Recently, we’ve been putting a bit of a spotlight on some of the local shops and builders that help prop up our small little scene here in Australia. Of course, there’ll always be time and a place for the big brands like Fender, Gibson and Yamaha, but when you want something truly unique, you can never beat a custom build.
Today, we’re taking a look at six of the finest local builders on our home turf here in Melbourne, where there’s a thriving landscape of grassroots guitar companies flying under the radar.
Based right in the heart of Melbourne’s Northern suburbs, Shub Guitars has undeniably raised the standard for what to expect from a custom guitar build in today’s age. Jon Shub, who handles all aspects of the creative process, is a deadset legend, and has built instruments for a bunch of big name clients in the Australian music business, including Head Gap Studios, Found Sound, The Stems, We Lost The Sea and more.
His designs tend to lean toward offset builds with unique appointments - he once made an SG bass with a lipstick tube pickup in the bridge position - but by all accounts, they play like butter, and look better than just about anything else you’re likely to see around town. Plus, the man winds his own pickups, which really goes the distance to put the icing on the proverbial cake. If you’re going to get a custom build, it may as well look as sick as Shub’s do.
Cargill Custom Guitars
Anyone who knows anything about guitars in Melbourne will have stumbled upon the Cargill name at some stage in their life. Since beginning Cargill Custom Guitars way back in 1956, Merv Cargill has been long considered one of the finest independent builders in Melbourne, and when he handed down the business to his son James, it ensured the famous name would continue to thrive in Melbourne’s music scene for more years to come.
From their base of operations in Seaford, Cargill Custom Guitars specialise in crafting premium acoustic builds, with their instruments being owned and played by big names like Angus Young, Tim Rogers, Xavier Rudd and Jimmy Page - that’s right, the one and only. The brand is so popular that they haven’t needed to advertise in over six decades, and when you have a clientele of that calibre, I guess it all makes sense.
Channelling the offbeat ideas of the ‘60s and stretching them out beyond belief, Harvester Guitars are truly one of a kind. Master builder Anthony Paine’s handiwork is celebrated both at home and abroad, with his instruments being played by the likes of Sean Lennon, The Dandy Warhols and more. As the name suggests, Paine often sources his timbers from reclaimed wood lots, recycling everything from basketball courts to hundred year-old warehouses from up in Queensland.
Paine tends specialise in instruments inspired by weird old shapes from Teisco, Maton, Harmony and Guild, adding in F-holes or quirky toggle switches or tremolos where he sees fit, and fitting them with insanely good necks and fretwork. There’s a number of Harvester Guitars that have been built with aluminium necks - a resurgent trend as of late in the guitar world - and these tend to be the cream of the crop for many lustful buyers out there. Of course, guitars of this ilk aren’t going to come by cheap, but if you’re deadset on a one-of-a-kind instrument with cutting-edge features and an unbelievable tone, Harvester Guitars might just be the name for your next build.
Clingan Guitar Tone
Another stalwart of Melbourne’s scene, Clingan Guitar Tone is based right in the thick of the inner-north’s lively gigging district, and as such, is a popular name with many a keen guitarist. Although it’s his shopfront that you’ll probably know him best for - particularly if you’ve ever needed to use the 24/7 gig gear vending machine after snapping a string during soundcheck down the road - Jereme Clingan is a pretty gun guitar builder too, and his amps are just as good.
Some of Clingan’s more recent builds include a custom Gold Finger model given away for PBS Radio’s latest subscriber drive, and he occasionally lists a new custom offering on his Reverb page from time to time - keep your eyes peeled for his FilterTron modded Les Pauls and other bespoke singlecuts.
For a backyard enterprise started eight years ago, Phil Jones sure has amassed a loyal following on social media, and when you check out some of his work for Garage Guitars, it’s easy to see why. Phil focuses on making well-built, affordable instruments, sourcing a huge variety of tonewoods to create something totally unique for each build. He’s a big fan of hand staining bodies and working with timbers like pine and blackwood, and seems to have a soft-spot for Telecasters - but then again, who doesn’t?
On top of making stock-standard workhorses, Phil occasionally experiments with lavish sparkle finishes and funky prototype builds, with some models even boasting crazy colour-shifting finishes. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled on Facebook Marketplace to snag yourself a Garage Guitars bargain.
Harron Custom Guitars
Michael Harron is regarded as of the best blokes in Melbourne, and his handiwork in the fretted department is rivaled by few. He’s best known for his meticulous setups and guitar care products, which are really, really good, but what you might not know is that he offers a custom build service with Harron Custom Guitars.
By totally stripping back guitars to their barebones and then working on them again from the ground up, Harron has tailored his own art of HGC Japanese Fender rebuilds, letting customers modify a stock standard Fender to fulfil their wildest dreams. Much of Harron’s work goes above and beyond a traditional modification, and often see a complete overhaul of finish, hardware and electronics to create a guitar fully of its own, which in itself, provides a rather cost-effective way to obtain the guitar of your dreams. What’s not to love?
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