually any instrument you can imagine.

The main weapon in an electric guitar or bass' arsenal, however, is the magnetic pickup. Jazz, blues, shred, thrash and all the sounds that come to mind when thinking of those genres are transmitted to the amplifier by magnetic pickups. Many books have been written on the subject and there are a lot of generalizations that can be made. Rather than try to force as much information as I can into a few short paragraphs, I will simply recommend that you that you research some of your favorite players and find out what they are using. Or you can contact us and we will gladly do the work for you. Another excellent resource for selecting the right pickups for your guitar or bass is the Dimarzio “pickup picker” which can be found here: http://www.dimarzio.com/pickup-picker

Other things to keep in mind are: how many pickups you would like, whether you want active or passive, if there is a particular circuitry or capacitor you may want. These are things we can offer a lot of help with. When listening to or looking at various guitars, these things may not be evident. That's where we come in. It's our job to know what's inside, what works best, and how to get you that sound you're after. One of the things we hear most often when helping a customer design their circuitry is, “Wow, I didn't know there was such a thing,” or “Gee I didn't know that was possible.” That's because many of these tricks of the trade are hidden inside the guitar, and very often the artist himself may not even know what's in there. Give us a call, send us a message, or stop on by and tell us how you want to sound and we will gladly help you get there.

The next big consideration is how to control your electronics. This is where form meets function. To some degree, this will be predetermined by the choice of electronics and the sound you want, but there is a lot of flexibility as well. For example, If you like a nice clean looking instrument, push/pull pots can be used in place of 2 or more separate controls. On the other hand, if you're after an aggressive “dashboard” effect, you may want individual toggles for each pickup rather than a single multi-position selector. Again this is very much a matter of personal taste. This is also another area where things may not be evident on the surface, and there are many options you may or may not be aware of.

Ask questions, push the boundaries, and don't feel locked into a traditional conformity. We are a true custom builder and place no restrictions on your creative process. We will go to any length to make the impossible possible. We will build your guitar or bass the way you want it.



Hardware

As much a functional aspect as it is aesthetic is the choice of hardware. The type of bridge or nut can have a huge impact on the appearance of an instrument as well as its playability and the way it sounds.

The material used in the construction of a nut or bridge will most certainly effect the sound of any instrument. Brass, bone, a certain wood, or any number of synthetic materials all have their own “flavor.” They can also look starkly different.

In the case of solid or semi-hollow bodied guitars, there is a never ending variety of bridge configurations. These can be generalized into two groups: floating or fixed. Floating being just that, a “floating” bridge can be pulled or pushed to affect the tension and therefore the pitch of the strings. I wont try to cover all the options, materials and styles here, but refer you again to our worksheets as a sort of checklist. If you know what you want, great. If you're not sure, or want to know the differences between some of the options, or simply don't know where to even begin, just let us know. We are here to help. We are here to make this easy for you. To build the instrument that will best suit you.




If you prefer to submit your orders on paper, download and print our Guitar Builder Worksheet then fill it in and send it to us!