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Meet the Maker – Munson Guitars

Meet the Maker - Munson Guitars Tempest---Yew-and-midi-3
Munson Guitars offer their Custom Guitar Experience to ensure musicians can order and create their dream instruments.

Munson Guitars is run by Carl Munson, a guitar maker who is inspired by modern technology, famous guitar designers, and modern designers alike. This UK-based company creates beautiful instruments using their Custom Guitar Experience.

What got you into building instruments?

My father was a woodworker and I have always loved working with wood, from cabinet making to restoring prized antiques. I am also obsessed with technology and spent most of my ‘first’ career in the tech sector, doing everything from electronics design and fixing computers to business software and consulting.

My first musical instrument was a keyboard and I used to play in a band back in the day, although I was rubbish at it. But back then if you were loud and had lots to drink it was fun. I did enjoy playing around with synthesizers though and spent many hours making strange and weird noises I liked to call music. I still have my trusty Korg Trident which gets an outing now and again.

I used to fix and mod guitars for my friends as a teen, but it was only much later when my eldest son, Jonathan, started playing guitar that I started to get interested in modifying the electronics and experimenting with sound.

A few years ago I was looking for a new business idea when my son started talking about building our guitar brand. He has a love for old instruments but was fed up with playing expensive guitars that he didn’t connect with. We felt we could create a different experience from the mainstream modern builders.


In 2017, we started to design and build prototypes. We used 3D modeling software to sculpt our guitars, and precision machining (CNC) to do the initial carving on the bodies and neck. Of course from that point on, everything is done by hand. People who played our guitars liked them. So in late 2018, we moved into a new workshop where we built a CNC machine specifically for making guitars.

So while my background in woodworking, electronics, technology, and business seems like an eclectic mix, all those skills and collected experiences fit together nicely in a business that creates high-end made-to-order custom guitars.

Tempest Original Art Edition
Tempest Original Art Edition

Who/What are your biggest influences with instrument building?

Leo Fender and Jonny Ive (ex-head of design at Apple) both inspire me in different ways. Leo, because he looked at guitar building differently than traditional luthiers. He was a genius at creating a sound while still designing instruments that could be made affordable enough for them to be accessible by just about anyone. He did not break the mold, he created it.

Jonny Ive is, in my mind, the gold standard of designers. His products are not just practical, they are beautiful and show where form meets function. As someone who used to dig around inside Apple products, I find it amazing the level of detail that he put into how a product looks, both inside and out. Also how he designed products that are so easy to make.


Think Different

I try, in my small way, to embrace those design ethics when building instruments. Yes, a guitar has to play well, feel good, and look great, but it also has to be makeable. A well-designed guitar is easier to make. Understanding that informs decisions right from the design stage and means we can create a great guitar from the most adventurous concepts.

Apple has a slogan, Think Different. This is a philosophy I try to live up to when designing and building guitars. It is a philosophy that starts when sketching initial concepts and runs right through the entire process. It makes me challenge traditional thinking to help to move guitars forward. Just because something has always been done a particular way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way. We use what works and change what we can make better.


What is your favorite part of the process of instrument making?

This is a difficult question as I enjoy all of it. If I had to pick just one, then I would have to say it is working with my clients. Our process is designed around our clients, so we travel the journey of designing and building together. After all, I make guitars for my clients and I get to see each guitar come to life through their eyes.

In terms of the actual process, the most important for me is working with the wood we choose for our instruments. I choose the raw wood for each project, often scouring through our sawmill’s stock to find just the right pieces. I select a shortlist of wood for a build, then have the client select the final piece they want for their guitar.

Many luthiers hate sanding, but I find it is where I get to interact with the wood. It is only when sanding that you get to fully understand the energy in the wood, through smell and touch to feel the flow of the grain.

I also really love seeing the guitar come together during the final assembly. All the work that goes into the individual components suddenly turns into a beautiful instrument. Then we play it for the first time and it still surprises me that something we made with our hands sounds so good.

Munson Guitars Tempest Red

How should potential new clients get prepared when buying a new instrument from you?

Whether going for a custom shop or a fully bespoke guitar, the only thing they need to come armed with is an idea. If they’ve got a specific plan, they can configure their guitar on our website. Otherwise, they can just give us a call. Either way, the whole process starts with a conversation.

We go into a lot of depth about their playing style and the kind of guitar they want. We mainly do this over video calls as it’s the most convenient way, especially for our clients around the world. This lets us understand their needs and helps us both form the idea of their guitar.

We must be on the same page as the client before we start the work. It’s a conversation, so sometimes this takes more than one call. The back and forth gives us both time to refine our thinking and to have a clear understanding of their requirements.

During each phase of the build, there are decision points that enable clients to make changes if they want. For example, we had a client who wanted a guitar with a deep navy finish. However, once we had dark stained the wood grain and sanded it back, he saw the progress photos and liked the results so much that he asked us to stop and leave it like that. This finish later became something we call Bare Naked and turned out to be our most popular finish.

They should know that not all decisions have to be made upfront. This is a journey for our clients as they discover new ideas and possibilities along the way. Our role is to guide and coach them for us to make the best possible instrument for them.


Custom Guitar Experience

We call our process the Custom Guitar Experience. Building a new guitar is a collaborative process and as such we will bring the client, virtually, into the workshop. They get to experience bringing their guitar to life, from the initial concept through to the finished instrument. It’s an exciting journey and one that we take together. The client receives regular photo updates of the build process, and we will let them know when decisions need to be made and when things are locked down as we progress.

Communication is key, which is why we keep them informed and updated at every step of the way from our intuitive 3D design portal, right through the build and finishing process. The most important thing is that they enjoy the journey, from the initial concept to opening the case of their new guitar, and beyond.


How would you describe your style of instrument building?

I am very process-oriented. I guess it comes from years in the tech sector where there is a process for EVERYTHING. While this may seem remote from the art of building guitars, it helps to optimize time and materials. For example, although I am building guitars to order, I still try to batch up tasks so tools only need to be set up once to make similar parts.

We use technology to help optimize the process and to maintain high-quality standards. Wood is graded and measured for moisture content before we start a project. I use bar codes on work orders and parts to ensure the right bits end up in the right projects.

Munson 3D proofing portal

We design using CAD and provide our clients with a 3D portal so they can see their new guitar designs. They can rotate it, zoom in and out, explode it into its parts, and even slice through it to view profiles. It is a great tool for clients to fine-tune control placements and give feedback. As it is an online portal, clients can access it 24/7 from anywhere in the world. It saves so much time trying to explain things like ‘…move the volume pot back a bit…’.

To fine-tune the sound of our instruments, I use a host of scientific equipment to measure and adjust signals and outputs. If I leave it to my ear, then the quality is only as good as the day I am having. Using tech helps to maintain quality that is measurable and repeatable.

Munson Mosquito

I know this might sound a bit clinical or over the top, but it makes the process of creating beautiful instruments easier, quicker, and thus more affordable.

Having said all that, I love working with wood. I love the feel of the grain, the smell as it’s being cut. I love to feel the shape of the instrument when sanding it. I know that sounds contrary to what I have just said, but I feel that there is room for both the technical and tactile when building custom instruments.

Munson Maruader

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made while learning your craft?

This could be a long list… I think I have made just about every mistake that can be made. I have a rack of failed prototype instruments that are a testament to that.

If I had to pick one, then it would have to be rushing. Making beautiful instruments takes time. Time at each stage in the process. Taking the time to fully understand what a client wants is just as important as taking time to properly sand the instrument before applying a finish, for example. Rushing leads to mistakes and rework which costs even more time and it’s wasteful. It is also deeply frustrating when you destroy a beautiful piece of wood because of an avoidable mistake.

I’ve learned to trust the process, and my clients appreciate the level of care I put into each guitar. Mistakes happen, materials don’t always hold up, and because our process is a conversation it means my clients are happy even if timelines change.

Munsons Guitars

Why do you think musicians should buy a luthier-made instrument?

Many great guitars on the market can be picked off the shelf and are ready to play. However, there comes a time when a player knows that they want something different. Something unique. That is when they start looking for a luthier-made instrument. I would say 99% of our clients already own several guitars. They all have their good points, but perhaps no one of them ticks all the boxes.

Clients tend to be looking for an instrument that not only plays and sounds the way they want, but they want it to be a statement piece too. Being involved in the design and build journey makes the instrument feel very personal even before they open the case and see their guitar in the flesh for the first time. Some clients need something special physically, like a lightweight frame, specially located controls, or larger fret markers for the partially sighted. They all deserve to have a guitar that fits them just so.

If you’re looking for a standard guitar at a reasonable price, then head on down to your local music store and grab one off the shelf. But if you are looking for something special and want control over the design and build of an outstanding, made-to-order guitar that makes a statement: that’s what we do.

Do you have a personal favorite style of instrument?

I like a solid-body guitar with a bolt-on neck. I like the heft of the body, and that you have the flexibility to change different parts to change the way the instrument plays. I guess it’s because that was where I started as a maker. I did all sorts of mods to my kids’ guitars and they got into modding as well. I think these types of guitars help people to experiment, upgrade, and get more involved with their instruments.

What do you feel when you have to hand the new guitar/bass over to its new owner and do you ever want to keep them instead?

It’s like, I imagine, having to give up a child. If I had my way, I’d keep them all! I genuinely love working with clients to make something truly theirs – but I get so invested and excited by it that I always end up wanting to make a version to keep so I can remember the experience.

I do feel an immense amount of pride when I see our guitars being played, as that is exactly what they were designed for.

Munson Guitars Swing Ticket

What would you want your legacy to be?

I set out to create heirloom instruments so it would be great to see them handed down to our clients’ children and grandchildren. In my previous tech career, just about every digital thing I created was transient.

At Munson Guitars, we are creating physical products from materials designed to stand the test of time. It would be fantastic if the business was still going and run by my grandkids, where they can look back and see a legacy of guitars we have built still being played. I want to keep the business true to our values and for every guitar to be luthier-designed and built from start to finish.

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