As far as electric guitars go, Frank Pasquale has vision and drive like no other luthier. That is quite evident after seeing and hearing one of his custom made six-strings in action. From Blue Oyster Cult frontman, Eric Bloom, to hardcore metalist Drew Creal, Frank Pasquale’s premium hand-crafted guitars are gaining a reputation for excellence and rightfully so. The instruments are visually and sonically stunning.
Pasquale Custom Guitars is a Chicago-based manufacturer that produces premium boutique electric models designed with a specific end user in mind. Frank Pasquale, CEO and chief builder, attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood California and subsequently studied under west coast guitar guru, Mike Lipe. Whether it’s a solid-body, semi-hollow, an eight-string pickup or the correct action, Frank has his own perspective and he is not shy about sharing. Check out pasqualecustomguitars.com and you’ll find “Frank’s Perspective,” “Sportin’ Wood,” “Eight Holes in One,” about the eight-string pickup and other thoughts about fine contemporary guitars.
With options for the body, headstock, heel, neck, hardware, wood and finish, Pasquale Custom Guitars has it covered for creating an amazing build. If needed, Pasquale CG’s will work with a player for weeks and even months, all in the name of superior customer satisfaction and quality.
At the 2015 winter National Association of Music Merchants show, or NAMM, Pasquale wowed them with an impressive line of axes and a wide variety of pickups which proved to be huge hits, judging by how busy Pasquale CG’s has been in the months that followed. Pasquale’s Metal Series guitars are particularly striking. But these are no Art guitars. Just plug one in and listen to Frank Pasquale’s artistry as a luthier.
There are no two ways about it: Frank Pasquale is a force to be reckoned with in the field of great American luthiers. Musicinterviewmagazine.com caught up with Frank Pasquale for an interview where he talks about “Mojo Factor,” his inspiring guitars, BOC’s Eric Bloom and a lot more.
On your website you mention something called the “Mojo Factor.” As a professional luthier, tell us, what is the “Mojo Factor”?
“Mojo” is difficult to explain. It’s one of those things that have to be experienced to understand. The word “Mojo” is what musicians use to refer to a magical performance. It’s the moment in time when the sum of the musicianship is greater than the individual player. Each artist brings an element to the musical equation that allows a player to perform beyond expectations. The “Mojo Factor” in our guitars is the same way. It’s the perfect combination of materials coming together in just the right way. It’s the magic element that comes in when the right selection of woods and materials are combined with our precision handmade craftsmanship to create a guitar that has a presence and feel that other guitars lack. It starts with my hands and is fulfilled when the guitar connects with the player. This of course is subjective to each person, so it is truly impossible to get the “Mojo Factor” without the player in mind. Much of our time is spent designing for specific players and in dialog to find out exactly what the player is looking for. This allows us to create an instrument that that has the Mojo that they are looking for. Simply put, the “Mojo Factor” is what separates a good guitar from a great one.
How did the collaboration with Eric Bloom from Blue Oyster Cult come about?
Eric contacted me through social media and inquired about some of our guitars. He was looking for a replacement for the trusted Gibson SG that he used for decades. Blue Oyster Cult had been touring consistently and the guitar was getting badly abused on the road. Eric had some very specific requirements that he was looking for in an instrument. They were not the typical requests. He wanted a light guitar that weighed less than seven pounds. He was open to any possibilities concerning woods, pickups and hardware. Through a series of emails we found out that Blue Oyster Cult was performing in a few days, in Warsaw Indiana, which is only about two and a half hours from our shop. So we took some demo guitars to the show to see if we could come up with something that he liked. I was really interested in getting him to play one of our Pasquale Classic 22 guitars made out of basswood. Basswood had a great warm tone and when it’s used with an Ebony fingerboard. The resulting sound is amazing. The best part about basswood is that it is incredibly light, so Eric’s guitar came in at just under six pounds. I took four guitars to the show that day and set them up in the artist area. Eric, Buck Dharma and Richie Castellano each spent some time playing the guitars. When Eric took the basswood Classic 22 out of the case he felt the weight which he really liked. He strummed it unplugged and asked if he could play it in the show that night. Of course I agreed and he played it on their classic song “Godzilla.” After the show we talked about the guitar. He really liked the weight and the neck contour, plus the tone of the Seymour Duncan JB pickup fit perfectly into their classic sound. We talked about designing a signature basswood Eric Bloom guitar with a few Pasquale twists on the design. I recently connected with Eric and Buck at the Winter NAMM 2015 show and hopefully sometime soon we can address a Signature Series guitar again.
What’s the difference between a guitar that “limits” a player and one that “truly inspires” a player?
My career as a builder began by first making my own guitars and then by doing repairs and upgrades for other clients. So many of my clients had guitars that they loved but there was always something about them that they truly didn’t like. There was always something limiting about a particular guitar. A classic Stratocaster® is a perfect example. They only come with 22 frets so many of the modern “shredders” felt limited when it came to playing the latest super-fast shred sweep arpeggio in two full octaves. Classic Stratocasters® also come with the traditional Fender Synchronized Tremolo Bridge which is terrible for staying in tune when you do Van Halen-esque dive bombs. If you move on to Ibanez, or Jackson Guitars, you can get 24 frets and a locking tremolo but neither of these comes with an actual Floyd Rose Tremolo. If you don’t like the feel of the Ibanez® Edge, or the Jackson Tremolo, then you are out of luck unless you hot rod the guitar and upgrade the bridge to an actual Floyd Rose or a Kahler Bridge. Every player goes through phases throughout their life long quest for tone. Typically this involves several pickup changes throughout their career. This is usually because pickups in production line guitars are aimed at achieving a general tone that will appeal to the masses and not the individual player. So we spent a lot of time switching out pickups over the years. After a “hot rod upgrade” of bridges or pickups, our clients truly get inspired to play. All of these issues where standard upgrades that we focused on for years. Finally we decided to that it was a much better concept to address these issues in the building stage of the guitars rather than in the “hot rod” phase. We wanted our guitars to be truly inspiring right out of the box without needing any upgrades. To accomplish this we searched the guitar community to find the best possible woods, pickups and hardware available in the world to capture a fully versatile palette of tones from a single guitar. We designed our guitars for ergonomic comfort and balance for long periods of playing without fatigue. We addressed the issues of tuning instability in non-locking tremolos by using Hipshot US Contour bridges and Graphtech [Guitar Labs] TUSQ nuts that are painstakingly cut by hand. We focused on fine tuning the details of the guitar which allows the player to truly focus on their individual creativity without having to be limited by the guitar design.
Talk a little bit about the Pasquale Revelator 8 Guitar and the eight string pickup. What inspired you to come up that idea?
The Pasquale Revelator 8 guitar is truly the brain child of Drew Creal, who was our very first endorsing artist. He has been playing our guitars for over a decade and his playing just keeps getting better. Drew is a brilliant player who is always seeking to broaden his sonic abilities. He became enamored with metal bands like Meshuggah who are notorious for their eight-string riffs, so, he bought one of the very first Ibanez eight-string guitars that came off the production line. He was immediately aware of the possibilities of the additional strings but he also quickly became aware of the limitations of the production eight-string guitars. Drew came to us to discuss the possibility of a custom eight-string and we set out to design the Drew Creal Signature Revelator 8 Guitar. The guitar took almost a year to complete and much of the time was spent in design specifics. We had to get the right ergonomics so the additional weight of the added tuners wouldn’t let the headstock drop from the weight. I also had the challenge of balancing the woods for the tone he wanted. We chose specific woods for tone but since I hand select all of our woods, I had the challenge of actually finding the woods that we needed, like the single piece of Pau Ferro for the neck. I also had the challenge of finding the perfect eight-string pickup to complete the sound. The additional strings would add new low end frequencies that are not present in six and seven string guitars. When you add in the fact that we used a 27.5” baritone scale for the guitar, I was very concerned about the pickups getting muddy. Drew had played one of our Pasquale Modern 24 Guitars that we fitted with Nordstrand Vintage Hot Pickups and he really liked the versatility of the tones and the clarity of the articulation. So we contacted our friend, Carey Nordstrand, at Nordstrand Pickups and discussed the possibility of a custom vintage eight-string pickup. Carey dialed in the exact specs of their NVH Vintage Hot pickups in an eight-string design and absolutely nailed the perfect pickup for this guitar.
What are the difficulties in making an 8 string guitar?
There were a lot of challenges that I didn’t expect in completing the 8 string project. Once we had the woods selected and the pickups designed, I thought that this would be a standard build but I was definitely wrong on that one. I had created the design templates and was certain things would go smoothly but there were small details that I overlooked. For example, I used a 2-1/8” nut for the guitar but what I didn’t realize at the time was that a standard Graphtech nut only comes in 2” pre-cut slabs so I had to order a custom nut to fit the guitar. I also used a 3-1/8” neck heel to make sure that there was plenty of room on the fingerboard for all the strings. What I didn’t realize was that my fret slotting miter jig will only accept a 3” fingerboard. This also caused problems when I found out that the radius blocks that I used for hand setting the radius also only come in 3” preset blocks. So I had to do some creative engineering to complete this project but you know…you just figure it out and do what you have to do.
You began your career on a mission to “perfect the Strat®.” Do you feel you have succeeded?
The term “perfecting the Strat,” was coined by one of my clients over 20 years ago. He loved the classic Fender® guitars and had a really great collection of Strats and Teles. He was always bringing me his latest pawn shop treasure and asking me to make it great. That meant replacing the cheap plastic nut with a bone or graphite one and most often it also meant replacing the cheap tuners. Often times it meant removing the bridge and then re-setting it because it was installed wrong from the factory. He would constantly bring me a new one of his “acquired treasures” and say “It’s time to perfect another Strat.” Over time, I realized that just about every production guitar that was on the market needed some type of modification to make it a truly great guitar. I finally decided to design my own Signature Series of guitars that would address all of the issues that I felt were common flaws in production model guitars. I still don’t feel like I have accomplished this mission because through the process, I realized that perfecting a guitar had as much to do with the player, as it did the guitar. As I meet new players, I realize that are always new modifications that need to be made to meet the demands of discerning players. We are still evolving with our client’s needs.
The Tribulation Series/Metal Guitars are amazing. What separates a Pasquale Custom Guitar from the rest?
Our Metal Series Guitars were designed to capture all the vibe and glory of the classic metal style guitars that I was infatuated with as a teenager. I loved the bold shapes of the BC Rich Ironbird and the Warlock. What was cooler than a Jackson King V or a Kelly? Sadly, the guitar industry as a whole has all but abandoned these concepts. These guitars had a vibe and a personality just from their appearance. I wanted to capture that vibe with our Pasquale Metal Series Guitars. I took the vibe and feel of those guitars and gave them our own artistic twist. What makes our guitars unique is that we created our guitar shapes to have their own unique personality. The Inferno and Inferno X are the classic “V” shape that we are familiar with. But we cut flames into the sides and headstock to give it a truly aggressive look and feel, as if you were holding a flamethrower. Our Tribulation Model was designed to look like a cross between a rusted saw blade and a battle axe. These guitars were designed to make a statement just by their appearance.
On your Facebook page you posted photos of a remarkable guitar body that you named the Crazy Lam 7. What is that?
The Crazy Lam 7, posted on the Pasquale Custom Guitars Facebook page, is not one of our projects. The design was posted on another Facebook page and I do not know who the actual builder is. I am still inspired by great luthiers and I am constantly looking for new ways to evolve my craft. I re-posted the guitar because I was really impressed with the luthier’s use of compound scarf joints on the neck and headstock to create a really unique wood design pattern. I wanted to share his craftsmanship with my followers. It’s not my project but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t going to incorporate that idea into my designs someday.
What amplifiers do you like?
So often I get asked about my guitars but very few ask me about the types of amplification that should accompany them. Keith Richards was quoted as saying that “The secret to great tone is the right guitar into the right amplifier.” It really is that simple. Most often a client will come to me with their amp rig dialed in and want a guitar to accompany it, so we usually don’t get into that discussion. As a custom builder I have to take into consideration what a client may prefer in amplification presently as well as in the future. It used to be that a classic tube amp was the preferred amp of choice for a client that was in the boutique market, but companies like Randall have gotten great tones from solid state amps. Companies like Fractal and Kemper have taken digital amp modeling into new realms, so the digital age can no longer be ignored. As a player, I’ve embraced both digital amp modeling and classic tube overdrives from long ago so I’m familiar with the pros and cons of each. The truth is that a great tone can be achieved from basically any amp if the right amounts of modifications are made. Whether it’s with pedals, EQ, or on board preamps, any amp can be made to sound great with the right guitar and the right player. For me, the key is versatility. An amp has to have a wide spectrum of potential tones to be truly useful. With that being said, I do have some personal preferences for amplifiers that not only sound great but have a tremendous amount of versatility. For classic tube amps, I prefer the Egnater Renegade 65 head with a matched 4×12 or 2×12 cabinet. These amps are extremely versatile and cover a full spectrum of tones, from lush cleans to classic blues and metal. If you run the amp through a hot plate attenuator, with a standard overdrive pedal, you can get bone crushing metal tones. For digital amp modeling, The Fractal Axe-FOX and the Kemper Modeling head are fantastic tone generators. I am also a fan of the Vox Tonelab LE as a floor processor/switching system. If you tinker around with any amp, you will find the “sweet spot” that gets you a great tone.
What Brand and Gauge Strings do you use?
I’ve tried several different brands of strings over the years and I always come back to D’Addario. I love their XL Series of strings because they have a great long lasting tone and every set is consistently the same, so I know how the strings will perform and how they will affect the tone. When we design a guitar for a client, one of the questions we ask on our guitar build sheet is what gauge of string they use and what the tuning for the guitar will be, standard A 440, E-Flat, or D, etc. We always use the gauge that the client requests for their guitar. However, all of our demo and trade show guitars are strung with D’Addario XL 125 Custom Lights which are a custom set with the top 3 strings being from a set of .009’s and the bottom 3 strings from .010’s. I use this set for demo guitars because I feel it has similarities for players who use either .009’s or .010’s.
Where can someone go to purchase one of your guitars?
Details and information about purchasing our guitars can be found on our website, pasqualecustomguitars.com. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com. You can follow our projects on Facebook, Pasquale Custom Guitars, or Instagram.
Blue Oyster Cult photo: Eric Meola, Columbia Records/public domain/Creative Commons.