Read Time 10 Minutes
We Stumbled on Haywire Guitars while scouring the web for a guitar of the day. I was so excited when I found one of their guitars and looked at the website that I had to email the company, and it turned out that Rick was a really cool fellow who is passionate about what he does.
He has graciously agreed to answer some questions for us, and you can find some more links at the end of the interview.
Haywire guitars is the real deal. If you want a custom machine, it’s the place to go. If you want your old beast setup and cleaned up, its the place to go.
If you want custom modifications, again, Haywire can handle it. Their reviews – on their site and offsite are stellar.
This interview will be a few pages long, so be sure to look for the “more” button at the end of each page.
Here is the interview.
1 – How long have you been building guitars and how did you get started? What was the inspiration?
I first started making guitars because of the realization that I had a set of skills to offer the guitar players around me that they were not aware of. The problem was trying to get them to let loose of their guitars long enough for me to work on them. A guitar player is usually unwilling to surrender his guitar for any reason-even if it helps him and the guitar.
Anyone who has ever played a Gig with an “out of tune” player knows how unsettling that can be. A lot of times when a guitar is out of tune it can read ”in – tune” on the tuner but the intonation can be seriously out.
So, years ago I decided to bring my guitar tools to every Gig-just in case. I began setting the intonation for players, straightening necks, lowering action, fixing everything that was wrong. That was in the early 1980′s. I tried to offer a service to take care of all of those kinds of issues-before they got too advanced.
The guitar players I encountered were hesitant to let go of their instruments. At some point in about 2003 I decided I should just build a guitar that I thought was just right so I could just hand it to a player as an example of how a guitar should play instead of asking for his or her guitar to take home with me which scares players to pieces.
The early efforts were producing excellent results as measured by the smile factor on the face of my test sample players. I thought it would be great to present an instrument that was GIG READY! It proved successful. It was too successful-The guitarist wouldn’t give it back and I had to sell that guitar! So….at that point…. Haywire guitars was born!
2 – Your guitars are very unique. How does a guitar come to life for you? Does it begin with a body that tells you what it wants to look like or is it designed on a drawing board before it ever takes physical form?
Good Question! Look is as important as design function in most cases to customers. Many of my builds come from a color palette in my mind. My mother is a great artist and I must have inherited some of her eye for color and design. When we get together we share our latest creations with each other and reasons for the colors and functions.
However, some unique custom builds come from a response to complaints that players have. Take the “live show” players in Nashville that they are constantly having to go from Strat to Tele and back again for different signature sounds. The Nashville players wanted to know-Did I have a guitar that could do everything both of them would do? So I designed the Stratotelia and the variation with active pick ups called the Strato-Various .
So, not only do I see a design but if I simply listen to what customers need, what their problems are I can come up with different guitars that will solve the problem for my players. Being a good listener is key to helping players become better. I see that as my real job rather than say just designing new looks.
The Stratotelia guitar combines some of the best elements of a Stratocaster and a Telecaster it is half Strat and half Tele. The sounds are what they needed but there are other benefits as well.
One key feature unique to this particular guitar is the ability to accommodate either a 25-1/2″ (Fender) or a 24-3/4″ (Gibson) scale neck with no body or neck modifications. You choose between a Strat or Tele headstock. The other key feature is the fact that it’s a hardtail or simply put-sans tremolo bar. The solid six-saddle Tele bridge creates lots of sustain and allows for precise intonation, unlike the standard 3-saddle Tele bridge. Sustain is further enhanced by way of its string through body design. So, it’s a Strat with a Tele bridge and Tele pick up that can accommodate Fender or Gibson scale necks.
3 – I’m sure everyone will want to know – what’s the story behind the “clear” guitar on your website? What was the inspiration? What was the material used? How does it sound?
Yes, I know the, “Les Clear” you’re talking about. When I was growing up I went to see
“Steppenwolfe” and John Kay was playing a clear Dan Armstrong guitar. I always thought that was really cool. So, I did the same thing with a Lucite body in a Les Paul version. It sounds great and the sustain is really good – but it’s a bit heavy.
4 – Tell us how you make/aquire those beautiful fretboard inlays!
Some of those are gorgeous! Tim, I would really love to be able to take full credit all the time for everything I do. Initially, in the early years, I did everything. However, there are just not enough hours in a day and in most cases my time is better spent on other operations. It is necessary at this point in the Haywire Custom Shop to contract out some labor. I have some very talented folks in New York and California I can count on to get the job done when needed. I am still responsible for making sure that the quality is high and inspect each piece before I do the “final set-up” which is always completed by me.
5 – We can see that you are an inspired artist by the mere look of your guitars – but tell us some of the things you do to ensure the sound quality of your guitars.
The main thing is the “Haywire 8-Point Gig -Ready process” evolved from a checklist I had while completing a guitar build. It was a check off sheet I used to make sure I covered everything before I buttoned up the project. I threw a few things out, added a few more, simplified some and reviewed the whole list and condensed it down to 8 essential items needed for a perfect guitar. The final list has remained the same for several years. We do this to every guitar before it leaves the shop.
A great tone and sound is derived from a number of sources in a players guitar. Sustain, or asking a note to keep playing until you tell it to stop, is an important issue. Extraneous and noise having no relevance to the music is an issue as well. It is extremely important to get the mass correct in the right places for great sustain. In effect, greater mass equals more sustain. The mass has to be in the right places.
The neck is one of those places. If a player wants and needs a thin neck then it is crucial he get the mass in the neck necessary to keep up the sustain as well. That’s my job. I have to make sure that happens.
I also have to make sure that the signal chain from the pick ups to the switches to the volume and tone controls remains pure so the only sound that comes through are the notes being played. Good pick ups are important but only to the extent they can provide a good clear signal. With all of the processors and pedals being used today, the pure sound of a string is hardly even thought about much anymore. I do have some great pick ups that I put in some special builds where the player requires a certain signature sound.
6 – You also repair and modify guitars. Tell us more about how this part of the business works. Say I have an old strat I need setup and maybe a different neck put on. What is my experience going to be like?
When someone contacts me to re-build a guitar or do a set up they still have the same feeling that a doctor has about operating on his own child. It’s hard to let go of it-even for some modifications. So, trust is the key. Once the customer has faith that I’ll do a good job then the process begins in earnest. I like to keep my players informed with my progress and send photos of the guitar in each step to try and keep them involved all along the way.
Sometimes they think of things they wanted to do but forgot to ask. It is usually solved in this stage. As I mentioned previously “The 8-point Gig Ready Process” Plays a critical role in every guitar worked on in the Haywire Custom Shop. I want to make sure these guitars are “Ready to Rock”!
Here is the process in a nutshell:
Point 1: 4-axis alignment of the guitar neck
Each guitar neck is checked and adjusted to be it is true and straight to ensure proper alignment on all axis. This step ensures proper action and allows for more accurate and easier guitar tuning, playing and set-up in the following steps.
Point 2: Inspect and lube the guitar tuning gears
Before installing the guitar tuning gears, each one is checked thoroughly. Each tuning gear is adjusted so that there is no play in the mechanism. They are then lubricated to insure smooth and even movement to make your guitar tune accurately.
Point 3: Potting the guitar pickups
We dip the pickups in hot wax to reduce squeal and unwanted guitar feedback.
Point 4: Prep the guitar body
Upon installing the guitar electronic components, great care is taken to ensure that all wires are properly routed, spaced, and grounded to ensure years of trouble free service with your guitar.
Point 5: Level and polish the frets
This insures that all of the guitar frets are level, eliminating any possibility of fret buzz due to unevenness.
Point 6: Radius the guitar strings
Most guitar necks have a contour over the top of the neck. We adjust the strings to make sure the height of each string follows the contour of the guitar neck.
Point 7: Adjusting the overall guitar string height and the action
Once we set the contour and radius of the guitar strings, it’s time to adjust the overall height of the strings from the top of the frets to the bottom of the guitar strings.
Point 8: Set the guitar intonation
This step is done twice. The intonation is set two times with a 24 hour “seat-in” period in between to allow the guitar to properly re-seat to the new adjustments.
7 – What is the strangest request you have had from a customer?
I would have to say it is asking for a build with no Haywire logo or writing or advertising on it anywhere. Take off any identifying marks such as: pick up label etc.
Another time a customer asked for only one volume control and NO switch or tone control in a three pick up configuration.
8 – What was the toughest custom guitar to build?
I would have to say “The Violator” is a very tough build. It is a three pick up guitar with a Floyd Rose tremolo system with locking nut. The alignment process is difficult. Everything needs to be lined up perfectly from the pole pieces on the pick ups to the neck axis to the pick guard. Sometimes it almost requires three hands for one build.
9 – It must be rewarding to see one of your guitars put to good use – to hear it on a record, or see it at a show. Share an experience with us!
Recently I had the pleasure to work with Joe Matera from the Australian band “Geisha”.
They have written and produced a new album and Joe sent me a link to the video where he was featuring his new Haywire guitar. It was great to see that baby has a great new home in Australia and is being so well loved and taken care of. I felt like I was watching some videos of my child all grown up and in another country having fun!
10 – At guitar-muse.com our readers are specifically interested in unique, quality guitars. Unique doesn’t have to mean there are only a few, but more unique in style/sound/mojo. Would you ever consider mass producing if an opportunity presented itself?
Yes, I would if the quality was maintained. I set up each guitar personally and if possible I would like to continue that kind of care with each one if possible.
11 – I’m sure you have a “baby” you’ve built/modified that you’ll never sell. Can you tell us about it?
Yes, I do. It was the first proto-type of the Stratotelia.
The Strat with the Telecaster bridge I mentioned previously. I love it and play it all the time on gigs!
12 – We also try to feature a wide range of prices on guitar-muse.com, while hopefully maintaining a quality standard. Your prices are excellent, while alot of your reviews say something like “this custom Haywire Strat is better than any Fender Strat I’ve every played!”. Is this just love and individual attention that makes each one so great?
Tim, thanks so much for asking and your interest and your confidence in Haywire Custom Guitars!! We not only make guitars but we make guitars…..Happen!
At a time where mediocrity seems to have replaced excellence-we try to keep the goal of high quality at the top of our list. As you know, like your business, most businesses exist for their customers and we are no different. With us it’s less about money and more about “quality”.
It is good customers that enable us to stay in an ever more competitive environment, however I feel there is always room at the top for a great company who cares about their customers!
Our philosophy is that we will continue to be here for any guitar needs or questions customers may have regarding their Haywire Custom guitars and we won’t quit trying to keep them happy.
At Haywire we appreciate opportunity to show guitar players that we can do the job. However, our job is not finished until our customers are extremely happy! We love a finished job.