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Kevin Chilcott Luthier, Royal Guitars, Royale Guitars
Design & Construction

The Electric Guitar - A Personal Opinion
Designing & Building  &  Some Interesting Stages

Over the years, this subject has been very well documented, and in this section I will be giving you my own personal opinions..... this particular topic is after all very subjective. I would not say that I'm by any means an expert in the history of guitar design, and I'm not going to go into 'exact dates' and 'specific designers', apart from maybe a couple of the obvious names in this field, that would immediately spring to mind - this would really be a potential 'minefield' as the "experts" themselves have found out over the years. I have no intention of making the 'same mistake'.

Methods of Construction.
The Electric Guitar essentially was born out of the old tried and trusted methods of making stringed musical instruments, which goes back centuries. The only difference was to make an instrument that could have it's sound amplified so it would be able to 'come across' and be heard along with a large band consisting of potentially many wind instruments  with also piano, drums and percussion etc, as very often the lone guitarist would be 'hammering along' with the rhythm..... and nobody could hear him - including probably himself !

The original electric guitars were essentially as I have said above - of traditional design and construction with pickups added, quite ornate and with the main structure glued together, in the time honoured fashion using very labour intensive methods. None the less though, by amplifying the traditional guitar - a New Virtuoso Instrument was born..... and popular music itself would be moulded by it from then on.

Early in the development along came a True Genius - Leo Fender, who designed a 'solid' electric guitar that could be mainly made with large machine tools, on a production line, in a factory. 
The rest is history..... the same basic methods have been used worldwide ever since, although modern technology has moved on to make the process far more efficient than it was originally  -  new body and neck designs and profiles come along, but the method is essentially the same and has been since 1947/48 (approx) when the Fender Broadcaster was first produced. The only difference in the intervening 50 plus years is that machine tools have got more complex, much quicker and now computerized. 

The only guitars that are possibly 'made by hand', in this type of environment, are the ones used for the original patterns for each model, and then for any potential modifications or changes in body or head shape, neck profile or hardware. Doing it any other way would not be logical.
This type of design is perfect for mass production as different 'workshops' each make,  finish and complete specific items : - Body, Neck, Scratchplate, pickups, assorted hardware and fixings etc, which are then all brought to an 'assembly shop', where all the component parts are fitted together (assembled). 

In this respect, it doesn't really matter where all the component parts come from, as long as they reach the assembly shop in the correct quantities - complete guitars (or any other product, for that matter) will come out the 'other end'.
Brilliant !

Due to the vast quantities involved, the materials are purchased at very low cost and therefore.....

The product can be made cheaply for a mass market !

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As a luthier, I can honestly say that using reasonably basic hand and machine tools (which is the way I do it), it is far easier to make a traditional style guitar with an angled headstock than it is to make a guitar with a parallel headstock that was 'designed' to be made in a factory using mass production techniques.

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Once the 'cat was out of the bag', so to speak, the more traditional companies had to try and compete with the competition and worked out various ways around the problem of mass producing a product that was originally designed to be made in a different way entirely, but still keep their own distinctive style. 
The Gibson Les Paul was brought out in 1952 (approx).

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I should probably point out here, that the Rickenbacker company had produced 'Hawaiian' style guitars with pickups as early as 1931 (approx). As a company, they have 'ploughed their own furrow' since inception, using traditional type techniques, and over the years have had many innovative ideas which has given them their own very distinctive style, the most notable probably being the sound of their 12 string electric guitar models.

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In Brief.
Here then is the basis for the two main styles of electric guitar that are still available today..... the 'fixed' neck (set neck) and the 'bolt-on' neck. (I'll mention the 'Thru-neck' type a bit later on - which I also use myself occasionally).
The Fixed neck being..... 'this is the way it's always been done' - approach.
The Bolt-on neck being..... 'if we do it this way, it will be so much easier to produce, we can cut costs and make a product available to a far wider market' - approach.

That is essentially - the way 'it' is.

Personal Preference.
Personally, I have designed the majority my original guitars around the traditional approach - with the fixed neck and angled headstock. Aesthetically I believe this method works better and also allows for a nice smooth and flowing neck/body joint, but also I have always thought that body contours play a very important role too, and are an advantage as they do make guitars more comfortable to hold over longer periods of time.

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Designing & Building

Designing and Building a Guitar for Me.
Back in 2002 I got around to playing on a more regular basis for the first time in a very long time, and started of doing some work in the studio with a Mate of mine - Tony.

I was originally using:

A Strat clone and a Tokai V
A Marshall JCM 800 Super Lead Head 100W Split Channel Reverb (2210) through a 1 X 12 Mini-Cab (Open Back) with a Celestion 150W Sidewinder at 8 ohms.
We' were D.I.-ing it to the desk straight out the back of the amp; and using a little bit of  reverb on the amp too.
I had to change to a small Orange Combo which was more portable as I couldn't lug the Marshall and my wife Lyn had to.

All this made me think about making myself a guitar, for me.
Originally I had decided to go for a : - 

Royale Huntress.
Vintage White (Cream), or 'Limed' with Black / White / Black Scratchplate. 

Body and neck..... Mahogany
Fingerboard..... Rosewood - possibly bound.
Head veneer..... Ebony - possibly bound.
Scale length..... 24 5/8". 
Frets..... 22 heavy gauge. 

Bridge Humbucker (Tapable).
Middle Single coil.
Neck Humbucker (Tapable).
5 way selector.
1 volume and 2 tones with black knobs.
Tremolo...... of some sort - Kahler Pro (Chrome)..... possibly !
Machine heads..... Grover - Chrome.
Strap locks - Chrome.
Coil tap switches.

As a Second guitar a Sister for that one.....

The same basic concept : - 

Royale Huntress. 
This time with a Translucent Cherry finish.
2 P-90 pickups and a Single coil in the middle.
( The same hardware as the above.)

Finally an Update...

Well, things changed quite a bit over the last few years or so... and the new Swordstress model I designed has actually worked out really well, so I've been playing around with that for quite some time instead of making the Huntress models.

It has an Seymour Duncan JB at the 'Bridge', Cool Rails in the 'Middle' and JB Junior at the ''Neck', a Graphtech preamp and Bridge Piezo system fitted to the Wilkinson VS100 trem unit and Sperzel locking-machines in a 4&2 configuration.

Amplifier wise I changed to a Trace Elliot C30 Speed Twin for the Mags and a Laney 65W Acoustic amp for the Piezo system.

I will try to do the Swordstress guitar as a stage by stage project with photos at some point if time allows.






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Kev Chilcott
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