If one of the coolest moments of your life involves a guitar shaped like a Slurpee and the House of Blues, you know that you’ve chosen an interesting hobby.
For Rob Baker, a custom guitar maker from Richardson, Texas, the above scenario actually included 13 Slurpee shaped guitars and involved the band Bowling for Soup, a Denton, Texas-based band with a Grammy-nominated 2003 hit “Girl All the Bad Guys Want”.
“The lead singer playing the Slurpee guitar onstage was a really cool moment for me,” Baker says.
It was another confirmation that the hobby Baker picked up eleven years ago was paying off. Baker got his first taste of custom guitar making after buying a cheap guitar off Ebay only to find out that it looked nothing like the guitar in the picture.
“It was a decent guitar that needed work, so I figured out that I could completely refinish it,” Baker says, “I learned how to sunburst and spray lacquer. Then I realized I could build a whole guitar myself.”
This realization led to an obsession for Baker, who began building all kinds of guitars, from cigar box to hollowbody to acoustic. He started the company HiTone Guitars, where he claims there is no design he won’t try.
He’s built everything from AK-47 shaped guitars, to the Slurpee guitars, to an open revolver with removable “bullets”. No matter the shape or design, Baker makes sure each instrument is still musically functional.
“I don’t build anything that can’t be played on a stage,” Baker says, “I took the AK-47 guitars to guitar festivals and I had everyone from speed metal guys to normal rock guys playing it and everyone was satisfied with it.”
Not all of Baker’s guitars have a novelty feel to them, sometimes they are more highbrow art like the Mondrian style guitar he built for the Wildflower Art & Music Festival in Richardson.
“I’m always challenged to come up with a concept that makes it a beautiful art piece,” Baker says, “Most people don’t do fret boards like I do. For the Mondrian guitar I pieced together different types of wood to create different squares.”
As successful as Baker’s guitars have become, it still isn’t his full-time job. He maintains a “normal” job, and hand builds his guitars when he gets home in his garage. After looking at a computer screen all day, he enjoys being able to work with his hands away from screens.
His advice for anyone who is looking to pick up a new hobby like guitar making is to find your passion and start with realistic goals.
“Start off with something you know you can achieve,” Baker says, “It may take you a couple years to get through an instrument, but that’s ok as long as you keep at it.”
Baker’s favorite part of building guitars is stringing them up for the first time to see how they sound. He enjoys building hollowbody and semi-hollowbody guitars more than others because of the unique craftsmanship that goes into creating them.
“When you string it up for the first time and you breathe life into this instrument, you don’t ever know what it’s going to sound like until that moment,” Baker says, “It’s like the birth of a child when you hear that first scream. It’s beautiful. It may only be beautiful to you, but it’s amazing.”
Baker donates many of his custom guitars to charity, and is willing to discuss any design. Check out his website to see more designs and get pricing on each type of guitar.
He also helped start the Dallas-based guitar building clubGuys Building Guitars that you can check out for more information on how to build your own guitars.