Hunter Van Houten produces beautiful custom guitars by hand. For all those, who are still looking for their very own perfect guitar, his workshop might be a very interesting address.
This is why I decided to have a closer look to the man behind these special instruments.
1. You are a professional musician. How did you get interested in music and would you tell us something about your way of becoming a guitar manufacturer?
Hunter Van Houten : So I’ll give you the short hand version. I started in music at an early age playing the trombone. It wasn’t until the age of 15 that I picked up the guitar. I immediately fell in love with this instrument. Mainly because I was able to play my favorite songs on it. When I went to college, I found an electric guitar that I really wanted. Being a poor college student, I was unable to afford it though. It was a Fender custom shop telecaster priced around $4,200 USD. That year I had a little bit of grant money left from school, so I thought why not try and build the guitar I really wanted for much less money. At this point I had already had some wood working experience and so I was able to pick it up pretty well. After much trial and error I completed my first guitar build, which was a telecaster style. I still play it today! It wasn’t until a bit later that I even considered selling guitars.
After I moved to Los Angeles, CA. I started to get calls from musician friends asking me to build guitars for them, and the rest was history. I’ve been doing it ever since and I love it!
2. Is there always a concrete idea of the look and sound of a guitar in your head before you start building it or does the instrument develop itself throughout the process of manufacturing?
Hunter Van Houten : Unless it’s a custom build for someone who already knows what they want, I don’t usually have an exact idea for a guitar planned out ahead of time. I start with the style and then things develop as I work. I may start out with wanting a certain pickup combination, but by the time I start routing, I change my mind. It tends to happen when I’m inspired by other peoples work, an old car, or even a color.
I find that doing this way is super fun, but it is also a pain b/c you get halfway through a build and realize that you should have done something different.
3. Which kind of wood do you prefer for the body and the fretboard and – in your very own opinion – what is the perfect guitar like?
Hunter Van Houten : I really love a good Ash or Alder wood for the body. I really like Maple or Rosewood for the neck, and either Rosewood, Maple, or Walnut for the fingerboard.
As far as the perfect guitar goes….I don’t think that exists. I think that it all comes down to the player and the type of guitar they feel works best for them and their style/sound that they are trying to achieve. I always want an instrument that inspires and challenges me to make music. The perfect guitar is the guitar that best fits each player in their own unique way.
4. In Europe it became more and more complicated to get good guitar woods. Do you also have problems to find the woods you are looking for and how do you think will the way acquiring appropriate wood develop in the future?
Hunter Van Houten : It’s also becoming more difficult and more expensive to get good tone woods here in the states as well. I build in very small quantities, so I feel that it’s easier for me to take the time to be picky. I go to an amazing lumber yard in down town Los Angeles, where I hand pick all of the wood I use. I don’t really use an exotic woods other than rosewood, so it’s not that hard to find, but it is getting more expensive. It’s also much harder and more costly to ship overseas now too.
5. Is there a guitarist of whom you wish that he would play one of your wonderful guitars or are you especially proud of somebody using one of your instruments?
Hunter Van Houten : Oh that an easy one hahah! Josh Homme is one of my favorite guitarists, so of course I would love for him to pick up one of my guitars.
I’m really proud to have a player/songwriter, Charlie Whitten, currently playing one of my guitars. He is an incredible guitar player and a seriously talented artist. I’m really glad that he has chosen to play one of my guitars. Also he loves the guitar I built for him and is just a genuine dude and a great ambassador for my brand. I’m thinking about making him another one too, but shhhhh, I haven’t told him that yet! Hahah
6. What do you think about the whole vintage-guitar-hype?
Hunter Van Houten : I love vintage guitars! I’ve honestly only ever been able to afford one vintage guitar and it was excellent. Personally I don’t think that you have to play a vintage guitar to get an amazing sound. It all comes down to look and feel for me. Vintage guitars usually have that played in look and feel that I like. Also sometimes there can be a certain sound that aged wood has that’s just a little different. Maybe it’s the ever changing molecular structure of the wood after years of drying and aging? But it’s definitely it’s own thing. That’s why I strive to give my guitars that same look and feel as a vintage instrument.
7. Which pedals can we find on your pedalboard right now?
Hunter Van Houten : Ok I’m a pedal nerd! I an obsessed with effects pedals! I just recently put together a new mid sized board. I’m in the process or purging and swapping effects. Currently on my board right now I have a Earthquaker Devices Fuzz Master General, it’s such an amazing octave fuzz and is super versatile. I’m saving up for more Earthquaker pedals haha. From there I go into a TC Electronics Spark Boost, HAO Sole Pressure (59′ Bassman) overdrive, into a Mr. Black Eterna, BBE Analog Two Timer delay (which I use for the slap), into a TC Electronics Alter Ego delay (for my bigger longer delays. I run out of my board to an Morely ABC box, where I run out stereo to a 68′ Custom Fender Princeton and a Fender Blues Junior. I definitely have more room on my board and am wanting to add an octave pedal as well as another overdrive, something like a JHS Twin Twelve Overdrive or a Greer Amps Lightspeed Overdrive. I’m also looking to add more pedals to soundscape with!
Right now, running stereo from my board is my favorite thing, which I find opens up my sound and allows me to get really different sounds/tones as well as just huge spacey delays. I love it!
Many thanks at this point again to Hunter Van Houten who was so kind to answer 7 questions of the DelayDude.