by LIZA MITCHELL
The eye sees what it is. The artist sees what it will become. For Michael Anderberg of Neptune Beach, a custom, hand-carved guitar will reveal itself in a simple piece of mahogany wood.
Anderberg began working with wood nearly 20 years ago when he refinished and restored antique furniture. He would also lend a hand to local musicians in need of a refinished guitar. That experience evolved into a successful career designing and building his custom electric and bass guitars. “Basically, it was curiosity. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 16, so guitars have always been part of the picture,” he says. “Every time I would strip a guitar down and look at it, it was just a piece of wood. I’d say, ‘I can do this. It can’t be rocket science.’”
Maybe it isn’t rocket science, but building fine musical instruments by hand is a genuine talent. There is a world of difference between a mass-produced guitar found at a local big-box store music shop, no matter the price tag, and that of the instruments played by true professionals. The tuning gears are better, the pick-ups more responsive and the overall setup of a pro’s axe is far superior to that of the best store-bought guitar.
And those are the obvious differences. There are many hidden tweaks that the pros use to produce a distinctive sound and also to balance elements that provide comfortable durability for long evenings sweating under spotlights.
In 1991, Anderberg picked up “a couple of really good books and read them like 50 times” before he was ready to dive in. “The addiction started then,” he says. If his previous woodworking skills provided the foundation for his newfound trade, the books offered a wealth of information from basic guitar construction to the bells and whistles used to create and sustain a certain sound. Anderberg knew what he wanted, and now he was on the road to getting there.
“To build a guitar,” Anderberg says, “you have to be somewhat of a player and know what you want. My first guitar was a combination of everything I wanted in a guitar. When you are in design mode, you can design anything you want. So I added some of the parts that I didn’t see in the store, and it was my own personal ultimate guitar.”
Over the years, Anderberg fostered what would become his signature design element in his guitar construction. He used what is known as neck-through construction, wherein the neck of the guitar goes all the way through the body as one solid piece of wood instead of employing a glue joint favored by many manufacturers as the transition from neck to body. “Some guitars may have a bolt-on neck that used four bolts to attach the neck to the body. But I wanted one solid piece,” Anderberg says. “It improves the sustain of the note and makes your note ring longer. It’s a real solid build.”
Anderberg’s professional-grade instruments have received praise in national guitar magazines for their outstanding construction and understated elegance. “Some axes bash you over the head,” raved Pete Prown in a January 2010 review in Vintage Guitar Magazine. “But this one is a quietly classy instrument with a great vibe that says, ‘just play me.’”
Each guitar takes approximately six weeks, from naked wood to the final, lacquered product, to complete. The finishing process alone can take over two weeks. Anderberg nurtures the wood, carefully lining and cutting the individual shapes in his 5,500-square-foot warehouse space on Union Street in downtown Jacksonville. Anderberg typically builds up to five guitars at a time.The most he’s done at a time was 16, he says. “I usually start in small batches. If I glue one neck up, I might as well do more, even if the guitar is not sold. I’ll do several just to get that part out of the way. If I get in that mode, I’m staying at it,” he says. “At this point it’s all done by hand. If I do get in any kind of production mode where I’m building hopefully 10 to 20 guitars a month, I’m going to make the process more efficient.”
If a customer has a specific body shape in mind, Anderberg will meet with his client to determine the best way to address the request. His guitars cost between $2,500 and $3,500 so he goes above and beyond to ensure each piece is perfect.
He has a small but important list of musical heroes that will “absolutely” receive a free guitar if given the chance. That list includes jazz blues players Robben Ford and Allan Holdsworth, Steve Lukather of Toto, and, of course, legendary players Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. He has gifted one of his hand-crafted models to Eric Clapton, and Derek Trucks has been known to throw an Anderberg guitar around his shoulder a time or two. “I’m from the 70s, so those are kind of my guitar heroes,” he says. “All they have to do is show up and play. Everyone else just needs a checkbook and a working pen.”
For gallery images and order information, visit www.anderberguitars.com. You can plug-in and play Mike’s latest guitar creation at Bill’s Guitar Loft in the House of Stero location 8780 – 100 Perimeter Park Court on the corner of JTB & Southside Blvd. 642-6677 or visit [email protected].
by LIZA MITCHELL