"The whole front of the guitar was a picture of his dog," said Gypsy Carns, the man who runs the Meridian-based Peavey Electronics Custom Shop, describing a guitar he created for a customer. "On the fretboard, we overlayed the dog's name in mother of pearl. It was quite expensive and time-consuming, but he loved his dog, Boomer. The guitar has the dog's tongue hanging out and his big black nose. His whole face is on the front."
In an attempt to keep up with the trends, customized guitars are Peavey's latest offering. The Mississippi-based company is in tune with innovation, using creativity and cutting-edge technology to strum up business, and part of its proceeds are used to fund local youth organizations - no strings attached.
Jim Beaugez, Peavey communications manager, said the company turned its Meridian guitar manufacturing facility into a custom shop several years ago, where it creates custom-designed guitars and amplifiers for musicians, corporations, organizations and individuals.
"When we first launched the Peavey custom interface, you could go online and dial in color options," Beaugez said. "We could build a guitar in 17 million different colors. Now, you can upload a picture of your dog, or anything really, and we can put the picture on the guitar using a patented ArtGuitar printing process."
Customers generally pay $2,000 to $5,000 for an original design. Peavey has customized guitars for individuals; companies like Budweiser; bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, KISS, Megadeth and Warrant; communities like the city of Meridian; and other entities, such as the Neshoba County Fair and the Mississippi Department of Education's "On the Bus" program, a statewide initiative to curb the dropout rate.
While some individuals simply want to own something unique, others use custom guitars as promotional items. Josh Rand, a guitar player for the Grammy-nominated band Stone Sour, helped design a signature Peavey JR Special electric guitar that incorporates the official U.S. Army camouflage pattern. It is available for sale, and a portion of the proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that raises public awareness about the needs of severely injured troops.
Peavey also has created a line a of customized guitars called the Peavey Special Scenic Series, unique to the state and industry. "We design these guitars with unique artwork personalized for Mississippi," Beaugez said. "You can do it for any town, and it's designed to showcase the diverse regions of the state."
Mary Peavey, president of the Peavey Electronics Corp., is a member of the national Afterschool Alliance Board of Directors. A portion of sales from the Scenic Series Guitars - $400 from every $1,500 guitar sold - is donated to Mississippi afterschool programs. Beaugez said the Scenic Series guitars are a new offering, and so far, around 50 guitars have been ordered, resulting in a $20,000 commitment from Peavey to the Mississippi Afterschool Alliance.
Melissa Medley, director of marketing and communications for the Mississippi Development Authority, said the MDA has ordered several custom guitars from Peavey to use for economic development and tourism purposes. "The design will be very simple to really enhance the lines of the guitar," she said. "It will be recognizable because it uses elements of our curly 'S' Mississippi logo. ... We don't want to offer something that can be obtained anywhere."
To customize your own guitar online, you may experiment by using a legend to select your bridge options, fretboard inlays and other features. You can also upload pictures, size them, arrange them and position them on the guitar. Users may e-mail their creations to others whether or not they decide to purchase a guitar. "We have had more than 300,000 builds saved, so a lot of people are using it to have fun and send it to friends and family," Beaugez said.
Those who choose to purchase their creation must supply high-resolution images. Carns said photos are loaded into a laser printer. The wood for the guitar body is cut, sanded by hand and placed on an art machine. The image is then transferred on top of the guitar. Then it goes through a finishing process during which a basecoat is applied. The guitar is sanded again. More basecoat is applied. It's buffed, and it goes to assembly where parts are installed. Carns said the normal completion time takes about 13 weeks because about 300 orders are being worked on at any given time.
"We are staying busy," Beaugez said, adding that customization is a trend.
Reality of it all
"If you pay attention to trends, many of the reality shows at the end of the decade were competition shows, and now they have morphed into customization shows," he said. "You have Orange County Choppers, where you can design a custom chopper. We designed a guitar for them, and they designed a chopper for us. Miami Ink is about personalizing your body."
Beaugez said Peavey realizes it's important to keep up with trends. "We've earned more than 180 patents in our 43 years," Beaugez said. "The Peavey Custom Shop, to us, is really the next progression. It's crucial for survival. For a technology company, you have to invent yourselves every five to eight years. Anytime we go into a new era of the music and audio market, it's with innovation in the forefront, and that's all done here in Mississippi."
Hartley Peavey, founder and CEO of Peavey Electronics, said the hallmark of a mature industry is the proliferation of models. "When I was a very young man, if you wanted a Chevrolet, you had a choice of three cars," he said. "Today, there's no telling how many models of Chevrolets there are. A lot of people want certain things that are not available off the shelf. We've always tried to be different."