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Old 01-25-2021, 02:12 PM
BlackKeys36 BlackKeys36 is offline
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Default First Commission - Wilborn Nautilus - (DEMO VIDEO)

The day is here!

I haven't been able to get 1/25/21 out of my head since last August when Ben told me this was the day he was going to start on my guitar and now that it's here I realize that the only thing different about today is that the suspense is greater!

***Disclaimer: I get extremely long-winded discussing how I got here. If you are just interested in the wood selections it's at the end of the post.***

I've been a musician pretty much my whole life. I started classical piano lessons at 5 years old and was playing weekly in church by the time I was 14. I picked up guitar in my mid-teens because I was regularly "following" someone playing acoustic and rather than learn to play by ear I decided I needed to know all the guitar shapes visually so I could play along when sheet music or chord sheets weren't available.

I very quickly became enamored with acoustics. I had been building things since I could walk and doing construction alongside my brother and dad since my early teens and the fact that someone/something had built this thing out of wood that made such beautiful sounds was mind-blowing to me.

I went on to grow as a musician through my college years and worked for a guitar shop selling and repairing for a couple of years while looking for my first "corporate" job. During that time I purchased my first good guitar, a Taylor 414ce Fall Limited in Sitka/EIR (17y later she is still hanging on the wall behind me with the golden hue that only years can give to sitka). It's mildly embarrassing, but though I worked-on, sold, and have owned hundreds of nice acoustics since, I had no idea this world of small luthiers even existed.

Early last year (2020) I hired a bass player friend to help out for an event and he brought along an acoustic "I had to play". He was getting strings from our LGS and there was a guitar on the wall he didn't recognize. It had a unique headstock with a single 'T', the back and sides were a stunning set of bubinga, and there was a hole on the player's side of the upper bout that he had never seen. He picked it up and it was love at first strum. It sounded like no factory guitar he had ever played. I should mention that "my bass player friend" is a very good musician that started out playing classical guitar under the tutelage of a master and is a different level of picky about his instruments than anyone I've known.

He let me play it a few more times on stage and one day backstage I told him if he ever needed cash that I would buy that guitar with the agreement that he had first right of refusal on buying it back for the same price if I ever decided to sell it. A few weeks later he was feeling some covid-induced financial pressure and took me up on my offer.

I immediately looked up the builder (Fred Tellier) and emailed him about it. Fred was incredibly nice and shared some build pics and early recordings of the guitar. It's Fred's SJ in Lutz/Bubinga and it truly is magical. It was built in late 2011 and the Lutz has aged perfectly and has a rare combination of clarity AND warmth.

Between the time I first played the Tellier and purchasing it I found AGF and was exposed to this world of small builders that through careful attention and selection can do things that larger factories can't afford to do. I watched thousands of videos on YT and through a few TNAG videos stumbled across Wilborn. Besides making beautiful OO-ish guitars that played way above their size from a tone and volume standpoint (Lion's were my first exposure to Wilborn) Ben had a passion in the way he spoke about his guitars that was extremely infectious. It didn't take long for my wife to recognize Ben's voice and occasionally join me on the couch or at my desk to watch his videos. One day she asked, "you want to get him to build you a guitar just because he's so likeable don't you?". I did the husband thing and gave her a 5 minute lecture with all the reasons Ben would build a great guitar even though her eyes had gone glassy 10 seconds in. She got up from the couch and while walking away said, "if you want him to build you a guitar just because you like him so much just do it".

I spent the next few days reading every word on AGF about Wilborn and read his Warhorse build thread from January 2019 2-3 times. Sometime during the previous months while I was researching small builders I became enamored with mod(ified/ern) dreadnoughts, loved the look of that warhorse, and decided I needed one. I was playing guitar on stage 2-3 times per month and a Spruce/RW dread is about as perfect as it would get for the large band I was a part of at the time.

I reached out to Ben with an introductory email, he replied that he was on vacation but would get with me the following week, and the proverbial ball was rolling.

Ben called me and we talked for I'm sure longer than he had time for and settled on the warhorse with very similar specs to the build thread on AGF...multiscale, cutaway, bevel, etc. Based on a lot of reading and watching most of the videos on his facebook page I selected his old growth sitka for the top. I love the look of old sitka, love wood with a story, and knew it would make a phenomenal guitar based on his other builds. Ben sent me pics of some beautiful sets of various dalbergia. I showed the pics to everyone I knew that would care (and some that didn't) and ended up with a set of uniquely-figured EIR that my gut had selected at first sight.

Between the time I first emailed Ben and him getting back from vacation I, on a whim, messaged Brad Jones (friend of Ben and the other half of his acoustic duo) because I saw that he had listed his Wilborn Patros for sale in the past to fund a new Wilborn build and that by all appearances he still had it. Brad was willing to sell and also helped firm up my decision to use Ben for my first commission. Ben cleaned up the Patros and I received it a few days later. I won't spend a ton of time talking about it here, but that guitar is amazing. It has more natural reverb than anything i've ever played. The first time I plugged it in on stage the audio engineer asked me to turn off my reverb so he could EQ it dry (I was plugged in direct...lol). If you've ever listened to any of Frog & Toad's music you have likely heard it.

Wilborn Patros - Old Growth Sitka over Macassar Ebony


Since August when I paid my deposit and got on Ben's list my life has changed pretty drastically. I still have my primary job/income, but I lost my church job that had grown to be a significant outlet for my guitar/keys playing as well as a significant source of income. I went from spending 20ish hours per week playing on stage with great musicians to 0 hours overnight. I also went from playing almost always with a flatpick to playing 90+% of the time with my fingers. During this transition I have slowly learned to appreciate a more "balanced" guitar. For most of my life the "better" a guitar was was directly correlated to how deep the mid scoop was and how loud it was, and over the last 4-5 months I have developed an appreciation for the mids.

In September of 2020, a few weeks after I started the process of my commission with Ben, Boutique Guitar Showcase came through my area and one of Ben's Nautilus models was in the mix. I made the drive up to McKinney and spent some significant time on that guitar. At the time my biggest concern with what would eventually be known as the comma series is that they could very well be a better instrument, but be different enough that it would no longer be a "guitar". It could be louder, clearer, more articulate, more balanced, more musical, etc, but would it still sound like a guitar? 30 seconds into playing the nautilus that question was put to rest. It was everything a guitar is but "better". I've heard Ben describe it as "defying the laws of physics in that you seem to get more out of it than you put in" and that's a great description. It was the most responsive guitar I had ever played. I loved the tone, I loved the volume, and the playability was off the charts good.

So now things are complicated...I went from being positive I wanted a warhorse to having somewhat of a paradigm-shifting experience with the Nautilus and I was(am) feeling tons of self-imposed pressure to get the decisions "right" on my first commission. To further complicate things, Ben was building Brad a new Nautilus-style guitar on the Warhorse chassis which would potentially check all the boxes for me. Ben and I decided to wait for him to finish Brad's and then have a follow-up discussion on shape before he was slated to start my build on 1/25. During the months between I student-built my first guitar, and read every mention of Wilborn on AGF and Facebook. With every comma series (Arum, Nautilus, Sidewinder) build I became more convinced that's the direction I wanted to go.

Ben and I spoke again a couple weeks ago with an agenda of finalizing wood selection and body shape. I went into the conversation ready for him to talk me into a T14 top, changing B/S to HRW, and any of the comma series for shape. He was very confident that my original wood choices were excellent and after some back and forth we settled on a Nautilus. In Ben's words, "it just does everything well".

If you made it this far, thank you!

Old Growth Sitka over "Wiggly" EIR

Last edited by BlackKeys36; 03-22-2021 at 08:53 PM.
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  #2  
Old 01-25-2021, 02:21 PM
BlackKeys36 BlackKeys36 is offline
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In all those words up there I forgot to mention that other than top species, back and sides selection, and shape, I have left all other choices up to Ben. I found out from his facebook post with the wood choices that he is planning to use ziricote for the binding. You can see a little hint of the ziricote in the backstrip!
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Old 01-25-2021, 02:26 PM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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Thank you for sharing your story, I love hearing all the background. My first commission is due to start in a few months and I'm already excited, I can't imagine what it'll be like to be at your stage. Hope you love every minute of the build.

On the guitar front, I absolutely love the comma series guitars and the wood choices look great. I'm sure this will turn out something special.
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Old 01-25-2021, 03:42 PM
Nemoman Nemoman is offline
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Wow--what an exciting way to come into your first build commission. I enjoyed reading every word and am excited for you to experience your build with Ben. He is one of a kind and you will have a great time--though it sounds like you already have!

As the owner of an Ellie Belle (EIR and old Sitka) and an Arum (Cocobolo and T14) I have no doubt that you will love your nautilus with your particular wood combination. It's a classic combination that the Nautilus will enhance even further.

Enjoy the ride and thanks for sharing your build with us!
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Old 01-25-2021, 04:58 PM
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Are you sure you want to do this with those words and this builder ??? So many choices LOL!
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Old 01-25-2021, 08:07 PM
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Smile Nice!

Cool backstory and great choices! This will be FUN to follow. Ben will knock your socks off for sure.

That may be the prettiest EIR I have ever seen. Love the colors in that back! And Ben works wonders with his aged Sitka.

Enjoy the process!

Paul
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Old 01-26-2021, 05:18 AM
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Congrats on getting started. Hold on to your hat as Ben does 0 to 60 faster than anyone I've seen. I look forward to watching.
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Old 01-26-2021, 09:06 PM
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John, you write so glowingly about Ben and his fine guitars, I told Ryan today that now I find myself wanting one. Congratulations on what I am sure will be a boat load of fun!

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Old 01-27-2021, 04:59 AM
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Great story and great looking wood - I want that sitka to hang on my wall!

Congratulations on the build and looking forward to more posts.
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Old 01-27-2021, 08:26 AM
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Nice to hear the back story and congrats on your decision. Wonderful woods.

Once he starts, better buckle-up because Ben gets busy (sounds like a song title, lol) and doesn't mess around. In the blink of an eye, you will have a meticulously built instrument ready for finish.

Look forward to following along and to hearing you play it when done.
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Last edited by Ukulele_Eddie; 01-27-2021 at 09:52 AM.
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Old 01-27-2021, 09:11 AM
BlackKeys36 BlackKeys36 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MThomson View Post
Thank you for sharing your story, I love hearing all the background. My first commission is due to start in a few months and I'm already excited, I can't imagine what it'll be like to be at your stage. Hope you love every minute of the build.

On the guitar front, I absolutely love the comma series guitars and the wood choices look great. I'm sure this will turn out something special.
Congrats on your first and thanks for the kind words, Martin!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nemoman View Post
Wow--what an exciting way to come into your first build commission. I enjoyed reading every word and am excited for you to experience your build with Ben. He is one of a kind and you will have a great time--though it sounds like you already have!

As the owner of an Ellie Belle (EIR and old Sitka) and an Arum (Cocobolo and T14) I have no doubt that you will love your nautilus with your particular wood combination. It's a classic combination that the Nautilus will enhance even further.

Enjoy the ride and thanks for sharing your build with us!
Thank you! I'm excited to join the elite company in the multiple Wilborn club.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TomB'sox View Post
Are you sure you want to do this with those words and this builder ??? So many choices LOL!
I'm pretty sure he does all his experimenting on yours and Brad's guitars; I think I'm safe!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Guitars44me View Post
Cool backstory and great choices! This will be FUN to follow. Ben will knock your socks off for sure.

That may be the prettiest EIR I have ever seen. Love the colors in that back! And Ben works wonders with his aged Sitka.

Enjoy the process!

Paul
Thanks, Paul! I couldn't agree more!

Quote:
Originally Posted by cigarfan View Post
Congrats on getting started. Hold on to your hat as Ben does 0 to 60 faster than anyone I've seen. I look forward to watching.
Thanks, CigarFan! Ben's efficiency is apparently stuff of legend!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Steve Kinnaird View Post
John, you write so glowingly about Ben and his fine guitars, I told Ryan today that now I find myself wanting one. Congratulations on what I am sure will be a boat load of fun!

Steve
He's not the only luthier i've written "glowingly" about!

"John builds a guitar under a master's tutelage"

Quote:
Originally Posted by colins View Post
Great story and great looking wood - I want that sitka to hang on my wall!

Congratulations on the build and looking forward to more posts.
Thanks, Colins! The sitka selection was a surprise for me and I love it. I own another Wilborn with a top from the same batch and the Nautilus I was able to play had it as well. It's special stuff!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ukulele_Eddie View Post
Nice to hear the back story and congrats on your decision. Wonderful woods.

Once he starts, better buckle-up because Ben gets busy (sounds like a song title, lol) and doesn't mess around L. In the blink of an eye you will have a meticulously built instrument ready for finish.

Look forward to following along and to hearing you play it when done.
Thanks, Eddie! I'm in love with your Arum and hope to have one similar some day!
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2021 Kinnaird 000-12
2021 Wilborn Nautilus
2020 Kinnaird Deep OM Student Build
2016 Wilborn Patros
2011 FE Tellier SJ
2004 Taylor 414CE Limited

Last edited by BlackKeys36; 01-27-2021 at 04:23 PM.
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Old 01-27-2021, 09:17 AM
BlackKeys36 BlackKeys36 is offline
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I spent a solid half hour trying to figure out how to embed a Facebook video and failed miserably...the following facebook post is an interesting video where Ben shows some mods he has made to his Fox Bender and rumor has it that it is my sides used in the demonstration(click on the picture)...

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Old 01-27-2021, 11:07 AM
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BEAUTIFUL wood set for your build. I will be following along. Thanks for posting.
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Old 01-27-2021, 01:46 PM
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invguy921 invguy921 is offline
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Congratulations! I vividly remember my first one...and it was very cool. I'm certain yours will be a special experience. Not only do you have some gorgeous wood choices, but the builder is really special as well. I'm confident you'll be tickled with the resulting masterpiece!!

I'll enjoy watching this one, thanks for sharing the experience!!
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Old 01-27-2021, 08:20 PM
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Loved reading the journey and will echo that the back and sides are among the prettiest and most interesting I have ever seen. I will enjoy following along and wish you tremendous joy and fun on the ride.
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