Interview with James Lewis from JML Instruments

Hey man how are you? You make really cool guitar, with exotic awesome wood. What unique wood you using on your guitar? I mean, I own guitar with mango wood and its awesome, mango is unusual wood for guitar.

Hi Putro! Thanks for asking me to do this, super cool of you. I’m doing great, this is a weird time with the Covid thing going on, but I’m still making guitars so I can’t complain.

I use mostly woods that grow in the area I live in which is Indianapolis, Indiana. A lot of what I use is “urban lumber” that I get from a local guy. Urban lumber is trees that have fallen in a storm or are being removed for purposes like road crews, clearing a lot to build a house, or parks department clearing, but not wood that is cut just for logging. I love woodworking but I also love the environment so I try to be as responsible as possible about where I get my wood from. Some of the stuff I use a lot is walnut, maple, cherry, hickory, and ash, they don’t seem “exotic” to me because that’s what is available locally, but something like mango I would consider pretty exotic!

Let’s talk about tone wood, I believe in tone wood, my first good guitar is one piece mahogany body, set neck  with mahogany neck, and maple fingerboard, jaguar shape guitar, at the first time that guitar sounds not that good, but after playing gigs for years that turns great. I also own old Aria guitar with plywood body, but that’s sounds awesome to. In your opinion what is make guitar tone sounds good, I know tone wood is lucky mojo, but you as a builder have your own point of view?

I definitely believe that the wood plays a big part in the tone of an instrument. There are the old standbys like mahogany that are known to sound good, but a big reason the large companies use the wood they do is mostly for consistency. Mahogany has great tone but I think it’s become a guitar wood mostly because the grain is nice and straight and it’s not hard on tools or hard to sand, and it’s also relatively easy to finish. In my experience there are a lot of other woods that sound just as good if not better but don’t grow as consistently nice easy to use pieces like mahogany. So I think a lot of companies stay away from those. Honestly plywood in theory would be a good choice for an electric guitar, if the plys are made from decent wood and glued well it would be stronger and less likely to warp or shrink and swell seasonally. So really a plywood guitar isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as the plywood is good quality. The problem is that most plywood isn’t very nice so I think it has caused problems in the past, but it sounds like you have a nice one! If it sounds good than that’s all that really matters!

Your guitar is piece of art, also comes with hardcase? Tell me more about your guitar man, it’s all neck thru? Build by order or how to order your guitar? How you start building guitar?

Thank you! I like to try and make them as pretty as possible but sound, playability, and getting my customer what they want are first priorities before the looks. I prefer making neck through guitars because I think they sound better and are more comfortable to play, but I make all kinds, some are set necks or bolt ons, but I’m sort of known for the neck through guitars so that’s what I get asked to make most often. I do make the custom cases, but not always. They are not really a case that a touring musician would use normally so sometimes people will supply a case that would work better on tour and on airplanes. I’ve played guitar since I was a teenager and I went to college for wood sculpture. The first one I made was for a sculpture class. Most of my jobs after college were woodworking related. I installed and finished wood flooring, and did trim carpentry work for awhile, I moved onto making custom doors and windows later on, so I got a lot of practical woodworking experience through that. I also played in bands, mostly punk/hardcore/sludge stuff. I never really had a lot of money and I couldn’t afford a nice guitar so I decided I should try to make my own. My first few were for myself and my wife. Then a couple friends. Eventually I started a website and got on Instagram and Facebook and it just sort of grew from there.

About guitar pickup, you build by yourself? I love collecting guitar pickups, I mean every pickup have their own tone, but they have match to the wood, what is your favorite pickup for your guitar? And why?

. I don’t make my own pickups. I would say my weakest point in making guitars is the electronics side so I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the point of making pickups myself. I understand the basics and I can follow a wiring diagram but beyond that I’m useless! I absolutely love Avedissian pickups. He’s a small one man business like me and he makes amazing sounding pickups. I always used to tell people I didn’t think pickups made all that much difference but after trying his out it changed my mind. They were the first ones I ever used that really made me say “Wow! That sounds so much better!!”.

I saw you making enclosure for Electrofoods Pedals, any plan for making another collaboration?

Yeah! I love the Electrofoods guys! That was a fun little thing we came up with, and I think there will be more of those on the way from them. Yes, I’m always excited to do something new or different and collaborate with people like them. I’m good at the wood stuff but not really the electronics, and they’re electronics geniuses, so it’s fun to work together and see what happens when you let people just concentrate on their specialty and then let somebody else put their spin on it.