The Whitehouse Players recently played our third run at Island Resort and Casino in Harris, MI. It was a noteworthy week in so many ways! Being involved in the music business has bestowed us with many wonderful opportunities and relationships – one of which emphatically urged me to introduce myself to the amazing couple that this blog is about.
For years, I have run live production for many artists and bands, both local and national. One of the artists (and great friend) I have the pleasure of working with is Phil Vaught, a national-touring artist based out of Nashville, TN. His guitar player, Ron Miller, always brought this insanely beautiful guitar with him to the shows. It was a guitar that I have never heard of and wanted to know more about.
Several shows and several months had passed until time allowed Ron and I to sit down after a soundcheck and talk shop. I asked him about that guitar he was bringing to the recent shows. “Dude….what is that guitar your playing?” In his thick southern drawl Ron proudly exclaimed, “Thats a Neville man!” Of course, his answer lead to a test drive and a more in-depth discussion as to its pedigree.
We talked at length about this amazing guitar and the luthiers who made it. It turned out that they were only hours away from my hometown and literally minutes from the casino that The Whitehouse Players frequently play at (Island Resort & Casino). Of course, being the gearhead and guitar nut that I am, I had to meet them! And, it worked out perfect being only minutes from our gig! Ron gave me all the pertinent contact information and arranged for a meeting with Jeff and Danielle Neville.
I called Jeff to see if I could drop by the shop and take a look at what he’s crafting. He kindly obliged and I was on my way. As I drove HWY 2, I couldn’t help but wonder if Bigfoot was watching! Yeah, this area (Upper Peninsula of MI) is unpopulated and filled with impenetrable forest…it seemed perfect for Sasquatch. I came to the “fire number” on the side of the road (also a road appropriately named Neville Drive) and turned to go down a winding driveway to the shop.
I was greeted by Jeff and Danielle and led into their shop. As we walked through door, the smell of stain and nitro hit me like the aroma of fresh baked cookies at Christmas! Remember, this is like a candy store for people like me! As I look around the shop, on one side there are racks of body blanks and beautifully flamed and quilted maple tops waiting to be glued to their respective bodies. Next to those, there are birdseye slabs lined up to be carved into one of the best feeling necks I’ve ever played!
Note that I said CARVED! Jeff does not use CNC machines, shapers or any fancy stuff like that. He hand-carves and sands his necks from a solid slab of wood…the old fashioned way! Beyond that, with the exception of exotic imported lumber, he strives to use locally harvested woods, much of which is cut from his own land or the surrounding area.
Next, I’m led into the finish room, my eyes immediately flagged by an immaculately quilted tele body sprayed in a translucent amber color. WOW! This quilt was so three-dimensional it almost made me dizzy! Next to that, a blonde tele with birdseye top, finished in a golden tobacco color too hard to describe. Their next stop in the production process is over to Danielle’s bench for a wet sanding and buffing. I’ve seen her work on these bodies – she is fastidious and discriminating with her finishes! And it shows…the finished product is high gloss, free of pits or any distortion – an absolute work of art!
Did I mention sound? The guitars that I played ran the gamut of wood composition so giving a single sound description would be unfair. They all sounded great but the one thing that I noticed on all of them was – they were extremely large sounding! Large yet transparent. Piano like sustain and shimmer without the typical icepick-in-the-ear you get from typical telecaster-styled guitars. Great lows with out the boxiness. And….the neck pickup is INSANE!!!! You have to play it to believe it. I don’t know what it is exactly but its cool…really cool!
Needless to say, after the shop tour and a lengthy talk with Jeff and Danielle, I ordered a completely custom guitar. They sat down with me for a couple hours going over what seemed to be every possible option one could want. We looked at various woods for the top. I actually got to pick from what he had there so I knew exactly what I was getting. We figured out the perfect neck carve for me – a soft V on the first fret to a C shape for the upper frets topped with an ebony fingerboard with boned dot inlays. Next, a gorgeous book-matched quilted maple top on alder with an ornate ebony/maple/ebony stripe down the center. The heel of the neck joint will be rounded off to give better access to the higher frets. Unfinished neck. Bone Nut. Kluson vintage tuners. Nashville/Brent Mason style pickup configuration. Dogtown pickups. Fixed strat style bridge. No pick plate. Stainless frets. No control plate or pick plate…Everything is mounted through or on the wood!
Try getting this individual attention to detail anywhere else! If you DO get it from another luthier, be prepared to pay a serious premium! Not at Neville Guitars! Their pricing is very affordable and above all, they support their instruments and the players that use them. Actually, during their busiest time of the season, the Nevilles were kind enough to come out to the show and hang out with us all evening. We had a great time!
I’ve been fortunate enough to own and play some of the finest boutique electric guitars on the market – Tom Anderson, Suhr, Ruokangas, Nik Huber, Venetto, etc. I can say, unequivocally, that Neville Guitars are some of the best and dare I say, surpass them in quality, craftsmanship and beauty. I’m not an endorser for Neville…though I’d love to be! Wink wink…nudge nudge Jeff! In fact, I’ve made the decision to play Neville’s exclusively. I believe in the instrument that much…and the fine couple that make them!
Jeff and Danielle Neville of Neville Guitars are based out of Hermansville, a small town off of HWY 2 in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Visit Neville Guitars online at www.nevilleguitars.com.
Update: A second visit to Neville Guitars in February 2014 yielded yet another major score! I came into the shop to say hi and to see the progress on my first order. I walked back to his office to see an absolute stunner of a guitar on his wiring bench! As you’ll see in the video below, I’m totally blown away by this guitar. Jeff and Danielle were kind enough to let me play it at our shows during the weekend up at Island Casino. Of course I fell in love with it and had many inquiries by patrons about it. Pictures speak a thousand words but just imagine the sound of this thing! It’s unreal! And, I get to record the new Whitehouse Players record with it! Yeah Baby!