Crafting a Unique Sound
Marshall Hawkins has played and collected electric guitars for years, but his newfound hobby is building them from scratch. His unique, colorful creations not only look good, but they have a beautiful tone. And although Marshall still considers himself a novice, he’s pleased with his craftsmanship—which he owes to YouTube.
“There’s a surprising number of helpful videos about building guitars, and I watched them all,” Marshall said. “My first attempt was to take apart my old Mexican Fender Stratocaster, repaint it, and rebuild it. I made a lot of mistakes, but in the end, it was a success. I began to think, ‘If I can paint a guitar and wire it up, surely it can’t be too hard to shape my own from scratch, right?’”
When Covid cleared Marshall’s work calendar, he decided to try. He turned to some old high school sketches for inspiration. “I probably should have been paying attention in class, but I was drawing guitar designs. Some were downright crazy but cool,” Marshall said. “The one that has always stuck with me I called Lemon Drop, shaped like a lemon with a white to yellow sunburst paint job. I took the design to Photoshop, did the math, and printed the plan. Then, it was time to go shopping.”
Because business had slowed, Marshall had to go low budget, using a block of wood that he described as “a couple steps up from particleboard,” plus cheap sandpaper and a borrowed router. It was a slow process since he’d never done woodworking before, but he was motivated by the art and music of guitars. “I appreciate their colors, their curves, and their sound. Every guitar has its own tone, based on the shape, wood, and hardware used,” Marshall said.
Guitars have been a lifelong interest for Marshall, who practiced nearly three hours a day on the electric guitar he received for his 14th birthday. He took various music lessons and learned other instruments, but the electric guitar took hold, and he still plays regularly. Over the years, Marshall has both played and written songs for various bands, strongly preferring “hard rock with a good melody.”
Marshall’s foray into guitar design has provided him a new avenue of appreciation, specifically the craftsmanship and patience required to create a quality musical instrument. “A whole lot of blood, sweat, and sandpaper went into shaping that first block of wood into a lemon-shaped guitar.”
It took Marshall ten days to paint the different guitar layers. During the daily drying process, Marshall had an epiphany. “It dawned on me that instead of watching paint dry, I could start on more guitars!” He currently has five guitars under construction, including a flying V-shaped body, one for himself and a smaller matching one for his son. Having grown more confident in his skills, Marshall has since expanded into more quality woods, which affects the tone and enriches the guitar’s sound.
“Sand it, curve it, shape it—those are the first steps to making it look right, but there are so many little steps that have to happen after the visuals are in place. And I can’t play the guitar until the very end of the process; after the painting is done and the bridge is set and the strings are on. The whole time, I’m impatiently thinking about how it’s going to sound. The most exciting moment is playing my guitar for the first time and hearing its tone! That’s what drives me to do this.”