Premier Guitar Magazine
Eye Candy – Modern Builder Vault
By Rich Osweller
Bill Asher built his first guitar in his high school’s woodshop class for his final project. While his teacher had never been approached with a request to build a guitar, he was supportive given Asher’s excitement about the project. Bringing his ’75 Strat to the shop for guidelines on the specs, he picked out a nice piece of purple-heart wood, made a paper template for the body’s shape and cavities, and started milling. Once the body was complete and the purchased neck was mounted, Asher went to the local guitar repair shop run by Jeff Lunsford and asked for help with the electronics and bridge placement. Lunsford agreed and it was in his shop where Asher completed his guitar while developing a clear vision of what he wanted to do for a living. What started as a volunteer stint turned into a four year, life-changing apprenticeship.
Over the next 12 years Asher worked in repair shops and with various luthiers in the Los Angeles area before starting his own repair shop called Guitar Traditions. It was 1998 when he got a call from Ben Harper, who asked if Asher could design a modern, electric lap steel fashioned after Harper’s acoustic Weissenborn. The prototype came out so well that he ordered two more and both Asher and Harper agreed it should be an artist signature model. One of Asher’s proudest moments came a year later when Harper was pictured on the cover of a prominent music publication while holding his Asher lap steel. The event really got him focused on designing the line of guitars he builds today, which includes three lap steel models and three guitar models.
“The best thing I did to gain the knowledge and skills needed for building guitars was starting out in repair. I spent nearly 15 years repairing guitars before designing the line of instruments I build now,” said Asher when asked what advice he’d give to an aspiring luthier. “When I look back at my four-year apprenticeship, it is apparent to me that it took that long to be proficient enough to work on other peoples’ guitars without serious supervision, or have the know-how to build one correctly.”
1. Electro Sonic
Inspired by Asher’s lap steel guitars, the Electro Sonic is designed for bottleneck players and guitarists looking for fat tone and great sustain. The handcarved neck—a constructed from quartersawn mahogany and topped with a Madagascar rosewood fretboard—has a smooth transition into the body for easy access to the upper frets. With a pickup option of either Asher A-92s or Steel Buckers, this instrument boasts highly-detailed fretwork and a final setup performed by Bill Asher himself.
2. Ben Harper Signature Model
The Ben Harper Signature Model lap steel was designed to capture the classic tone of a ’59 Les Paul, the unique vibe of a vintage Weissenborn, and the feel and sustain of an Asher lap steel. In the words of Ben Harper, “I’m as excited about having this guitar in the world as much as my music, really. It’s that amazing of an electric guitar.” A unique hybrid, this lap steel features an African mahogany body and neck, Brazilian rosewood fretboard, TonePros bridge and tailpiece, and is loaded with a pair of Seymour Duncan Custom Shop humbuckers.
3. Ultra Tone T Deluxe
The Ultra Tone T Deluxe body is inspired by the classic Telecasters of the 1950s and designed to embody all the classic tones, contours, and lightweight feel—with Asher’s unique and balanced offset bodyshape. Available with a swamp ash, alder, or mahogany body (with or without figured topwoods), and a birdseye-maple neck, the Ultra Tone T Deluxe is outfitted with either Seymor Duncan or Dimarzio pickups.
4. Ultra Tone S Custom
The body’s inspiration comes from the classic Strats and Mosrites of the 1960s, and incorporates the classic comforts and contours, including an offset body-shape. With a comfortable, full-shaped neck, finished with handrubbed shellac, the Ultra Tone S Custom is available with the same tonewood and electronic options as the Ultra Tone T Deluxe.
5. Marc Ford Signature Model
Guitarist Marc Ford first connected with Asher in 2003 when Ford was touring with Ben Harper. But it was in 2005 when Ford approached Asher about a custom, road guitar that could combine the tones of his Les Paul Jr with the body-style and feel of a Strat. Released this year, Asher’s Marc Ford signature model features a 25 1/2" scale, D-shaped neck based on Ford’s LP Junior, a one-piece mahogany body, handwound Tom Short P–90s, Hipshot locking tuners, and a Wilkinson VSV tremolo.
Pricing and Availability
Asher Guitars makes about 80 guitars a year and has built just over 600 to date. While they do have a few select dealers—US-based dealers include Elderly Instruments, Rudy’s Music, The Music Emporium, Westwood Music, Destroy All Guitars, and Willcutt—Asher Guitars will take direct orders from players that don’t have a dealer nearby. For those outside the US, they also have dealers in the UK, Canada, and Spain. Ranging in price from $2400—$12,000, depending on model (an import Electro-Hawaiian JR is available for $799), Asher has a price for anyone looking to purchase a boutique instrument. “I am always finding great pieces of wood that inspire me to build a great guitar, and those usually end up in our showroom or out to dealers,” says Asher. “We also encourage players to call us and work out the specs for a custom instrument. Players sometimes bond with a guitar we have already made, or they can be as much a part of the process as they like.”