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Rob Carty

Houston, Texas

Rob Carty's Sunburst hollowbody with a Mustang neckA bit about myself: I am an attorney in Houston, Texas, and a die-hard Texas Longhorn (BBA 1987, JD 1991, MBA 1992). My inspiration for building guitars goes back to Eddie Van Halen, circa 1981. It blew me away to think that - with no real experience - EVH could build such good-looking and cool-sounding guitars. I made my first guitar body around age 16 - a one-piece Honduran mahogany Explorer-type guitar with a Fender Mustang neck. Talk about a freak of nature! But it played and sounded so nice that it became my No. 1 axe for years. And from there I was hooked.

I don't really know what happened to that Explorer body, but the neck now resides on one of my home-built Teles.

1. Sunburst hollowbody with a Mustang neck
First is a hollowbody I made while serving in the U.S. Air Force in the mid 1990s. I loved the military, and one of the best parts was that they had these "wood hobby shops," fully loaded with all the tools you could ever want. I had a spare Mustang neck laying around, so (naturally) I freehanded a Tele-style body, scaled down to match the Mustang's 24-inch scale. Actually, I think I scaled it down a little too much, but it still looks good. This was my first (and only) hollow body, and my first sunburst. The top is a single piece of birdseye maple; the back is a single slab of hard maple, routed out beyond all comprehension. There are lots of flaws, and the guitar looks much better than it plays. Still, it was a very ambitious project at that time in my life, and I'm proud to have done it.

Rob Carty's Surf Green Tele-Gib/Strat Hybrid (2. Surf Green Tele-Gib/Strat Hybrid ("George")
Second is a two-piece alder Tele that was to serve two purposes: (1) to be versatile (able to approximate Gibson and Fender sounds); and (2) to test my budgeting skills. I bought the slab and crafted the body therefrom. I bought a no-name paddle-head neck, shaped the head, and applied a Fender decal. I painted it ReRanch surf green from a can, cleared it with nitro, and relic'd the crap out of it. It played its first tune on July 4, 2004 -- the Star-Spangled Banner, of course. One of the best-sounding guitars I've ever owned. It has a 5-way Strat switch (pickup combinations are B, B+M, M, M+N, N). That extra toggle switch where the tone knob usually is functions as a coil tap: in the "up" position, both double-coils are in two-coil mode; in the middle, the neck pickup is tapped (and functions as a single-coil); and in the down positions, all three pickups function as single-coils, essentially giving the configuration of a Strat. This Tele is dedicated to my grandfather (George), who died a couple of weeks after I finished this guitar. He taught me about woodworking when I was a kid, and helped me build my first guitar body at age 16.

3. My (Lucky) Son's Tele With My First Homemade Neck
I built this next one for my son's tenth birthday. The kid has really impressed me with his (downright amazing) piano playing and his keen interest in learning guitar. He even likes the music I crave -- Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, all the classic rock stuff that kids his age don't Rob Carty's Tele with First Homemade Neckeven recognize anymore! Eager to reward his behavior, I decided to build him a guitar. Yeah, I could have bought him one, but I wanted this to be extremely special and wanted to give him an heirloom. But I also wanted to throw a twist into it: I wanted him to help me design it -- but without knowing it would be his! So we drew up a prototype, he picked a color, and we discussed woods. I took him down to the lumber yard, where he helped me pick out some nice heavy ash and some hard maple for the neck. He helped me build it here and there, and while he was incapable of doing a whole lot, he felt involved. I put a Fender Tele decal on the headstock, but in tiny letters it bears the inscription "Custom made in the U.S.A. for [his name]." I also took this opportunity to make my very first neck. Again, I was ambitious, going with a one-piece maple neck with a skunk stripe down the back. A bit more complicated than a two-piece neck, but with care, I was able to pull it off. I gave it a Stevie-Ray-Vaughn-style asymmetrical profile on the rear, along with a satin finish, for playability. I painted the body with DupliColor acrylic lacquer, with about a million clear coats. That bridge pickup is a GFS Lil Puncher; the others are regular GFS Strat pickups. The tone control uses a push-pull pot that taps one of the two neck-pickup coils. The switch is a Strat five-position switch (again, B, B+M, M, M+N, N).

The boy loves it, and nearly passed out when I presented it to him in front of the family. He designed it, and now it's his.

Rob Carty's Tele with First Homemade Neck

4. My Friend's Tele Custom Clone With My Second Homemade Neck
I have a very good friend whom I've known since I was 15 years old. We played in bands together throughout high school and college, and have remained close ever since. Along the way, we've collected and disposed of some Rob Carty's Tele Custom cloneinteresting and cool instruments. Among them was my friend's Telecaster Custom. I forget exactly when he bought the thing, but it had a natural ash finish that he eventually re-sprayed in alternating parallel stripes of red, white, and black.

Anyway, I loved that guitar. It sounded great and felt even better to play. Alas, when we went our separate ways after college, he gave it to his cousin. I think he knew he'd made a mistake in giving away perhaps the coolest axe he'd ever had.

Over the years, as my guitar-making skills have improved, I've often thought of making a Tele Custom to add to the collection. When I bought the lumber for my son's guitar (see above), I bought enough for three instruments. I figured it was time to build the Custom, and decided at the beginning that I would make it for my buddy. I planned to use an ashtray bridge with a natural ash finish, just like the original.

This guitar fought me every step of the way. I ruined one neck, had a heck of a time getting a routing pattern for the control cavities, experienced problems with tear-out on the ash body, almost drilled holes where they should not be, and had to change bridges at the end of the project. Moreover, pickguards and neck pickups for these things are not exactly plentiful, unless you're willing to pay a king's ransom. I lucked out and paid only half a king's ransom on e-bay.

Once I got the two-piece body complete, I decided I could not do the planned natural finish because one side turned out Rob Carty's Tele Custom clonesignificantly darker than the other. I decided instead to do an oxide red finish, but unfortunately, I had a sand-though. I addressed each of these problems as they occurred, and my persistence finally paid off -- the guitar sounds great and plays great. Very similar to the original.

The neck pickup is from a Fender 72 Reissue Tele Custom, and the bridge pickup is a standard GFS Tele pickup. I put a little gimmick into the wiring, too: a Bill Lawrence Q-filter. If you select the neck pickup and turn the tone control to zero, the guitar sounds much like an acoustic guitar with a piezo pickup. So you can go from acoustic strumming to blistering Tele lead sounds with the flick of the toggle switch.

As I write this, I have not yet given the axe to my buddy. More on that after it happens ...

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