By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
By Aimee Murillo
By Nick Schou
By Nate Jackson
By Nate Jackson
By Dave Lieberman
By Daniel Kohn
String You Along
Spirit Stallings, custom guitar maker/repairman
Spirit Stallings can fix your entry-level guitar or craft a glorious shredding machine.
What is Stallings USA and Dragonslayer?
Stallings USA is a custom guitar shop. Dragonslayer just happens to be one of the first models. It's sort of a flagship guitar. We started up a website with that name, and it ended up that everybody went to that website instead of the Stallings USA site. We just kind of went with it. The Dragonslayer is like a death-metal or black-metal guitar, for the guys who play the hard stuff. Most of the guitars we build are custom-shop guitars. We have several guitars—the Exploder, the SSG and the SSP. The Dragonslayer is probably our most popular guitar. We have another one called the Dungeonmaster. It looks like an ax. And we have one that's a flying-V style called the Phoenix. That seems to be really popular at the moment. We like to keep a lot of in-house secrets that set our guitars apart. You can't make hands-on guitars with hands-on mojo if you're running them through an assembly line.
So is repair work also a part of what you do at your shop?
Of course—we can't stay alive just doing custom-shop guitars. That's a hard business to compete in. I'd have to build guitars for free and just give them to Guitar Center, and that's just not going to happen. We offer service and repair. We are a certified Gibson service center.
Do you have a specific type of guitar player who plays your guitars?
The guys who buy our guitars are real players. It's not the average kid. Our guitars range from $2,500 and up. A lot of that has to do with the fact it's handmade. It's not as expensive when you consider doing it in chunks, by payments. If you've got a regular job, you're probably spending that money on beer and partying material anyway. So you might as well put it into something that's going to last. And most of the guys I know want to sleep with their guitars rather than their girlfriends. We make guitars for real musicians, guys in bands, recording artists. Some of the guys are into death metal; they're only going to want a radical guitar. We make a couple of lines for those guys. But because we want to draw in the other musicians playing blues and more common types of music, we went with the more traditional body shapes, too. Essentially, we make guitars for all types of players. Most of my custom-shop customers come from Europe.
How does someone get started building guitars?
I did a two-year apprenticeship at a guitar-repair shop. When I started, I showed up with my wood and said, "I want to build a guitar." The guy there said sure. Since I saw every guitar on the planet coming through there, I was able to assess a lot of things about guitars. There were a couple of guys in there who were very knowledgeable, so I was able to ask questions. Also, I started making surfboards in '74 or '75. I think a lot of the ideas I learned from shaping surfboards gave me a lot of the concepts in my guitar building. Thirty years of working in something similar gave me a lot of the training. I fell right into it. I had my own factory; I've shaped under other people's labels as well as my own. It was trial and error—more error than anything else. If you don't learn from your mistakes, you may as well move on to something else. I fixed the problems and made things work.
STALLINGS USA CUSTOM SHOP IS LOCATED AT 786 W. 17TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 650-2976. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT STALLINGSUSA.COM, DRAGONSLAYER.US, STALLINGSURFBOARDS.COM, SCSCS.NET AND SCARLETRED.NET.