I recently ran across some gorgeous guitars and was soon to discover that they were the artistic creation of Mike Delaney. You see Mike has special insight to his workmanship because he is in fact a musician himself. I sat down to talk to Mike about when he decided to start to offer his playable works of art to the public and this is what he had to say:
Q So tell me a little about Delaney Guitars and how long have you been doing this?
A I have to tell you that basically it came out of necessity. I was a musician for many years and I got really sick of what I saw on the shelves at the music stores. Most of the guitars I was picking up I had to take home and fix or change to my liking. I have an extensive woodworking background since I was a little kid and I just finally got to the point where I realized I can do this and started making guitars for myself. In about 1999 was the turning point as far as turning it into a business and making guitars for other people. I would go play gigs with people and other musicians would come up and say where did you get that guitar and can you build one for me. So that is kind of how it started. It was really a happy accident more than anything else. It has turned into a lot of fun and a lot better than going to work.
Q Are you retired and this is what you are doing in retirement?
A Actually I worked for a major airline for 22 years and took an early out. I just had enough and the opportunity came up to not be involved in the airlines anymore and I felt that was the time to pull the plug and start working for myself. So it was just a perfect storm of opportunities at the same time and it worked out really well for us.
Q Wow, that sounds really cool. Okay, I was in Winder, GA for 12 years. Where are you in Georgia?
A I’m in Powder Springs which is just west of Atlanta.
Q Right. Okay, so I am very familiar with Atlanta and the music market in Atlanta. I used to book bands all over Atlanta. I’ve looked at your guitars. They are very pretty. You go with a lot of natural wood products?
A Yeah, I actually like to let Mother Nature do the hard part and we try to find beautiful wood that is going to enhance the tone of the instruments and look nice too. We are using a lot of traditional tone woods in our guitars but we are using a lot of woods that a lot of the major guitar manufacturers don’t use because they may not be as readily available. You know it’s not something where you can bank on having thousands and thousands of board feed all the time of this stuff so it’s to our advantage to be able to use those woods that are superior tone wood but we don’t have to worry about pumping out you know a bunch of guitars. When the wood is available it’s there and it’s great and if we don’t have it available, we have got other things that are equally as nice so it’s just to be able to do that. As a small builder I can do that work and some of the big guys they just can’t do that and know that it is going to be available to them.
Q Right. Do you do any with a lot of inlays and stuff?
A I do some inlay, it just depends. You know we can get as elaborate as somebody wants. You know our guitars range in price from around $2,000 retail and then they go up from there.
Q All right so basically every guitar you do is a custom guitar?
A Well, we do have models and on the website, DelaneyGuitars.com you can see we have models and those models kind of fit a certain parameters that we’ve built but the beauty of being a small builder and a custom builder is somebody can call me and say I want a Delaney Bitter Root guitar but can you do this, this and this to it and we can do that. Now most of our artists that have come to us, they have come to us from other instrument companies that weren’t flexible and willing to do things for them. They would go to their guy and say listen I really love this guitar but can you do a reverse headstock or can you do it with three pickups instead of two and they just would look at them and say no, we don’t do that. I do that. That’s what I do. That’s how I started this business just building what other people wanted within reason you know as long as it meets the criteria of it being a decent instrument. The bottom line is we want to build a guitar that somebody wants but we also want them to be happy when it is done and go, yeah that’s a great sounding guitar.
Q How are you getting the word out about your guitars?
A Well social media, Facebook and Twitter as well as word of mouth from our artists. We have got some really cool great artists that are playing out instruments and they’re all very approachable people so when they do a show and someone comes up to them and wants to talk to them about it, they are very open to that and that’s something that’s very important to us.
Q What is your process, how do you make your guitars?
A When we do our guitars we take long boards and we start cutting our body blanks but everything is relate so if I do a two piece body for instance those two pieces are off of the same length of lumber and they are matched next to each other.
Q So they are related?
A Yes. The water content, moisture content are the same, the density is going to be the same. You have a fighting chance that those two pieces are not going to want to fight with each other but instead they are going to want to cooperate. It’s amazing what two sticks of Swamp Ash for example, how different they can be in weight and in moisture content and in characteristics so you want to match those things up. So we take the time to do that and we take the time to make sure so when we cut a board that is twenty feet long into twenty inch lengths for example, they all get numbered how they came off so we know exactly what order they came off of that board so we match two up there that were next to each other in that board so they will be similar. We tap test each piece of wood where you take a piece of wood and you flick it and you can actually hear the tone in the wood. You can hear a note and we match those, we make sure that the woods are compatible. Our neck wood is going to be compatible with the body wood, most of the big guitar companies that is non-existent. There was a time when they did that and in the long run if you look at all of those things each individual thing probably doesn’t mean a whole lot but in the long run it is going to make a far superior instrument. That’s just the way it is.
Q Right, so I am assuming that you have certain distributors that you get the tuning keys from and your strings from?
A Yeah, certain distributors that I buy those things from and I have certain wood sources and bridges and neck hardware from that are just all high quality tried and true. They are excellent manufacturers and of course some of the stuff we do here as well at the shop also.
Q Okay, so say somebody hears about your by word of mouth or runs across your website. How does this whole process happen? I mean do you have these guitars that you are advertising on your website, do you have a supply of them ready to go?
A I do have a few guitars but not by intent. I don’t keep extra guitars lying around. What I do is if somebody wants to get a Delaney guitar they can call me, when we put in the build order we at that time take a deposit and we start their guitar. That way if there are some differences that somebody wants we can do it and we don’t have to worry about whether something is stock.
Q Well guitars are very personal. It’s almost like wearing a shoe; you know it has to fit. I am sitting her wondering if they are ordering it over the website, what happens if they-do you just ship it to them and what happens if you ship it and they don’t like it?
A Well that hasn’t happened yet knock on wood.
Q Oh thank God.
A We have a real extensive process of making sure it’s what somebody wants before we start the build. If you were to call me tomorrow and say I want a Delaney Sonoita that would start the process. We would sit down and talk about it, we would talk about the wood we want in it, we would talk about the neck profile, and all of things are variable. All of those things are things we can do different for every individual. We do pictures back and forth and emails and all that kind of stuff to make sure it’s going to be a guitar that they are going to be happy with?
Q Do you have a staff?
A I have sub-contractors and I have a few employees. I have two of my sons who help me as well. They are both amazing artists, they are both musicians and they understand guitars which I really think is important. It’s funny how when people find out I play guitar they are really surprised by that. It’s just to me the most logical thing that if you build something you might want to know what it is supposed to do when you are done with it.
Q How long does it take from 1st contact with you to delivery of your custom guitar?
A Well, normally what we tell people, right now the builds are running about sixty days from the day we get the deposit not from the time we first talk on the phone because sometimes that can be weeks or even a month or two before we actually decide yeah, we are going to do this and we get a deposit from somebody. So once we get a deposit we set a build date and what I’ll do is again if you and I are talking today, I can look at my schedule and say the earliest I can start on this guitar is two weeks from today and that’s if I get your deposit in right away. Now if you wait two weeks to send my deposit that may change because other things have come in and gotten into the build schedule. So everything plays off of when we get our deposit and when we can start ordering parts and start the build. So from the time we assign the build date it’s about sixty days before you get your guitar.
Q And your deposit is a fifty percent deposit?
A We ask for fifty percent up front and fifty percent when we are getting ready to ship the instrument. We also have a warranty that’s on the website that guarantees if you are not satisfied you can return the guitar within fourteen days and it’s still in perfect condition and everything is all right with it, we will refund your money. Again, I have never had to do that so I am really happy about that.
Q That is great that you have not had to do that. Is there something that you want to tell me that I haven’t asked you?
A Well along those lines of building guitars for people what I do is I read people when I am talking to them on the phone or when we are having a meeting and there are people I have told I don’t think I am your guy. I don’t think I am the guy for you. I foresee issues or you know it’s just not somebody that I am comfortable with and that being said, I’ll sell fifty guitars to a guitar store if they want them and we will put them together and build them for them so anybody can have a Delaney Guitar but not everybody can present owning Delaney Guitars. Does that make sense to you?
Q Yes. Are you working with any local guitar stores or any major distributors?
A Our business model doesn’t fit their business model. I am not set up to mass produce. We are building these by hand. There are no computers involved, no CNC machines, just templates and routers and chisels and me. So that’s not something I am interested in. I don’t want to sell a bunch of guitars at Guitar Center because we are going to start losing the personal touch. We would like some mom and pop boutique stores, the small ones that carry higher end boutique style guitars. Our demographic is not an 18 year old kid just coming out of high school and wants to get out and start playing guitar. Delaney’s are for more established players who know their instrument and know what they want and collectors. We’ve got several guys that are not players but they collect instruments and they have bought our guitars which are very flattering and it’s pretty cool.
Q Okay, we have tons of information here for your article and I want to thank you for talking to me.
A Thank you very much Donna.
With that we talked for another half hour about the music business, and then said our goodbyes. Oh, by the way, they are a very green company and do not throw out the scrap pieces of wood. They make wood carving boards out of them and you can bet that I will be picking up one of those for my kitchen soon. Go check them out at www.DelaneyGuitars.com and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/delaney.guitars?fref=ts