Lutherie Spotlight: Halo Custom Guitars

Their guitar configurator allows you to customize and order over 1 octillion possible models.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
Lutherie Spotlight: Halo Custom Guitars
11

Today we'll hear from Jeff Lee, the owner of and guitar builder at Halo Custom Guitars - a boutique guitar company that operates primarily through online sales. After seeing their awesome guitar configurator that allows you to customize and order over 1 octillion possible models, I believe this is my choice for the customiest custom guitar company in the world. In spite of their wide range of instruments, they are still focused on building every order with precision and care - just take a look at their reviews!

Djenty-type guitarists will be pleased to see Halo Custom Guitars offers up to 10 strings!

Read on for some insight into what it's like to make a living building people's dream guitars (and basses):

Joel: When did you decide you wanted to build guitars, and how did you go about learning?

Jeff: I made the decision to build custom guitars when I was an undergraduate student studying Business Administration at San Jose State University. Most of my classmates were setting themselves up for corporate jobs or grad school, but I was preparing myself to dive full time into the guitar business. I did most of my learning by doing... and by doing things very wrong. I also gained a lot of guitar-making wisdom from co-workers at Halo Custom Guitars, guitar building books and guitar forums.

Joel: I have to mention that your guitar/bass custom designing pages are quite possibly the most extensive and fully functional I've ever seen - even putting "big brand" companies' efforts to shame. How have you equipped yourself to handle such a wide range of requests?

Jeff: Thank you! It's really about having the right people first. The right people are experts at their stuff and have a can-do attitude. From there, it's all about equipping these people with the appropriate tools, machines, information, and instructions they need to get the job done. In short, we had to be able to build everything from scratch under our own roof. Depending on 3rd party vendors or pre-made templates would be too limiting. So, we got some land and built a little guitar factory on it, which we then stocked with all the old school woodworking tools, CNC machinery, raw materials, and other guitar components we needed.

Joel: I don't want to pigeonhole your company into a single category, but I'm assuming you're into metal since I'm seeing 8, 9, and 10 string guitars - baritones as well. What would you say to someone having a hard time deciding between an 8 string guitar or a baritone scale 7 string?

Jeff: I'm definitely into metal, but I'm also fond of most other musical genres as well. My recommendation to someone deciding between an 8-string guitar and a baritone 7-string guitar is to first consider whether he/she would actually play all 8 strings or not. If yes, then the 7-string guitar isn't really a choice, so buy the 8-stringer. But if the player just wants to hit a Low F# note and largely disregard the higher notes, then I'd say get the 7-stringer and tune it accordingly. Continuing with this logic, it might even be best to get a baritone 6-stringer and tune it down accordingly.

Joel: Looking over your body shape selection, I'm seeing a soft spot for teles, 335s, and various semi-hollow bodied models - would you say you have any body styles that you're fond of?

Jeff: I do have a soft spot for Tele shapes and 335 shapes. I particularly like the Tele shape for playing while sitting because the neck is situated at a height that is really comfortable for me. I might also be drawn to the Tele shape because I'm a big fan of Brad Paisely's playing. I love the 335 shape, but the body is a bit wide for my liking. To help alleviate that "issue," I helped design a narrower version of it for Halo and it is called the DLH. I'm almost certain the reason why I'm drawn to the 335 shape is because my late father, Danny Lee, and I used to really "rock out" to Larry Carlton (Mr. 335) and he'd always be playing a 335. Oh, and the DLH stands for Danny Lee Halo.

Joel: Considering your massive selection of custom options, what's the strangest request you've received from a customer?

Jeff: Tough question because strange for me is not strange for others (especially the customer). I can't decide the strangest, so I'll just list 3 that come immediately to mind:

  1. Bi-directional, double-neck 8-string guitar with detachable bodies, fully scalloped fretboards, Kahler tremolo systems, and active EMG pickups. This was built for Sonny Lombardozzi who is currently in the band Incantation.
  2. 31-Tone (62 microtonal frets!) 6-string baritone guitar with piezo pickups, MIDI output, P90's, Lace Alumitone single coil pickup, and split-able Lace Dually's. This was built for Stephen James Taylor who composes music professionally for film and TV.
  3. Microtonal 10-string guitar with blood spatter custom graphics on the body. This was built for Kevin Sherwood who does the songwriting for the Call of Duty video games.

Joel: What would you say to someone looking to get into lutherie for the first time? Did you learn anything unexpected once you decided to pursue this path?

Jeff: I would say go for it. You'll find out pretty quickly if you love it or hate it. But, there are 4 things that I think greatly benefit one's success or failure in luthiery or guitar building. They are: (1) Fine motor skills. You gotta have them because there's just so much finesse work. (2) Patience. You gotta have it because there are so many time consuming and repetitive processes. (3) Love for the craft. If the roaring sound of routers and the sweet smell of sawdust doesn't draw you in, that's probably a bad sign. (4) Love for music. We are making musical instruments after all!

Joel: What sets your work apart from the larger instrument manufacturers (Ibanez, Fender, etc)?

Jeff: Larger guitar manufacturers fill a different need in the marketplace than smaller guitar companies. They operate on a much larger scale and therefore must design their guitars to meet the needs of a more general guitar-playing population, usually. They do this extremely well, by the way. But, for smaller guitar companies like Halo, it becomes possible to cater to each individual player's specific needs. There are lots of luthiers and guitar companies out there that are willing to build you anything you want. I think part of what sets Halo apart from the rest is what you've already mentioned... our guitar configurator and bass configurator tools on our website. To my knowledge, they are the most powerful guitar configurators on the web at the moment. We did some math a while back and found there to be more than 1 Octillion configurations that customers could potentially order and that we could actually build and deliver. Basically, we've made it possible for every guitar player in the world to design and see their dream guitar on our website and if they want to, they can even place an order and receive the real thing. I should mention the guitars are built to high-quality standards and are suitable for pro players.

Joel: Since you're offering such a massive range of options, I have to wonder - what's your dream guitar? Have you built one for yourself?

Jeff: I do own a Halo guitar and play it often, but it wasn't made specially for me. It's just a 6-string baritone acoustic dreadnought that was supposed to be destroyed because we couldn't sell it (the neck was set into the body incorrectly). I am working on a Halo archtop guitar for myself currently. Halo has never built any archtop guitars before so this is new territory for me and the company. I think my dream guitar is the guitar I actually play, so that'd be my defective Halo 6-string baritone acoustic guitar. Hahaha...

Joel: Who or what would you say is your biggest inspiration when you set out to build a new instrument?

Jeff: I am most inspired by a custom guitar build that presents itself as a challenge in the sense that I'd have to learn something new, or apply something in a way I haven't done before. I find that I am most engaged and excited in these scenarios because it leads me to a deeper understanding and appreciation for the craft.

(Brandon Benedict and Jeff Lee - Guitar builders at Halo Custom Guitars)

We'd like to thank Jeff Lee for taking the time to tell us about his craft, and encourage you all to check out their site - it's really fun!

Also, check out one of their 7-string multi-scale guitars in action here:

YouTube preview picture

And some guy shredding one of their six-strings for good measure:

YouTube preview picture

Interview by Joel Bennett (read more stories) for Ultimate Guitar

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    travislausch
    There's a lot of controversy around Halo guitars concerning their quality control. Apparently, early on, their QC was terrible, and that really soured their reputation among certain communities of players since. I've heard things have improved and even got the chance to play a really good Halo, but that doesn't seem to have stopped the opinions from flying on the internet. 
    skarproductions
    I also heard alot about this many years ago, but from all my experiences with Halo I can say that it is all in the past now. My buddy Død from Blood Red Throne first introduced me to Halo with his 6 string evertune guitar he got from them, and the craftmanship was great and it sounded amazing. But what really won me over was when I tried his 7 string custom when we were on tour together.  That guitar is a BEAST. It felt so good I went ahead and purchased a 7 string seraphim (which you can see in the last of us cover in the article) and it is absolutely amazing. Just as good, if not better than many other popular guitar brands I have used over the years. Really sad that those incidents from the past still haunt their business because their products are nothing but quality.
    meme578
    Hi, author here. I dunno anything about the past, but after speaking with them I'd happily trust them to turn out a good instrument. They use automated routing for some of the precision work (compound radius is something I asked about) so I can't imagine too much going wrong there. Considering their ethos of improvement and appreciation, if say we can give them a clean slate from here on, no?
    travislausch
    Easy enough for me. Considering my first personal experience with them was positive, I never really had any hatred for the company. But I'm a member of the Extended Range Guitar Nerds community on Facebook, and "Halo Guitars" is pretty much a profanity over there. Those are the minds that aren't going to change.  
    Tsunami3000
    I'll be straight up. Those "Guitar Porn" dudes and a lot of those guys dont know what theyre talking about.they just got dough by trading guitars and upselling them over and over and take nice pics of the guitars they run by. Tried shaming my friend who called them out on shorting him. they have an INSANE bias towards the big name stuff. I used to love those groups but i just dont mess with them anymore. too toxic
    meme578
    Ahh, the amateur photography groups - they might not know how to play a guitar, but they sure can polish them nice and shiny! Gotta give them credit where it's due.
    hak_hap
    I know this is UG and all, but can I ask you something since you're informed? When there's gazillions of possible guitars the can make, isn't it inevitable there's gonna be some bad ones, like badly or at least not very well composed ones since people can demand their guitar to be build however they want? I hope I'm not a total dumb ass asking but I always thought the big guitar makers rely on very specific shapes, combinations and measurements to have the amazing classic models we all know.
    travislausch
    Quality control being bad doesn't necessarily mean people getting the wrong shapes or anything like that. Just things like the fretwork being bad, the hardware not being installed correctly, things of that nature. For an example of what I mean, check out ArnoldPlaysGuitar's channel on Youtube and look for his Legator review. It'll probably be the first one to come up. Those are the kind of issues Halo buyers dealt with initially as well, and it wasn't just a case of one or two people got a bad one and bitched about it, it was apparently common for anyone who didn't order something hand-built from the custom shop. But yeah, they've apparently improved dramatically. Like I said, I have played a friend's Halo Seraphim and it was a beautiful guitar, without any flaws I could think of. But sadly, that doesn't mean that people have changed their tune about the company. And it is sad and maybe even a little stupid. A lot of up-and-coming guitar manufacturers start off with lesser quality than they end up with after some trial-and-error. That's why I personally don't judge Halo too harshly.
    CrumbBeard
    Been playing around with this site for about a year, absolutely fantastic. Love it love it love it.
    Mad-Mike_J83
    After trying out their guitar builder just to see if someone came up with a new ideas, looks like they are using the same exact software for their custom shop builder softrware on their site as noritaguitars does, just with different options and tailored differently.
    meme578
    Just checked it out - it does look like it's based on the same program, but the Halo version is much more comprehensive and they actually build the guitars there. I'm guessing that the company contracted to build the Halo site retains the right to publish the product without a competitive angle - I've designed a few web-apps for other companies and I always like to keep a base version for my own showcase - now I just publish the applications on my own site :}
    uptheirons726
    You guys are serious with this? Look at their reviews? You mean the hundreds of negative, horrible reviews about how shoddy their work is and how horrible of a company they are? What a joke. Absolute joke. They are one of the worst builders around. You guys have lost all credibility. 
    Rockguitarist14
    Halo owner here.  Their work is solid.  Maybe not top quality and a definitely a little overpriced, sure, but I'm happy with my Halo.  Maybe you should actually play one before just repeating the same gossip you hear over and over from people who also probably have never played one.
    meme578
    I do my research before I write - I've seen the continued criticism after a couple bad experiences were had. From what I saw, that stuff is continuing from about 8 years ago. I've also seen people claiming they love theirs, or it's the best guitar they've ever played, etc. I take that into account too, and recommend you do the same.