This guest article is by Kyle Bailey.
Moniker Guitars is a boutique guitar maker in Austin, with a twist. With a name like Moniker, you kind of expect that there’s more than meets the eye, but I’ll get to that.
If you play electric guitar, you probably have a favorite. Be it Les Paul, Strat, Tele, Paul Reed Smith, or something else, electric guitars fall into two main categories: single coil and humbucker (the history here is fascinating, but alas, no room! Google shall deliver thee from thine angst). It’s all about the tone you want, and each category has its pros and cons.
Now, what if you want a Les Paul looking body with a single coil setup? Not possible (off the rack)…until now. And here we find the twist. With Moniker, you get to build your own guitar and customize it on almost every level!
Moniker Guitars was founded on an intriguing premise: give people the freedom to design their own guitars, let them pick from high-end materials, deliver it to their door, and do it all for a price that’s far lower than you would expect.
Co-founder Kevin Tully: “We got the idea from other companies like Nike and Converse, who were offering to allow customers to customize their shoes on an interactive website. As a guitar player and artist myself, it’s a passion project for me to allow people to build a piece of art in a custom guitar that they will then use to go and make more art.”
Kevin called his friend Dave Barry (not the author), who built amps and guitars. Dave loved the idea and they got started building custom guitars for their customers.
How custom can you get? Let’s look.
Want a single coil in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge? You can have it. Want your name (or just about any other name) on the headstock? No problem. You can even choose fonts and sizes.
For true guitar nerds, it’s a blast. Because, while we love to buy gear, it always needs to be upgraded. Better pickups, different combinations, different colors on the body, knobs, etc. – we always end up spending several hundred dollars bringing the axe into compliance with our idiosyncratic desires. That’s what makes Moniker’s system so much fun. Want to add a Bigsby Tremolo? No problem. Your fingerprint as the paint? Absolutely.
Now, all that customizing is well and good, but how does it compare to a true high-end guitar on quality? No disappointment there; the end product is outstanding. Choose a hollow body for more resonance, and the option to add top of the line pickups gives you that unbeatable tone that’s so expensive off the rack.
Alder wood is used exclusively (arguably the best wood for both resonance and tone). Round all this out with custom color tuners (upgrades include two different locking tuners), and you’re good to go.
Visiting the Moniker Factory
I stopped by the shop on Ben White in South Austin to take a look at the system and pluck a few, and I was very impressed. The attention to detail is gratifying, and getting to see so many guitars coming together was really inspiring.
I played a couple of finished guitars through an Eggnator amp, and was pleasantly surprised by the clarity of tone and dynamic response. Each of these are reflective of a high end guitar that would easily cost $2,500 off the rack at a bare minimum.
String-to-string detail was equally impressive. Clean (no distortion), I was able to coax dark jazzy tones and clear, bell-like tones from different pickup arrangements. Add some gain, and a nice mid-range tube break up of the tone was achieved. With a full-on gain crank, I got distortion any long-hair would be proud to call his (or her) own.
Designing Your Guitar Online
The beauty of Moniker’s process is rooted in the website, MonikerGuitars.com. Intuitive and easy to navigate, you can cycle through several iterations of the same guitar, save different builds (genius marketing), and then top it all off with your very own name if you like.
There are limitations to the customization, of course. Let’s say you wanted to build the neck out of condensed milk, for instance. That’s a no go. But seriously, the only real limitations are that there is no set neck; all necks are bolt-on. Essentially, there are two body styles, and you can choose to go solid body or semi-hollow on each (Moniker will be adding a third body style soon).
There is a nice assortment of pickups, and the upgrade option goes straight to some of the best pickups Seymour Duncan has ever made. I designed two different guitars within a half hour, and appointed each nicely for about $1,250. The same guitar off the rack would range from $2,500-7,000, depending on what brand name you rolled with.
“The most rewarding piece for us is taking someone’s design from our website and building it into an instrument that the musician will use to make their own art,” says Kevin. “Every guitar has a unique story, and we love that.”
For yourself or as a gift for someone else, you do yourself a disservice not to check out Moniker Guitars before making your final buying decision.
Kyle Bailey is a local music lover who owns Frontburner Marketing, an online marketing company. He also sits on the working board of Restore A Voice.