After 15 years of shooting combat hand guns in competition, Tomm Williams of Janesville was ready for a new challenge. Serious about achieving perfection, Williams was rated a Master Class Shooter. He won the Oregon State Championship two years in a row and won the Western United States Championship. Williams’ newest challenge initially came in the form of an ad for a DIY guitar kit. Because these kits offered no real woodworking challenge, it wasn’t long before Williams began research on how to build guitars from scratch.
Williams began his new journey by gathering data from books and internet sources which provided a wealth of information on achieving ideal sound and design in custom built guitars. Armed with this new knowledge and a few new tools, six months later, Williams’ first custom built guitar was complete. That was around 2002. Since that time, Williams has built over two dozen instruments. He will tell you his favorite is a carve top guitar for which he uses the Gibson Les Paul as a general pattern, although his guitars are not direct copies. He finds carve tops to be the most comfortable to hold and easiest to play.
Williams builds his guitars out of a variety of wood and said, “Choice of wood is a personal decision made by the customer. One gentleman asked for a guitar built from Redwood and Walnut in the style of a Paul Reed Smith. I thought the Redwood was an unconventional choice, but that particular piece of wood had sentimental value to him and the guitar finished out incredibly; he’s very happy”. This same customer has returned to have a total of four guitars built by Williams, with at least two more on the drawing board.
When Williams first began building, it was for personal enjoyment. He wasn’t sure he wanted to take orders for guitars. “I thought the best way to do it was to build what I like and if someone wants to buy it—great. I’ve changed my thinking about that a bit, but I don’t want to turn this into a job”. According to Williams, his customers have been very patient with their orders as a full custom carve top guitar can take anywhere from six to eight months to complete.
One of Williams’ latest builds was inspired by the Beatles. A customer contacted him in November of 2009 and wanted a guitar like George Harrison’s Gretch Tennessee Rose. “I had never attempted to do an exact copy of a guitar,” said Williams. “First off, it could get me in trouble with the originator, and second, I probably couldn’t execute an exact copy if I wanted to. The customer and I discussed what he wanted and I contributed a few ideas. The end results were pleasing to both of us”.
Williams explains that one of the biggest challenges when taking a custom order is understanding exactly what the customer wants. What is “cherry red” to one person may not be the same to another. So far, Williams’ customers have allowed a considerable level of “artistic leeway” with the custom builds. This “leeway” has allowed Williams to use his own eye for taste and balance in what a guitar should look and feel like and his customers are very happy with the product.
When not building custom guitars, Williams enjoys other music related hobbies. In January of this year, Williams, along with his wife Michelle, began “Williams Sound & Stage”, a sound reinforcement operation with a full complement of sound reinforcement equipment for musical events, ceremonies, car shows, or any event that requires amplified sound. Williams has provided sound services for numerous Lassen County shows and activities. Williams also plays guitar in “Forgery” a local classic rock band that will be playing as the support band for this year’s Country Showdown at the Lassen County Fair.
Williams donates many of his guitars to various local charities and events. Among them are the Lassen High Sober Graduation, for which Williams has donated three of his custom built guitars, Johnstonville Elementary School for use in music class, and Susanville Sunrise Rotary Wine Tasting and Silent Auction. Williams and his wife Michelle have also donated time and equipment from their sound and stage business to many local events.