“From what you see in the guitars, you can tell that everybody involved in the process cares about what they do.” —Tim Wilson
Before your James Tyler® Variax® US Custom Series guitar reaches your hands, it passes through those of the most skilled woodworkers, painters and builders in the business. Representing over a century of experience, the talented team demonstrates deep passion, pride and guitar players’ sensibilities while bringing James Tyler’s designs to life. By delicately balancing cutting-edge manufacturing technology with painstaking hand craftsmanship, the US Custom Series team creates instruments of incomparable beauty and feel.
Two principles guide the US Custom Series team through the process of building each guitar: the reputation and legacy of James Tyler, and the needs of today’s most discerning musicians. To ensure the precise execution of Tyler’s design and vision, veteran luthier Tim Wilson oversees every step of the process, closely collaborating with the entire US team.
“Beyond trying to satisfy the customers, I have to make sure that James Tyler will be happy… He holds extremely high standards for his work.” —Tim Wilson
Technology Meets Craftsmanship
“My philosophy is that there’s a right way to do things, and a wrong way. Pretty simple, do it the right way.” —Bruce Hamilton
To create the James Tyler Variax bodies and necks, the woodworking team pairs computer-aided drafting and machining (CNC) technology—which provides absolute consistency and superior intonation—with meticulous hand craftsmanship for incredible feel. The guitars’ unique electronics presented a significant challenge to the experienced team, so they developed new tools and methods to complement the capabilities of the CNC machines. This highly customized process requires significantly more time than it takes to build a standard guitar.
“There’s a marriage, if you will, between computer-aided machining and hands-on craftsmanship.” —Darran Sanders
The expert team uses musical instrument-grade hardwoods from a number of US suppliers. They also hand select some hardwoods from a rich lumberyard in Humbolt county, a densely forested region along the Pacific coast in Northern California. After choosing the perfect pieces for necks and bodies, the team cuts the lumber, then lets it rest in a specially designed, temperature- and humidity-controlled space until it becomes optimally seasoned and relaxed. This requires a minimum of one month for the necks, which are made from quarter-sawn lumber that resists warping or twisting—ensuring stability and playability throughout the life of your guitar.
When the neck wood is ready, the team runs it through the initial processes on the CNC machine, and then installs the truss rod and glues on the fingerboard. At this point, the neck returns to the special temperature- and humidity-controlled space to rest for two days. Then the team completes the final steps in the CNC process, which include the perimeter and back shape of the neck. Then the shaped neck rests another two days before the fretboard is leveled and the frets are seated.
This time-consuming process delivers unparalleled results. For example, the machine is toleranced well within a thousandth of an inch on the fretboard slots. Each scale length is produced with dead-on accuracy, resulting in far superior intonation compared to hand-cut fretboards.
“Without skill and expertise, you can turn that nicely machined part into firewood in a heartbeat.” —Jeff Callahan
Of course, there are numerous steps that require the touch of a skilled craftsman to produce the incredible tactile experience that’s the signature of a world-class guitar. The fretting is all done manually, one fret at a time, and the fingerboard edges are rounded over by hand to ensure great feel. Each body and neck is meticulously hand-sanded and carefully measured, inspected and evaluated.
To achieve the best results, Tim Wilson evaluates the grain pattern of each body, and hand-selects the ones that are best suited to each individual finish. After decades of experimenting with various materials and refining painting techniques, the veteran US Custom Series painters use proven techniques to ensure beauty and durability that will last a lifetime.
First, the painters lay down coats of sealer and undercoat, then set the body aside to dry for a minimum of seven days. Then they sand it all flat, ensuring the edges are round and smooth, and the sides, front and back are perfectly flat. Next, the painters apply as little color as needed to create the desired effect, since color doesn’t offer the same hardness as the sealer and topcoat. Afterward, they apply the topcoat, and again wait a minimum of seven days before painstakingly sanding, leveling and polishing the guitar by hand a final time.
Every step of the way, each guitar is inspected to make sure that the sanding and polishing is immaculate, surfaces are flat, and the radiuses are round and true to the shape of the raw wood.
The Extra Mile
After the body is painted, the team painstakingly assembles all of the components, then performs a multi-step setup process to unlock each guitar’s full range of tonal possibilities—and provide amazing feel.
Building on industry-standard quality-assurance practices, the US Custom Series team created a unique set of guidelines to make sure that every aspect of each guitar would meet or exceed customer expectations—from the fretwork and finish to the electronics and setup. Many guitar makers stop there, but the US Custom Series team takes a critical extra step.
In addition to being exceptional luthiers, the members of the US Custom Series team are exceptional players. Drawing on their experience as musicians, they spend time playing each and every guitar. They listen intently while working the tremolo, bending the strings and testing all the electronics, ensuring that each guitar provides the ultimate playing experience.