There is one thing that separates the successful painter/writer/craftsmen/musicians from everyone else. Some think it’s some gift of inspiration, while others believe that it comes down to so-called “natural talent”.
No, the one thing that separates the “artist” from the hobbyist and wannabe is work. Plain ol’, showin’ up every day, work. Don’t think so? Just ask Rob Gray of RIP Custom Guitars.
His first guitar worth mentioning was a basic starter Hondo II electric. The excitement of being able to turn his little practice amp up to 11 and play some rock ‘n roll was tempered by the fact that it simply didn’t play that well.
A few years of playing passed when the young and impressionable Rob came across an article in Guitar World about the builds and modifications that Eddie Van Halen and Brian May were making to their own guitars.
“I dove right in. I picked up a copy of ‘The Electric Guitar Repair Guide’, read it cover to cover, measured one of my guitars, and drew up a full-size plan. My parents had some tools kicking around the garage and I ended up building a Flying V. Turned out pretty good for a first build, but now that I knew you could adjust and make your own, I developed a personal vendetta against poorly playing guitars.”
Over the next four years, Rob built ten more guitars before he decided to take his hobby to a professional level. After much research he decided on Roberto-Venn’s School of Luthiery, whose accredited program covered the gamut with a repair course, instruction/testing regarding woodgrains, adhesives, construction theory, and so on. The requirements were to build one electric and one acoustic guitar. Rob built five and graduated in the spring of 2007.
With his newly earned education Rob quickly found employment, and was just as quickly underutilized. In 2009 he decided to take matters into his own hands, and RIP Custom Guitars was formed.
His biggest regret about the period before striking out on his own?
“I would have been less timid about moving forward. I had the skills and the vision for what my business should be, but there was a lot of unnecessary contemplation that wasted time.”
That’s the past. Nowadays Radical Instrument Products specializes in handcrafted custom electric guitars and is full-service instrument repair shop including basic cleaning and restring to extensive fretwork and complete refinish work.
The difficult part?
“Definitely the initial planning and design stage. Making sure I fully understand what a customer wants in their build is critical. There are lots of practical and aesthetic choices to be made, especially when designing a guitar from scratch. Gotta make sure it’s correct before you start making wood chips. Lately, I’ve been designing and building multi-scale or fanned-fret guitars. Custom orders are fun because I end up working on instruments that I wouldn’t typically make of my own volition. Also, I believe that a tech should be a pretty competent player. Setup work is very dependent on how someone approaches the guitar stylistically. Being able to play definitely helps you dial in a guitar for a customer.”
So there it is: a complete success story from hobbyist to business owner.
But has the work stopped?
“No!(laughs) To this day I spend several hours a week designing new jigs and fixtures, reading about or performing repairs, customizing, and building guitars from scratch. I’m always looking for a cleaner, more efficient ways to work.”
He has the tools and the talent. Rob Gray of RIP is the only call you need to make.