Orley Guitars
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Why I Build
While I have always had a fond appreciation for music, growing up with the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Eagles, it was background to my pursuit of career, family, and the other trappings of life. I came to the guitar later in life than most of my generation. It was the day my son was married. An acoustic guitarist did his thing throughout the night. Perhaps assisted by (more than) a few glasses of wine, I was hooked. I spent most of the evening watching, listening, and enjoying. In due course I visited a local guitar store, acquired a Fender acoustic, and launched several years of lessons.

Did I mention that I was hooked?

I worked with my acoustic for a while, then acquired a Fender Stratocaster for that electric "experience." Thank you Bob Dylan. The floodgates opened. I wanted to play as many different guitars as I could--hollow body, semi-hollow body, 12-string, resonator, arch-top, 335, Les Paul, Tele. Different bodies, different strings, different scales, different sounds. A whole new world opened.

At this point I should mention that my chosen career was in academics, specifically economics--university professor, scientist, scholar, researcher, teacher--and as about as far from music as you can get. I did, however, do a bit of woodworking on the side. More on that later. But, curiosity, research, scientific inquiry were my forte, they became second nature.

As such, I directed my professional training to my newfound infatuation with the guitar. I studied. I played. I learned.

My First Handracrafted "Guitar"
Yet there was an itch that had yet to be scratched. I whimsically built a scale model of my Fender Stratocaster. Then the question was posed "Why not just build a real guitar?"

The seed was planted.

As a lifelong woodworker, I had the tools, I had the skills, and I had the stacks of wood. Over the years, my woodworking efforts had been directed largely toward cabinets, furniture, picture frames, and the like. Much of the furniture in my house--two bedroom suites, an entertainment center, buffets, a dining room hutch, and more picture frames than I could count--had come from my workshop. So, why not guitars?

I started with a couple of kits. Sadly most of the fun work was already done others. Assemble, wire, finish, and presto, a guitar. Interesting, but not particularly satisfying. No sawing, chiseling, filing, planing, or routing.

I needed to build--from scratch, from planks of raw wood.

I studied, I researched, and I planned.

Knowing it would be a learning process and mistakes would be made, I started with an old friend. Poplar was inexpensive, accessible, and easily worked. It was a staple for cabinets. My first "real" guitar was a '72 style Tele constructed entirely of poplar--body, neck, fretboard. Calling it a mess is an understatement. The jig I used to round the fretboard was, let's say, less than effective. My fret installation technique was, let's say, highly flawed. The pickup holes were, let's say, a bit uneven. With hardware, electronics, and strings added, the sounds produced were, let's say, nothing that would ever be considered music. I retrieved all reusable components and hung the carcass in my workshop as a reminder and as inspiration.

The Real First, The Carcass
With a redesigned fretboard rounding jig, the next one, also entirely poplar, actually played... music... recognizable notes... just like a real guitar. Then another one in poplar, but a different wood for the fretboard--an inexpensive piece of Brazilian cherry. Not perfect, but getting better. The next one was maple--neck and body--with rosewood fretboard and Fender pickups. The neck was a bit thick, but it looked great and played like a dream. How about a standard Tele with maple body and neck, but spice it up with a bubinga veneer top? Best one yet.

I continued onward. I worked on my own design, with inspiration from the Tele merged with the Les Paul, which my wife said looked like a tulip. I did a few in this style, then redesigned it slightly and did a couple more. Each one I tweaked, modified, and tried to improve the look, the playability, and most importantly, my construction technique.

All the while, a little voice in my head, a voice from one of the scores of YouTube luthiers I had studied, kept saying, "You're not a real luthier unless you build acoustic."

So acoustic it was. An entirely new set of techniques and skills was needed. The first acoustic effort was, let's say, less than perfect. But it wasn't a failure. Like every other "failure," like the carcass hanging in the workshop, it was a learning experience.

So I continued onward. Another attempt using mahogany sides, back, soundboard, and neck. Not bad, not bad at all. Sitting in the corner. Still plays great. Another one with maple back, sides, and neck, and a padauk soundboard had a nice bright sound. A keeper. One with walnut back and sides, and mahogany neck and soundboard. Not a keeper.

The work continued. Some were given to family and friends. Others were stripped of parts and hung in the workshop "hall of learning experiences." Most remain in my private collection.

I've selected a few of the latest and best ones to display on this website. If you're interested in getting more information about those, want to inquire about a purchase, or just have a desire to tell me what you think--good or bad--contact me.

And check back later. Those displayed here are acoustic. But, I have not foresaken electric. The work continues.

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