A Summer of Collaboration
2017 has certainly been an exciting year so far, and the summer has been filled with new experiences both personally and as a business. This year is flying by and it definitely feels as if there's not enough hours in the day. That said, here's what's happened this summer!
Camp Jackson Guitar Building Class
In early June, Grover and I hosted seven campers at his shop in Laguna Hills, California for a "Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp" style guitar building class. We had a lot of fun and built some killer instruments.
Collaborations continued through the summer in a way that I never would have expected. In May, I sent the Raven prototype to Nikki Sixx; he started following the Sully Guitars Instagram feed (you should, too! @sullyguitars), and he was interested in checking it out the Raven prototype. I sent it out, he liked it, and we started planning another one. As we discussed options, I learned that he prefers something that looks a little more worn in versus shiny and new. I know that the whole relic thing is one of those hot button topics in the guitar world, but I've always appreciated it as an art form; similar to set decoration in a movie.
We decided that Nikki's guitar was going to be set neck (the prototype is a bolt on), mahogany body and neck, an ebony fretboard full of stainless steel frets. :) I had a couple of mahogany/walnut neck blanks already made, so I used one of them for his guitar. Nikki wanted to try out a P90 in the neck and happened to have a set of Seymour Duncan Phat Cats, so we're putting one of them in the neck position. The bridge pickup was given to him as a gift from his friend Stevie D (Buckcherry/Josh Todd and the Conflict), and was made by Arcane Pickups. It's got his signature engraved into the cover, and I think it'll look pretty sweet with the rest of the hardware (chrome Hipshot hardtail bridge and locking tuners). The finish and relic work is being done by Billy Rowe at Rock-N-Roll Relics, and it should be arriving back in Sullyville this week. I'm pretty stoked, to say the least.
Welcome Stevie D!
While working on Nikki's guitar, he told me Stevie D may be interested in the '71. After chatting with Stevie a bit, I sent a demo '71 Trella out, and it's been so great not only to see photos of the guitar getting heavy use on tour with Buckcherry (and now Josh Todd and the Conflict), but also getting to know Stevie as a person. He's a really good dude, and I'm honored to work with him. We quickly put together specs for another '71 Trella that balanced the model's modern stylings with a bit of a ratty feel mixed in. I learned early on that like me, he's originally from Chicago, and we agreed that we had to incorporate the Chicago flag to fit the guitar. This one was also sent to Billy at Rock-N-Roll Relics, and it was such a trip to see a '71 look like a vintage guitar. While the guitar was in the finishing/relic stage, we modified his white '71 to have a similar Chicago flag graphic on it, and you can see it here in the video for Rain by Josh Todd and the Conflict.
Here's Stevie's black '71 Trella all finished just in time for the Josh Todd and the Conflict record release party at The Roxy (Live photos by Front Row Perspective and Dustin Jack Photography)
Stevie and I have some really cool things planned for 2018, and you might get a peek at NAMM!
Welcome Adam Nañez!
Adam Nañez is a fantastic guitar player here in Dallas, and definitely a player you should know about. You can check out the Adam Nañez band here and here's a little snippet from a performance at the Gas Monkey Bar and Grill earlier this summer:
Adam has a '71 Trella in progress and is currently spending time with a Stardust.
Yep, I'm happy to say that for you nitro folks, it's now an option (unless you want metal flake). I've not offered it in the past because I'm not crazy about how it ages over time, but for those who would prefer a nitro finish, the option is there. Same for relic'ed finishes. They're not for everyone (and really, what is?), but if you prefer that look, you got it. Still a hard pass on Bigsbys, though. :)
In the spirit of trying to keep things fresh in the merch department, I've added a couple of new designs. A few months ago, I partnered with Threadless Artist Shops to handle Sully Guitars related tshirts and such, and you can get to the store by clicking here. There may be some swag packs sold off of the Threadless site (they don't really do bundles), so stay tuned for that.
While I'm not ready to spill all of the beans, I will tell you that there will be more 7 string guitars, I've got something really cool planned for the Stardust, and there will be standardized "production" versions of most Sully models. The idea is that they'll be built as I intended each of them to look (with different options for colors). These guitars will still be made locally, but will incorporate CNC machinery. I'm still going to be the one gluing up fretboards, necks (and doing oh so much sanding), as well as the fretwork and wiring and setup and, and, and....you get the point. If all goes as planned, there eventually may be a bit of a drop in pricing for the production series, and this will slowly roll out in 2018. Of course, custom options will always be there for those who want something a little different from the production series guitars, but that pricing is likely to adjust somewhat in 2018. There's a lot more on the horizon, but that's the extent of what I'm comfortable sharing at press time.
Until next time,
Thanks for your patience! I'm happy to say that the custom orders books are open again (for a little while).
Thanks to Clint Franzen for taking this '71 Trella for a spin! In this demo, you'll hear the wide range of tone you can get from the super versatile pickups that I get from Grover Jackson. The bridge pickup is what we call Sully's Secret Menu and the neck pickup is a Habanero Classic. Stay tuned for more playthroughs in the future!
To get your very own '71 Trella, click here to see available stock from Sully dealers!
Strap in, kids; this is a long one.
Thirty five years ago, I wasn't aware of Randy Rhoads (that happened a year after he passed), and I certainly couldn't fathom how much of an impact he'd have on my life.
One afternoon in the spring of 1983. I was at my friend Kurt Floody's house in Lombard, Illinois. We used to hang out a lot and play sports with the other kids in the neighborhood, listen to music, and draw cartoon "all star band jams" depicting our favorite musicians juxtaposed into supergroup concert settings. This particular day, we were listening to Quiet Riot's Metal Health album, and as I was looking at the back of the cover, I saw a little dedication to the memory of Randy Rhoads. Looking over my left shoulder, I asked "Hey, who's Randy Rhoads?"
Of course, I remember this in a more dramatic and fun manner; the sound of him taking the needle off of the record is the loudest sound ever produced in history. However, Kurt's a guy who takes care of things; he'd never be so careless to ruin a record like that. Instead, without saying a word, he took Metal Health off of the turntable, placed another record on the turntable, put the needle down, and then Over the Mountain happened.
The opening drum fill popped my eyes open, but nothing could have prepared me for the moment I heard that guitar riff. Holy. Fuck. What. Is. This? And then, the solo? Forget it, I was done. Hooked. Flying High Again comes on, and then Believer, and then, and then, and then...you get the point. This was like when I was eight or nine and I saw a photo of Ace Frehley with smoke pouring out of his Les Paul and was compelled to play guitar, or when I heard Van Halen for the first time, but on a whole other level.
After the final notes of Diary of a Madman, Kurt took the record off, put on Blizzard of Ozz, and after being thrilled that there was more to hear, I asked, "What's this song called?" Kurt said "I Don't Know," which confused me. "How do you not know what this song is called?" "...no, dumbass, it's called I Don't Know," "...ohhhhh, okay."
Crazy Train, Goodbye to Romance, Mr. Crowley, Revelation (Mother Earth), all of it was so wonderful. The Mr. Crowley picture disc was last, and it had live versions of Mr. Crowley (which has a different ending from what they later morphed it to become), Suicide Solution, and a b-side called You Said it All (which is one of my favorites) recorded at soundcheck. Kurt even made me a copy of the Ozzy concert from the King Biscuit Flower Hour (which was called "Supergroups"). Too cool. I had the greatest guitar hero in the world, and then I remembered the notes on the back of the Quiet Riot album; "This album is dedicated to the memory of Randy Rhoads." And just like that, he was gone.
From then on, I'd seek out anything I could get my hands on that was Randy related; obviously, I bought Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, and ordered back issues of any magazine that made mention of him. I'd draw cartoons of him, and hoped that one day, I'd have a Jackson Randy Rhoads V like his (I used to draw cartoons of "future rock star Sully" playing one. I remember that I had a 1983 calendar from WLUP (a Chicago rock radio station) and Ozzy was in it; he was pulling Randy's head back, so you couldn't really see his face; mostly the guitar. I tore the photo out and hung it on my wall, and later moved it to a photo album where I kept Randy related photos from various magazines (I'd buy 2-3 copies whenever I could; one to keep intact, and the extras were to cut photos from). I even had a sweatshirt airbrushed with a photo of him from his time in Quiet Riot. Totally wish I still had it, but a photo exists. Too bad digital cameras weren't around then; I could have had a shot with my eyes open. :)
Things kinda continued along that path, and I remember being so excited when the Tribute album came out when I was in high school; there was a video for Crazy Train, and it was the most surreal thing to see Randy actually move. I know that sounds odd, but all I knew were photos. Getting a video copy of the After Hours tv appearance was the greatest, but the camera work reflects the style of the time; there seemed to be an attitude of "yeah, it's totally okay to film the bass player while the guitar solo is happening", but whatever, it existed, and it was great. In 1992, Jackson announced a limited edition of 200 guitars to be made like the white pinstripe V. I was 20 at the time, and didn't really have the money for it, but my dad and I figured out a way to make it happen. I bought it on June 24, 1992 (Hm....6/24. Kinda sounds like a Sully model, eh?) and I have it to this day.
As life shifted toward building guitars in the early aughts, Randy's influence persisted. Part of the reason I build guitars is that white pinstripe V; it was just the coolest guitar, and a fantastic example of the era of hot rodded, custom guitars. There were a lot of "new" designs back then; be it body shapes, or new technology. Of course, time and history has shown things that have endured (the Rhoads body shape is one of the most iconic in hard rock/metal guitar history) and things that have fallen by the wayside (I'm looking at you, Washburn Wonderbar). Granted, when I started building guitars, I didn't set out to create the next iconic guitar, and who knows where Sully Guitars will land in the greater scheme of it all, but as Mr. J once told me "we just try to make the next guitar better than the one before it."
At the same time, I found the Jackson/Charvel Forum, which was a small community of enthusiasts (like all forums, really). It was there where I got to learn more about the history of the brand, but in making friends and connections, I got to know some of the people who built the guitars that I love dearly. A lot of what Sully Guitars is today started with the friends I made there, and I can say with certainty that I don't know what my life would look like had I not found that place.
Along with the JCF, I found a couple of Randy themed message boards and groups. It was on the Thunderbird Yahoo! Group (remember them?) where I met a fellow Randy fan and budding guitar builder named Perry Ormsby. We've been pals for years, and our friendship has deepened to a family-like level. But it started because of Randy.
When the '71 eventually became more than pencil drawings, I wanted to create some kind of special Randy tie-in, but of course, I'd never build a copy of the white V or any of his other guitars. While running errands with Mrs. Sully one Sunday, I had the idea to take the iconic pinstripes and adapt them to the '71 body shape. In part of creating the 2016 Tribute Series, I was able to have the guitars painted in Grover's shop. To take it one step further, they were painted by Ernie Pedragon, the man who striped Randy's original white v. When Grover and I were building the '71 Trellas, I had Ernie stripe one for me, but in a reverse color scheme. It seemed like a fun thing to do, and it also served the purpose to show that the pinstripe and headstock color of Randy's guitar was metallic midnight blue; not black, as what we thought for years.
I'm a reflecting, sentimental type of guy at times like today, and I often think of how much of my life is tied to that moment in Kurt's basement when I heard Randy's playing for the first time. It absolutely changed me. I learned how to play his music and have spent years trying to be able to play a certain phrase properly (or as best as I'm ever going to). I once got up the nerve to call Musonia and I briefly chatted with Mrs. Rhoads on the phone one rainy November evening in 1998. After a gig in Memphis, I met someone who was in one of the last photos of him (she's on the right, outside of the bus after Randy played his last show in Knoxville, TN). I've been lucky to get to know Andrew Klein, who created the greatest Randy related book, ever. Visiting Musonia, as well as his resting place in San Bernardino. Walking the grounds in Leesburg, Florida where the terrible crash happened (which was oddly serene). Chatting with Grover and Ernie about Randy. Building my own guitars with Grover and becoming friends. Getting to hold some of the guitars Randy used while he was in Quiet Riot. It's surreal, to say the least, and I know that I'm very fortunate to have those experiences. My life was so profoundly impacted by the music that he created in his very short life, and I'm forever grateful.
Thanks Kurt, thanks Perry, thanks Grover, thanks Mrs. Sully, thank you for being interested (on any level) in what I do, and thanks Randy. I hope I did ya proud.
Never underestimate the power of the arts.
Well, NAMM 2017 is in the books, and I had an absolute blast meeting with many of you and getting Sully guitars in the hands of players. Like last year, my dear friend Perry Ormsby of Ormsby Guitars and I shared a booth. Unlike last year, the Ormsby staff (Jett, Sophia, and Matt) joined us, as well as The Guitar Strap Co! The response was really positive, and I'm very grateful to everyone who stopped by the booth to say hi.
If you missed the show or weren't able to stop by, here's a little video I did with Matt at Texas Toast Guitars, as well as a photo gallery to help you feel like you were there.
Looking forward to a busy 2017; I've got some stuff up my sawdust filled sleeve, so stay tuned, kids!
2016 has been a year of new models for Sully Guitars; the Raven has been redesigned, the Revolution will be revealed soon, and today's topic, the release of the Stardust.
The idea was to take the silhouette of the '71 and see what else could be done with it. I wanted to incorporate some retro-futuristic style, but I didn't want to lose the "pointy" aesthetic; for it to be a success, it would have to fit in with the other models, yet stand on its own.
Oh, and I wanted it to look like something that Bowie would have played.
The Stardust is 25.5 scale, features bolt on construction, your choice of the Aero or Raven headstocks (in regular or reversed orientation), slash or block outline inlays, stainless steel frets, with or without a pickguard, and your choice of Hipshot hardtail, two point tremelo, or Floyd Rose locking tremolo. It's available as a 7 string or baritone, and as with all Sully Guitars, no Bigsbys.
Pricing for the Stardust begins at $2350, but to celebrate its launch, I'm offering an early adopter discount; the introductory base price is $2150 for orders placed through the end of 2016!
On Sunday, July 17th, I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport, and after having lunch with friends, I made my way down to Grover's shop in Laguna Hills. This was going to be an incredibly busy and rewarding week. We begun each day at the shop at 6am, finish around 8pm, go get dinner, chat, and do it all over again. Of course while I was there, there were many other guitars being built and Grover had to make sure that everything was moving along as scheduled. I have to say that I've yet to meet anyone who works harder than Grover Jackson.
These are the first Sully guitars to incorporate CNC technology, and while I had a fair amount of the geometry already completed, there was still some work to do before we could begin the test guitars. The drafting brought up interesting conversations and philosophies that I hadn't really thought a whole ton about; because I've done the work by hand, I've relied more on what Grover refers to as organic geometry. The issue with that is I can't just look at the HAAS CNC and say "here's how I do it." The neck shape that we worked out is very comfortable (yet still very Sully), the back contour designs have been refined, and I'm really happy with the overall look and feel.
Another thing was just how wonderful it was to finally work with others. Since I've been building guitars, I've never had anyone right next to me to say "do it like this", and while learning some of their methods, it was so great to be able to show what I was working on to someone else and ask "like this?" Hearing a response of "yeah, that's perfect" from Luis or Grover's analogy of inlay fitment to that of grilled asparagus "some resistance at first, but then you get a satisfying snap" are just a few things that come to mind.
There were all kinds of bits and pieces that I'll always remember, and it was such a wonderful experience to be there.
Okay great, you had a fun time at camp. We get it. So when are we gonna see these things and how can we get them?
Currently, the guitars are working their way through the paint process and we should start seeing them available in stores in late October/early November. If you're in the US, you'll be able to purchase them from The Guitar Sanctuary, Red Dragon Guitars, and Boxcar Guitars. If you're in Australia, you can purchase them from Tone Town Music in Queensland, and from Hawkes Customs in Perth. Each dealer will have three guitars, and while there may be some similar finishes (blue fades are popular!), each dealer will have at least one guitar that has a unique finish.
I'm very pleased with how the guitars are turning out, and I can't wait to get them out to you!