CRESTON ELECTRIC INSTRUMENTS
Current turnaround time is around 2 months, but brace for more. Why not brace for 6 and be pleasantly surprised?
Want one? Use the form on the Contact page. Please do read through the FAQ on this page before sending me your wish list.
Creston Electric Instruments produces custom guitars, built one at a time by one person near the abandoned highway spur in beautiful Burlington, Vermont. The guitars are finished to look like real instruments made by a real person, not poured out of a mold on the other side of the globe. All custom guitars are designed in collaboration with the players who use them - professionals and beginners and in between.
Creston Lea performs and records with a number of bands ... click here to keep track of his increasingly-local schedule. And by "his" I mean "mine."
How much do your guitars cost?
Seldom less than $2500, usually not more than $3000ish. Sometimes a lot more.
What does sugar pine sound like?
Oh, sugar pine probably sounds closer to alder than ash – pretty neutral, but makes for nice, full low end and plenty of twang without making you wince. It’s very, very light – not uncommon for a finished guitar to weigh around six pounds
Sugar pine? Can’t I use Eastern White Pine? Loblolly pine? Longleaf pine? Southern yellow pine? Red pine? Pineola? Pinesol? Pinwheel?
Do what you like. I think all woods are worth trying. When it comes to pine, I’ll stick to big, beautiful California sugar pine (except, of course, when I use early-1800s white pine barn beams). I have to drive three hours to get it, but it’s my favorite.
What? You only make guitars out of sugar pine?
No, no - I make more ash, alder, mahogany, etc guitars than I do sugar pine guitars. I also like butternut an awful lot. And the one cypress guitar I built sounded quite nice. I'm not eager to make another hickory guitar, but I liked that one, too. I'm not trying to persuade anybody to use sugar pine.
Can I pay by credit card?
Not directly, but there are internet intermediaries who will help you with that (PayPal, etc). I ask that you cover PayPal fees if using that service.
How about personal check? Money Order?
Do I need to give you a deposit?
Yes – 50% to get started.
Wait, how does this work anyway?
You tell me what you want – in as much or as little detail as feels right to you. I’ll try to convince you that you don’t really need a Bigsby. You’ll insist. Once I have a pretty clear idea of your DREAM GUITAR, I’ll send you a quote and a spec sheet for your approval. The quote is good for 30 days. Maybe on the 31st day I’ll jack up my prices like crazy.
Do you have any sound clips of your guitars?
No. But YouTube has VIDEO! Hunt around a little bit. I can direct you if you need help.
Will you make me an exact replica of my favorite guitarist’s guitar?
That guitar already exists. Let’s make something new, why not?
Will you make me an electric mandolin?
Come on! You made one for Jimmy Ryan!
Okay. I’ll make you an electric mandolin, so long as it’s lefty.
Should I send you a long e-mail detailing how I get my TONE?
I always appreciate it when guitar players remember that the people in the audience respond to music, not capacitance, dc-resistance, or henries.
Isn’t curly maple finished in miles-deep purple gloss the greatest?
Maybe I’m not your man after all.
Do they come with a case?
Generally speaking, all guitars come with a quality Levys gig bag embroidered with a fancy Sarah Ryan-designed Creston Electric logo. If you require a hard case, I can provide one - something off the rack or something custom, we'll figure it out.
Who are some of the wonderful players who use your guitars?
YOU’RE wonderful! But so are Eric Heywood, Tony Gilkyson, Mark Spencer, Anders Parker, Chuck Prophet, MC Taylor, Tom Heyman, Tim Bluhm, Ian MacKaye, Brian Henneman, Jay Farrar, Keith Voegele, Zack Hickman, Jim Roll, Jaleel Bunton, Jimmy Ryan, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, James Walbourne, Adam Ant, Marco Pirroni, Will Johnson, Kris Delmhorst…
What are you bragging about? I’ve never heard of like half those guys.
How’s the weather up there? Do you play basketball?
I’m no good at basketball, but I did have one halcyon summer of being able to slam-dunk. It all came to a horrible end when I stumbled upon landing and put my hand through a garage-door window. 36 stitches and no more ball. I don’t miss it.
Will you install a Kaoss Pad / Sustainer Pickup / Fog Machine in my guitar?
While I’m aware that I’ve developed a reputation for “He’ll do ANYTHING!” there are some things that just make me want to put my head in the sand / oven. I’ll try to be honest about it without crushing your dream.
Can I come to Vermont and work for you? I'll do it for free!
I wouldn’t know how to have an employee.
Harvest Moon or Broken Arrow?
(I’m) Stranded or Eternally Yours?
How do you feel about spraying amber-tinted lacquer on your necks?
For years, I tinted my necks. Who doesn’t like the look of old guitars with their pretty, light-brown maple necks? In the beginning, I was sort of over the top. In more recent years, I was more subtle. But unless specifically requested, I have stopped tinting my neck lacquer for these reasons:
-I found that I was applying additional layers of clear lacquer simply to protect the tinted coat during sanding and polishing. No tint: less finish.
-Tinted lacquer doesn’t actually resemble the combination of aged lacquer and oxidized wood. I know there are guitar makers / assemblers who have built their careers on accurate age simulation, but that’s not what excites me about making musical instruments.
-Wearing through tinted lacquer to reveal pale wood beneath seems backwards and wrong.
You may be surprised how quickly your clear-coated neck darkens, particularly if you give it a little time in the sun while you're playing. The result is a much more authentic color. Because it's authentic.
Did you go to guitar-making school?
No. I went to writing school. You can read about my book here.
Do you make your own necks?
All necks and bodies are made from raw materials here at my shop in Burlington.
Can I have really, really tall frets?
Your funeral, dude.
Do you make left-handed guitars?
I don't discriminate against anybody but 5-string bass players.
I can’t understand why you like toploader bridges. They suck!
Be honest and just admit you’ve never played one. (more below)
I don't understand why you tried to talk me out of that color / shape / piece of hardware / electronic configuration / etc.
Ultimately, my two abiding principles are:
- I don't want to make any guitar that looks just like a guitar you can get somewhere else.
- I want to be excited about every guitar I build.
THIS IS IMPORTANT: It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes I just have to say that I'm not the right person for the job. It's my hope that if you've read this far, looked at some pictures elsewhere on this website, and are about to use the Contact form, you have a sense of what I like to do. I'm not rigid about everything, but I do want to be happy about any guitar with my name on it. Needless to say, you want me to be excited about making your guitar.
Some things that make me less excited: gold hardware, exotic woods, highly figured woods, tortoiseshell binding, black binding, satin hardware, black hardware, gold hardware.
Do you have any completed guitars lying around that I could buy?
Maybe! Every now and then I do. I’m always happier building stuff to order, but once in a while I sneak something extra into the mix just to see what it looks like.
I wrote you like four e-mails and you never responded.
I never willfully ignore e-mail! I get a hundred billion e-mails every day. I try really hard, but now and then I accidentally throw the baby out with the toilet water. Do remember that I'm just one person and that occasionally I'm away from e-mail to witness a wedding or funeral or to eat dinner with my family. I'm usually very fast at responding, but sometimes I'm busy elsewhere.
How much for one of those amazing Sarah Ryan hand-painted guitars?
Send me a note and we'll take it from there.
Will I see sketches of Sarah's proposed work before she actually paints my guitar?
No. You and I will discuss a few things related to Sarah's work before you send a deposit. But once I’ve made the body and neck, sprayed the base color, and handed them off to Sarah, I'll stop sending pictures. You'll next see the guitar when you pull it out of the box a few weeks later. It’s a leap of faith on your end. But if you like her work, you know it’s a safe leap.
If I send you my pickguard / guitar / body / neck will Sarah paint it and send it back to me?
No. Sarah prefers to limit her guitar-related work to complete instruments built by me. She asked me to say so.
I live near Burlington. Will you repair, modify, rewire, examine my guitar?
I'm sorry, I only work on the guitars I build. Whenever I break this rule, I regret it.
Do you make ‘relic’ guitars?
Stop. You’re embarrassing both of us. I have some methods for making a guitar look and feel like an old pal, but they don’t involve cheesegraters, keychains, etching solution, or dog urine.
I read on the internet that you hate ... and love ...
I like the internet as much as the next fellow, but it's always best to hear something from the horse's mouth.
Please stop shouting that.
Is less really more?
Most of the time.
Where can I play one of your incredible guitars?
Every now and then you’ll find one at Killer Vintage in St Louis. Their current stock is not necessarily listed on their website. Give them a call, maybe?
Why do you express hesitation when I say I want to use my favorite brand of pickups?
Because I think Jason Lollar's pickups work very well in my guitars. I also enjoy taking advantage of his ability to make custom pickups to suit the needs of my beloved clients. I have nothing to gain by saying this. I just want the guitars I make to sound good.
Why do you express hesitation when I say I want to use a particular piece of hardware I read about on the internet?
I'm very interested in the ever-expanding world of guitar parts, but I choose the parts I use for my guitars quite carefully and admit to a certain resistance to using things that aren't better-built, more reliable, etc etc than the hardware I typically use / have custom made for my guitars. Occasionally I find that New Exciting Part X doesn't align well with Old Favorite Part Y, etc, and that's frustrating to say the least.
Do you still make amp and speaker cabinets?
I REALLY need a Bigsby.
I believe you! It seems I have developed a reputation as an anti-Bigsbyian. It's not true. Take a look through the pictures of my guitars on this site and you'll find hundreds of Bigsbys. If I didn't like them, I wouldn't use them. So I'm sitting here on a Tuesday morning editing this part of my INFO page [9/17/13]. Let the record stand corrected! There ARE some considerations that come with Bigsbys, but we can get into that when you contact me. PLUS: I'm now using a custom vibrato tailpiece that fixes many of the old problems.
Can I buy just a body or neck?
I have a policy against doing so, but sometimes I have something I’m willing to sell off. You can always ask.
Do you make basses?
Yes! I love making basses.
Great! Can you make me a five-string?
Many people insist that in order for certain guitars to acheive proper snap, crackle, and pop, the strings MUST pass through the bridge plate and anchor in ferrules on the back of the guitar's body. Those people will argue this to the point of violence. I suppose everybody has to believe in something. Those same people are apt to work behind the counter at music stores. Here's what they won't tell you:
All too often, string-through-body guitars you'll find on the rack are STIFF and UNFRIENDLY. Those offending guitars are also likely to be UNSTABLE when it comes to tuning. Some stiffness is attributable to poor set-up, but some - unquestionably - has to do with the tension on the string behind the saddle. My initial solution was to move the bridge plate back, so that the saddles would come forward for proper intonation and create a more gentle angle between the saddle and the spot where the string dissappears into the body. It helped, but not enough.
Quite often, I'm asked to build Bigsby-equipped guitars. Many years ago, I began boring top-loader holes in my bridge plate flanges so that, some unwarbly day in the future, players could remove their Bigsbys and still have playable guitars without having to drill and install ferrules.
As soon as I tried one of those modified bridge plates on a non-Bigsby guitar, I was sold. I have been to the toploader mount and I have seen the toploader light. Because no part of the string is under especially heavy tension: the guitars bend well, even at the country-friendly frets near the nut. They stay in tune. Strings go unbroken. They sound every bit as good. Players often report that they can use heavier-than-usual strings without losing playability.
When the same toploader-hating music store guy is A) rhapsodizing about anybody who ever played with John Mayall or B) trying to sell you a $5000 guitar with inlay all over it, remind him that only string-through-body guitars sound good.
I don't want to fight about it, but I'm standing up for toploaders.
So, you only make toploader guitars?
You sure have a lot of opinions. Why don't you explain your thinking about three-pickup guitars while you're at it?
My general attitude about middle pickups is as follows, but I'll admit I don't always agree with myself here:
They seldom sound particularly strong or wonderful by themselves – no matter what kind of pickups they are – simply due to their proximity to the bridge. They’re always a bit anemic, somewhat flattened or less harmonically exciting than their neighbors to the north and south. Not their fault. They’d sound totally different if you moved them a few inches in either direction. [There are exceptions to this notion: the guitar sound on The Bottle Rockets’ Songs Of Sahm, for instance. And the placement of the pickups on everybody’s favorite basses.]
So, if you agree with that blanket statement, then maybe you can follow my next overly-opinionated maxim: Middle pickups should be primarily chosen as sound MODIFIERS not sound CONDUCTORS. In other words, a middle pickup is most wisely chosen not for how it sounds alone, but for how it will influence the sound of either the bridge or the neck pickup when used in combination with that middle pickup.
And unless you’re drawn to those “2 & 4” sounds more than the traditional two-pickup “both” sound, I'd suggest that you’re better off with two pickups than with three. And even if you’re drawn to the “2 & 4,” I will likely suggest a two-pickup guitar with a phase-reversal switch to approximate the "2 & 4" sounds. And you will take a firm stand and I will capitulate and then later you will acknowledge that I was right. Or you’ll be perfectly happy and so, then, will I. I wish I'd gotten through that without using so many "quotation" marks.
Anyway: I'm happy to make you a three pickup guitar.
"Sounds the dog's bollocks!" - James Walbourne
Creston® is a registered trademark of Creston Electric Instruments, LLC.
No outside warranty applies to any CEI instrument. CEI, LLC is in the business of making consultation-based custom instruments. CEI, LLC does not / will not produce replicas of instruments made by other manufacturers.