Every strong-armed guitarist works hard to hone their craft to deliver a tune, from plucking or sweeping strings. They are the ones who deliver the ballads, tasty licks or bombastic shredding that we all love to hear. On the other side, there are the guitar makers—the luthiers who work just as hard to provide the means to that sound. From a mahogany body with a maple neck or an intricate aluminum neck, a flying V mandolin or a race-car red “violator,” guitars like these are handcrafted and custom-built with gusto and attention to every detail. These four Utah luthiers—Casey Ledingham, Reid Rouse, Moses McKinley and Rob Gray—each exhibit specialized skill sets to spotlight any guitar player’s unique talent.
SLUG: What was the first guitar you ever bought/had given to you? Looking back, did that first experience at all influence how you craft your guitars?
Ledingham: The first guitar I ever bought was a Harmony. It was a Strat body with candy-apple paint. I bought that first guitar at a pawn shop on the highway. When I was 12 years old, I’d figured, “If I got a guitar now, I could be a wildchild by the age of 13.” You’re asking me if the first guitar I bought when I was 12 influenced me. Well, that particular guitar, when I was done with it, had about four paint jobs on it. It had scalloped frets and a huge cutaway on the butt-end, so when I played, it would sit like a Flying V guitar. I did a lot of work to that guitar—even made a Flying V body to fit the neck—polkadot like Randy Rhoads, of course.
SLUG: What started your journey of making guitars/instruments?
Ledingham: My family was always building things. I wanted to be a little different by building something no one in my family could.
SLUG: Did you receive any sort of education from a school/mentor to learn how to craft guitars? If so, what?
Ledingham: I started pulling guitars apart at a young age. Then [I] went to Red Rocks Wood Working Department for two years, five to six days a week, to become a certified luthier.
SLUG: It looks like you make your guitars out of your garage. Is that your primary workspace, or do you have a shop?
Ledingham: Oh yes. I actually don’t call it a garage. I call it the shop, and the shop’s name is The Ol Sundown. But yes, I have a 24×24 detached garage that holds all my toys.
SLUG: Do you only build custom rigs, or do you build when you feel like building and just sell rigs that you have made?
Ledingham: I will build anything for a price. I built a rad guitar that was themed from a scythe—pretty fucking metal. I have built Teles to Pauls to Calls to Rickys. I do have my own shapes and styles. I run those on CNC, so I can cut those super [consistently] for a decent price.
SLUG: What is the hardest part about making a guitar? It’s all pretty equal.
Ledingham: It all just takes time and practice.There’s everything from running saws to dust, collections to logo, design to business and sales to communications. There are a whole list of things that are hard, but by continued work, it gets easier.
SLUG: Is it a fairly large financial investment to get all the materials to build a guitar?
Ledingham: My starting price is $1500. Then everything extra is extra money.
SLUG: Do you have a favorite or top three custom builds that you have crafted?
Ledingham: I built a guitar for Max Pain and the Groovies. That was a fun custom build. I built a guitar for Winter Burial that was a Grim Reaper scythe. My motto is WWLD, meaning “What Would Lemmy Do,” seeing how Lemmy is god. So I built a six–string guitar, just like Lemmy’s neck-through [Rickenbacker].
SLUG: Do you have a favored type of music you like to craft your builds to?
Ledingham: I listen to everything the SLUG reader listens to. I dig it all!
SLUG: For electric guitars, what wood do you find is the best to achieve a great sound for anything in the distorted realm?
Ledingham: If the wood looks cool, I say use it. Pickups have a huge reflection on sound. If the wood’s getting painted, maple neck and an alder body.
SLUG: Is there any type of wood that is completely useless for electric (or acoustic) guitar-making?
Ledingham: It’s funny you say that. I was out working in the shop last summer naked, and my wife came out and looked at me like I was crazy. So I guess my wood was pretty useless.
SLUG: What kind(s) of tone(s) do you usually go for in your builds?
Ledingham: I like a bright, aggressive and snappy tone in the bridge, and a Tele middy sound in the neck.
SLUG: Is there a type of pickup/tuning selection that you like to use in you guitars? If so, what?
Ledingham: I like all types of pickups and have used a lot of them. I’m getting a better tonal sound nowadays from local pickup winder Instrumental Pickups. He truly may be the smartest man I know to wind a pickup. He could have a full article himself. He’s mind-blowing.
SLUG: Do you get to craft guitars that you want to make just because, or do you mostly craft custom jobs for people that want them a certain way?
Ledingham: I do about half and half. I build my production run how I want and sell as is. I build one-offs that are about 50 percent my idea and 50 percent their idea, so building is always fun.
SLUG: Have you ever made a guitar that, when you finished, you could not part with, no matter what offer there was that could be made on the guitar?
Ledingham: Only my early guitars. Some I have thrown in the garbage. Nowadays, everything is for sale.
SLUG: When you start to build, do you design a draft on paper or do you just start with a body shape and build from there?
Ledingham: Yes, I build a master template. The master is made out of thin MDF that I cut out and sand to the desired shape [that] I’m looking for. Then I will trace the template on the stock of wood I’m using for the guitar, [and] then head over to my bandsaw and cut to my line. I go back to my template and screw it to the guitar wood stock and use a flush cut bit on my router table to achieve the perfect shape with minimal handling after. With the CNC cutting, I have all my programs ready to cut, any time. First, with that, I will create a 14” x 20” x 1.75” stock of wood, clamp it to my table, create an X-zero, Y-zero to locate the stock. After that, I just set my Z and start the programs from there.
SLUG: How does one contact you or look at your work to see what you build to get estimates, etc.?
Ledingham: I’m just on the Instagram,@ledighamguitars, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I will be getting more into the cyber-world soon. I’m just focusing on my product and perfecting that.
SLUG: Do you usually build just wood necks for your guitars, or when you build a guitar that’s not a custom job, do you try different neck setups? Is there a neck setup that is particularly difficult?
Ledingham: I know the almighty master of Eagle Twin Gentry, [Gentry] Densley, uses a guitar he built that has an aluminum neck. That guy totally rules.
SLUG: Do you find that, after the years you have spent crafting, you get set in your ways, or do you strive to learn new things and how to do different builds/bodies/necks/etc.?
Ledingham: Oh yes, for sure—not so much now, seeing how I build a lot more nowadays, but back when I was pretty restricted on what, when or where I could build. I will be going on 10 years building guitars, so I now have things I didn’t have.
SLUG: Do you play any other instrument than guitar? Have you ever thought about building anything besides electric, or do you build other instruments?
Ledingham: For Ledingham Guitars, I will keep pushing the boundaries for what the company creates. The goal is to build pedals, heads cabinets and pedal boards, as well as basses and guitars.
SLUG: Along those same lines, have you ever considered trying to build percussion instruments?
Ledingham: I have thought about how I would. I would need a huge lathe.
SLUG: Do you have a guitarist you like that has a tone you have tried to recreate?
Ledingham: Oh yes, indeed. I love them all. The list is massive, but I’ll name a few: Alexi Laiho all-time favorite guitar player—fucking shredder; Keith Richards, [other] all-time favorite guitar player—fucking rocker; Brent Hinds [another] all-time favorite guitar player—fucking rocker-shredder. But really, I dig all music, and I want that to be something that rolls in and rolls out.