Well my week started with my dad and I flying to Lancaster, CA. (we’re both corporate pilots for a company in Dallas) to take some of our companyâ€™s sales guys to a meeting and a job site to review its progress. After spending a few hours in Lancaster, we packed up and flew to Bakersfield so the sales guys could go to another meeting and while there is dawned on me that since we would be spending the night in Van Nuys, CA, I should get in touch with Tyler Guitars and see if I could get a shop tour since I’m a huge fan of their guitars.
While in Bakersfield I shot Tyler Guitars an email and once the passengers got back we heading to Van Nuys where we spent the night. I didn’t hear back from Tyler for the rest of the day and since we had to leave around 4:00PM the next day I figured that I hadn’t written in time to schedule a tour. Well as luck would have it, about 1:30PM after I got out of the shower, I checked my email and sure enough Eliot at Tyler Guitars has written me and informed me that although they have a very small shop and are very busy, they would be happy to welcome me. So I replied and let him know that I can be there around 2:45PM, which is cutting it close since our passengers are supposed to arrive at 4:00PM, but what the heck, how often do you get a tour of Tyler Guitars?
Well Dad and I make our way to the Tyler shop on Sepulveda Blvd. which was pretty hard to find considering how small it is and how well it is concealed by the surrounding businesses. Once we get there, we see a nondescript sign in the window that simply reads, “Tyler.” At first I thought this was a bit strange, but when I thought about it I realized that in that neighborhood, it wouldn’t be very smart to advertise with a huge sign that you have some of the most valuable guitars in the world right here.
Once at the door, an employee of Tyler met us who led us in and once Dad and I were in asked Jim (Mr. Tyler) if he knew anything about a tour today. James lifted his head from his work, replied “No.” and immediately went back to work setting up a guitar. The guy who let us in, whose name I’m sorry to say I have since forgotten, asked me if I had spoken with Eliot and once he said his name I remembered that it was Eliot that I had received the reply from. I was introduced to Eliot and from there on Dad and I were with Eliot as he showed us around the shop.
The first thing that Eliot showed us was the room where the guitars are packed for shipment. It was just that, a room with a bunch of boxes and cases. After that Eliot showed us the area where Kiyoko (I think that was her name) winds and assembles the pickups that are used in Tyler guitars.
From the winding area, Eliot showed us a really cool area where Tyler had made a ton of pickguards and installed his various pickups on them. The really cool thing about this was that there was one guitar there and they had devised an ingenious way of quick disconnecting the pickguard from the guitar and simply sliding a new pickguard in place which would allow a player to very quickly demo all of the available pickups using the same guitar. The beauty of this was that the player could use one guitar for the entire demo process and not have to worry about the effect of using different guitars to demo each pickup; very clever stuff. Eliot asked that I not take a picture of this since the design was/is very proprietary. In this same area, Eliot showed me a completely trashed out guitar with the name Joe-X on the headstock that looked like it was created from pieces at a junkyard. In talking to Eliot, he said that these guitars were only able to be sold overseas because there was another builder of very cheap guitars that used the same name in the states so to avoid legal troubles, these guitars are only sold overseas. Seriously this guitar looks like it should have been featured on Road Warrior! The only thing this guitar lacked a few bullet holes. I took a picture of this guitar along with the headstock, which you can see below.
From the pickup testing area Eliot led Dad and I to the racks where Tyler keeps their guitars that are ready for shipment. As you can see from the pics, these guitars are stunning! The two that stood out the most to me were the Candy Apple Red Studio Elite and the Tobacco Burst Mongoose Special. The finish on the Candy Apple Red Studio Elite was so deep that you could almost go swimming it and the Mongoose Special has me totally jonesing for Les Paul style Tyler. Toward the end of the rack I saw one of the 20 James Tyler Signature Elites that I have only read about and it did not disappoint. The Mary Kay finish on this guitar was very vintage looking, and I would imagine the Tele pickup in the bridge position would make this guitar extremely versatile.
After I wiped the drool from my mouth, Eliot took us to the drying racks where the freshly painted bodies are being dried in preparation for sanding and the other processes that Tyler puts them through before they look as stunning as the guitars on the finished racks. There was a great assortment of colors here, showing from left to right, Candy Orange, Black Shmear, Purple Shmear, Tobacco Burst on Spalted Maple, Cherry Sunburst and Red Shmear. From looking at the various Shmear finishes, I was amazed at how thick the paint was once it had been sprayed on. In order to get a smooth finish, it must take an incredible amount of sanding to get the finish evened out. Check out the close-up of the Red Shmear to see what I’m talking about.
Once Eliot had shown us the guitar on the drying rack, he took us into another room where a giant CNC machine was sitting. The CNC machine is used to cut out the bodies and necks as well as shape the necks into whichever size and shape the customer specifies. I wasn’t able to get pictures of the CNC machine since Tyler is using some proprietary processes here as well, but I was able to get some pictures of the necks as they were drying. Of all the necks here, the ones that stood out to me the most were the Mahogany ones and the Laminated necks. The Laminated necks were made out of Maple-Ebony-Mahogany-Ebony-Maple and reminded me of the same process I used when I made the Jackson Ampworks Hardwood Cabinets.
From the neck drying area I got a picture of James Tyler as he was working at his bench and from what I could tell, he must have been dressing the frets. He seemed really busy and I didn’t want to bother him so Dad and I just thanked Eliot for his kindness and politely excused ourselves.
I have to say that it was a very cool, and for me, a very inspiring shop. It was the kind of place that just made you want to grab some tools and get to work. Considering that the shop couldn’t have been more than 1,000 square feet in size, I can imagine how the very early years of Fender Musical Instruments must have been something like that, with a small team of about 6 people working hard to deliver a product that they are passionate about.
After talking to Eliot and making our way outside Dad and I loaded up and headed back to the Van Nuys airport where we met our passengers and eventually headed back home to Dallas. I attached some pics of the trip home, which were taken from my iPhone as we were climbing out of the LA area.
In all it was a great day. The weather was great going home and I got to visit my favorite electric guitar manufacturer and learn more about how those guitars were made.
Special thanks to Eliot at Tyler Guitars for taking the time out of his busy day to show us around. Eliot is an extremely nice guy and the way he treated only solidified my opinion of Tyler Guitars and my desire to play their guitars in the future.
Enjoy the pics!