The ToneQuest Report
Gigliotti Custom Guitars
"you dont pick guitars, they pick you."
Patrick Gigliotti is a painter who has always admired
the guitar as both an instrument and a work of art, and the guitars
that bear his name gloriously succeed on both counts. Our first
sighting of Joes Gigliotti was under stage lights that seemed
to set the guitar on fire. Even from 50 rows away, Gigliotti guitars
burn with a bizarre incandescence, and we were understandably anxious
to discover the charm that had seemed to capture the imagination
of a player who has pretty much seen and played them all. We werent
disappointed, and a review follows our conversation with Patrick
TQR: Do you have a background in guitar building?
No, but my background had everything to do with creating the guitars,
beginning with working in my dads cabinet shop and learning
about things like inlay panels. Then he opened a finish shop. He
had kind of a drunk for a sprayer at one time, I was doing all of
the sanding, and this guy would show up on Friday, get paid, and
not come back until the next week. My dad couldnt deal with
that, so one day he handed me the spray gun and said, "Here
- learn how to spray." We were shooting lacquer back then,
and I learned all about using stains, how to spray in the winter,
how to cheat... (laughs). Then I started spraying cars at night
in the shop to make extra money. I did my own El Camino first, and
when my dad retired I kept doing it. I got into pinstriping, and
the next thing led to another and I got into doing Harleys. I just
learned everything I could about painting. Over the years, I had
also been interested in guitars, and I always liked the Telecaster.
I dont know why, but I knew it was a popular blues guitar,
and I learned more about it by reading magazines, listening to
records and watching tapes of the old blues guys. I kept looking
at Fender designs and the Thinline, in particular. You know how
guitars kind of grab hold of you? You dont pick them, they
pick you. So they picked me. I had nothing to do with it. I was
at work one day and this idea came to me about using metal and painting
it as part of a guitar. My crude thought was to take a plasma cutter
and create some type of guitar top from metal. At the same time,
I was customizing and chopping a 51 Mercury with suicide doors.
I didnt even know about a CNC machine. I asked around about
where I could get a guitar body built and someone referred me to
Tommy at USA Custom Guitars. We met, and I explained to him what
I wanted to do and he said, "Sure, we can do that." So
Tommy and USA Custom made the first chambered ash body with a center
block, but I still had no clear idea how I was going to fabricate
the metal top. I had been working out with a guy who was vice president
of Alaskan Copper and Pipe, and he had been a welder. He told me
that rather than using a plasma cutter, I needed to use a laser
water jet. He told me where to go to have the first aluminum top
cut, but it was too thick and heavy, so we cut a second, thinner
top. I painted it myself and clear-coated it and gave it to my tech
to put the first guitar together. He called me up after it was all
together and said, "What the hell did you do?" The way
he explained it to me was that it had this big, fat tone, with a
bright sparkle on the top end. I think a lot of it has to do with
the fact that Tommy builds such great stuff, and that big neck also
plays an important role in the sound of the guitar. If someone wants
a 63 contour, well do it, but to my ear, the true sound
of a Gigliotti is that big neck.
After we had the first guitar together I took it over to an older
guy who worked at Guitar Center to see what he thought. He played
it for a long time unplugged and he said to me, "Youre
going to have rock stars playing these guitars." I thought,
"Yeah, right..." (laughs) I wanted to get some second
opinions on it, and I took it down to a local blues club during
an open mike night and it just hung on the wall all night - nobody
even touched it. But if you believe in something, you dont
give up on it.
TQR: How did you meet Joe?
Well, the first guy I met was Tab Benoit, and he seemed to be very
closed-minded. All he wants to do is play his 72 Tele, which
is OK. He was playing at Jazz Bones here in Tacoma, and he played
my guitar and the crowd was loving it, but he didnt want anything
to do with it. Fair enough. Then one night my wife and son and I
dropped into Jazz Bones to eat and there was a picture of Joe Bonamassa
on the window, and in the picture he was holding a Les Paul. Now,
my experience with guys that play Les Pauls is not very good - most
of them just want to play Les Pauls and thats it. But there
was just something about Joe - I dont know - maybe it was
because he was Italian (laughs). While we were at Jazz Bones, my
seven year-old son picked up one of Joes fliers and it had
a CD sampler in it. So on the way home I played "My Mistake,"
and I was impressed, and then I heard "If Heartaches Were Nickels,"
and I had to go see him play. Well, Jazz Bones gets pretty packed,
so I decided to see Joe at this dump in Seattle called The Tractor
Tavern. We waited in the rain and I brought the guitar and I started
talking to his guitar tech. I saw that Joe was playing Strats and
Teles, so I was thinking this could be good. When he was finished
playing we showed him the guitar, and I remember everybody just
froze when he opened the case. "What the hell is this?"
I told him to take the Tele, and then we built him a Strat, which
is completely hollow, and he really loves them both.
TQR: How many guitars have you built to date?
Only nine. Its all come together pretty fast since the first
TQR: So you started with aluminum, then you built
a brass top, and now youve done a guitar using copper. What
kind of finishing materials are you using?
We use all of the traditional materials that guitar shops use,
but you cant touch the unfinished metal tops with your bare
hands. If you do, the oil from your skin will leave a print that
only appears when the finish is applied, so I began to clear-coat
them with three coats of DuPont 7600 automotive clear.
TQR: How do you get the pattern onto the metal?
Each pattern is different. I use a body sander that rotates in
one direction using #500 grit paper, I get the pattern I like, and
then we clear-coat it and send it out to Ty, who does the painting
for USA Custom, and I tell him what color to paint each body.
Its pretty tough to get noticed with a new guitar design
these days, but as you will continue to discover in these pages
during the months ahead, uncharted territory still exists in places
that demand and deserve your attention.
Whether by chance or design, Patrick Gigliotti will be recognized
for having created inspiring works of art that you will really want
to play, in large part due to having chosen USA Custom Guitars as
a partner in the construction of his guitars. We saw an example
of their work recently when Delta Moon slider Mark Johnson proudly
showed us a custom Stratocaster neck he had ordered. We contacted
USA Custom, and an in-depth article and review is in the works,
however, the Gigliottis we received for review left no doubt
that USA Custom is producing some of the finest custom guitar bodies
and necks we have ever seen on any instruments by any maker, large
or small. So good, in fact, that we sold a guitar to buy the mahogany
tobacco burst Gigliotti Tele reviewed here rather than taking our
chances placing an order after this article was published.
A mahogany Telecaster is a beautiful thing... warm, round, full-figured
(but not too heavy), curvaceous, and sweet-sounding, although fully
capable of barking like a dog, too. The mahogany Gigliotti lacks
the thinner treble smack of a typical ash and maple Telecaster,
and the semi-hollow thin-line style body imparts a subtle
hollowness and unique acoustic resonance that compliments the warmth
of the mahogany body and neck very nicely. Unplugged, the low E
and A strings set off a resonance that can be felt throughout the
guitar, and the mids and highs are warm and sweet, with not a hint
of harsh treble tones or muddy mids. The fret work is flawless,
and the compound radius makes playing a pure joy anywhere on the
neck. In other words, the sum of the parts works in both a functional
and an aesthetic sense that beckons you to play the Gigliotti every
time you see it, and you cant say that about every new guitar
The neck shape on the Gigliotti is a deep, soft V -
less challenging than the full baseball bat heft of a typical Historic
Les Paul, but the mass of the neck is still substantial enough to
generate significant string vibration to the body of the guitar.
This contributes to what some players refer to as vibe,
and we suppose this term really means that the guitar vibrates a
lot and some of that woody, good vibration is heard through the
pickups. Well, the Gigliotti vibrates real good. We dearly love
that neck, and so will you. For your reference, USA Custom describes
this particular neck as their rosewood 1.650 Fat Back with a 7.25
- 9.5 compound radius and Dunlop 6150 fret wire, mother-of-pearl
face and side markers and rolled fingerboard edges. The Gigliotti
certainly doesnt play new, and this neck would
be super-fine on a Strat, as well.
The body is built from two pieces of mahogany with a center seam
visible from the back. Each half of the body is fully chambered
with a center block of maple wide enough to accommodate mounting
for the bridge plate and routing for the neck pickup, which is accessible
from the back. Despite the semi-hollow design, the Gigliotti absolutely
refuses to feedback or squeal, and the brass top doesnt introduce
any unwanted noise. It does, however, impart tone. Please dont
ask us how, because we have no idea.
The bridge design is string-through-body, just as it should be
(hate those top-loaders), with six fully adjustable, non-vintage
saddles. The pickups in our Gigliotti are the same used for the
first Tele given to Joe Bonamassa - a Seymour Duncan Vintage 54
bridge and Alnico II Pro neck. The inherent Tele brightness is nicely
tempered by the mahogany, and we liked what we heard from the bridge.
However, the neck pickup left us less than enthusiastic. Dont
fault Seymour - he has re-created a softer, more musical rendition
of the the original neck pickup sound of the early Telecaster, but
we still found it to be a little muddy, dull and uninspiring. What
do you do with it? How about losing it altogether. Wed like
to see a Gigliotti Esquire, or at least another take on a neck pickup
with some attitude from Duncan, Harmonic Design or Lollar, perhaps.
Or how about a set of Bardens? They are not a traditional
Tele sound, but they will pin your ears back with some mighty big
tone. Since Gigliottis are all custom-built, you can pick your poison
when it comes to pickups. How nice is that!
Tuners are Klusons, and the bone nut was perfectly cut. Like Joes
Gigliotti, our guitar has stayed in perfect tune through travel
and temperature changes. Now youre wondering how much this
thing with a brass top weighs, arent you? 8.5 pounds, or about
the same as a light-weight mahogany Les Paul. In contrast, the surf
green burst Gigliotti pictured weighed in at only 7 pounds (both
guitars share identical specs), but we preferred the slightly darker,
rounder sound of our heavier Tele. Weight isnt everything...
There is plenty of additional information available on the Gigliotti
and USA Custom web sites, and the sky is the limit on various tweaks
that can be made to your Gigliotti. Strat style or Tele, we urge
you to get your order in now, because we expect demand for Gigliottis
to go no where but up in 2004. Meanwhile, stay tuned for our upcoming
mondo-in-depth story on USA Custom and the ToneQuest Stratocaster.
TONEQUEST REPORT V5. N4. February 2004. Reprinted
The ToneQuest Report interviews Joe Bonamassa and Patrick Gigliotti
plus they review the Gigliotti GT. You can download the .pdf file
(933KB) complete with photos (black & white) by clicking
- Joe Bonamassa interview, page 1-14
- Patrick Gigliotti interview, page 15-17
- Gigliotti GT review, page 17-18
If you need the Free Adobe Acrobat Reader to open the .pdf file,
here, then follow directions to download!
Visit the ToneQuest Report web site at: http://www.tonequest.com
to the Patrick Gigliotti interview