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The wisdom(?) and experience of luthier Joe Veillette
Eddie Van Halen & his Veillette Baritone 12 String Guitars
November 16, 2017
Sometime around 1996 I sold Eddie Van Halen an electric baritone 12 string – one of my first. Four weeks later he called and ordered another - one for the studio and one at home. That sounded like a great idea to me. I believe his words were “I’m using it a lot”. About a month after he got the second one he called and asked if he could send back the first to have a magnetic pickup installed in addition to the existing piezo. That was to become the first of many guitars with that combination.
A customer was in the shop the day I received the guitar. He gasped when he saw it and shook his head sadly. ”It must be upsetting to see the way he's treating your guitar”. He pointed to some deep nicks in the neck, a small chunk of body missing near the output jack, and lots of belt buckle rash on the back. “Doesn't that make you mad?” I told him I was actually pretty pleased.
Having just gotten a call asking how soon I could turn it around. I figured he was treating it like a tool, using it to make music, just like I’d use a chisel or a rasp. The guitar as I perceived it was an implement helping to create sound energy, not so much an end in itself.
Tools of the Guitar Player
Back in the old Veillette-Citron days, I was surprised at my own reaction when a got a heads-up from Ralph Legnini who was at the set-up bench. He said I really needed to hear this Limited Edition Rosewood and flame maple guitar he had just set up. Upon remembering that the guitar was going to a photo studio, then directly to a “vault” to become part of a not-to-be-played collection, I decided that I didn’t want to hear what it sounded like. It just seemed kind of sad that it wasn’t going to be making music anytime in the foreseeable future. Like a collectable car taken off the road and put into someone’s warehouse until it appreciates in value. It actually made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t just because of the amount of work we put into building it, or the decisions picking out the desired wood and making what we felt was the perfect neck profile, and all the Veillette-Citron team’s care and effort. It was mostly that it was an instrument that needed to live – to come alive in the hands of a guitarist!
And That’s Why I Make Guitars!
And that’s what’s special about being a guitar maker. It feels like a kind of alchemy or magic My job became easier when I realized that I was happiest and most satisfied with my work when the end product was music and joy rather than a collectible investment.
If the guitar pleases the eye, that’s fine too.
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