Feature: Race Car Builder Turns His Hand To Bespoke Custom Guitars

James Hetfield already plays a Bad Seed, see what the fuss is about!   17-Apr-12

Feature: Race Car Builder Turns His Hand To Bespoke Custom Guitars
Yes, they've got James Hetfield written all over them

Most kids dream of being astronauts, racing car drivers, or famous musicians. If someone had told me when I was a kid that I would have grown up to be building parts for race cars, and crafting bespoke guitars from titanium and steel, I'd have taken it.

That's exactly what Sheldon Currington is doing with his life, he started Bad Seed guitars a few years ago, and he hasn't looked back since. It takes a man of his skill to be able to weld a guitar from titanium. James Hetfield was so impressed by one of Sheldon's first ever builds that he snapped up two custom designed models.

Sheldon takes the art form to a new level, the painstaking processes he goes through just to build a guitar beggar belief, but the end result is so worth it

These are some of the most unique guitars you will ever lay your hands on, and I can say from first hand experience that they sound incredible. We're talking guitars that are so exclusive, you have to be pretty big news for Sheldon to give up his time and build you one, or you have to have a very fat wallet.

I caught up with Sheldon to ask him everything you'll ever need to know about Bad Seed guitars...

RB: Sheldon! Good to chat you buddy, how's things going down in New Zealand?

SC: NZ is great man, there is so much going on here right now!

RB: I met you at NAMM, where I pretty much wanted to steal your Titanium T-style guitar and take it home with me, how did people react to Bad Seed at NAMM?

SC: Ha ha, yeah you and everyone else! NAMM was great for Bad Seed. It really is a musical wonderland! There are so many different ideas in one place that you can’t help but feel inspired! The Bad Seed guitars received an almost overwhelming response there. I mean I like them, of course, but there were so many people just blown away by what I am working on! It was quite humbling in a strange way, that Bad Seed could give inspiration back. You Know?

RB: Now, your story is pretty cool, you build race cars. So you've already got one of the coolest jobs in the world, do you not think it's a bit greedy to also have another one of the coolest job in the world - building guitars from Titanium and Steel?!

SC: Hey look man! There is plenty of cool stuff out there for everyone! I enjoy doing stuff that might be considered a little different. I get bored easily with simple tasks and so working on Race Cars, or Custom Guitars, is a great way to challenge myself with what I can achieve. I also get a real kick out of working closely with people to inspire and create amazing results! It’s awesome to see someone’s face light up the first time they touch a Bad Seed guitar! That never gets boring!

RB: When I first heard about the concept of Bad Seed, my immediate thought was 'how does all that metal affect the weight and sound of a guitar?’ Could you answer that question for some of our readers who might be thinking the same?

SC: The guitars are all Semi-Hollow. The Steel ones are comparable to a typical wooden instrument weight and the Titanium guitars are lighter again. The sound is something else! Metal might be considered by most to make a cold sound. The way Bad Seed guitars are constructed I can achieve a really well balanced sound (and feel) with a full bottom end that is just as wooden as the next guitar. In fact, the introduction of Titanium has meant rethinking the pickups I use to reshape their tone. The Metal adds an almost piano like quality that just rings like a bell, it creates articulation where a traditional wooden guitar might loose definition. The real advantage of using these cool materials comes in their rich harmonic overtones. Bad Seed Guitars sustain longer, ring out with more overtones and have articulation that can leave other guitars to sound a little muddy, or choked. Being Semi-Hollow they also resonate with a big wooden tone kinda like an acoustic might, so, in my opinion you get the very best of everything.

RB: Correct me if I'm wrong on this, but was James Hetfield the first person to buy one of your guitars?

SC: Yeah that’s right Rich. James actually custom ordered two matched Bad Seed guitars from me. 

RB: So what was it like building guitars for James and meeting the Metallica boys, and what did James have to say about Bad Seed guitars?

SC: I spent some time with Metallica here in New Zealand when they played in 2010. I wanted to ask advice about some prototypes I was working on. Honestly, at that stage I wasn’t ready to sell anything but James’ offer really pushed me to step up a little and move forwards. James and I share a common interest in cool cars, as well as music, and so I think we spoke the same language (we might have spent more time talking cars than guitars when we first met).  Anyway… I think he saw something in what I was doing that was different to anyone else and, well I guess Metallica have always led the way. I helped James out a little with one of his Hotrods and so things kinda developed from there. Totally by coincidence I was building guitars that matched his car project. It was cool working with James, he has a keen eye for the things he likes and a real feel for style, and it was great to be able to give something back to such an icon in my musical history. The entire Metallica crew were a pleasure to be around and made things easy. They all work so hard and have such a cool vibe about them! I got so much great feedback about the guitars from them all!





















RB: My two favourite Bad Seed axes are the blue-finish Tele style guitar, and the rusty steel body guitar. Could you explain how you achieved the finish on these?

SC: The Titanium guitars have a surface treatment applied after the body is constructed which reflects the materials natural colours. The rusty (Swamp Thing) guitar was an idea I had to create a ratty looking outcast and so I found a solution that would rust its surface, from there the rusting process is neutralised and protected with a clear finish.  

RB: Jack White definitely needs to have the rusty guitar in his life, have you got any plans to gatecrash back-stage at one of his gigs?

SC: Huh, so many people instantly say that when introduced to the Swamp Thing! I get kicks from that! Yeah, it would be pretty Rock n Roll to gate crash a Jack White show! Can you imagine the bruises!?!  I’d love to see what he could do with it though, such a cool talent.

RB: A few days after NAMM, you picked up a few Sonic State staff members from Santa Monica in a huge RV and drove us down to the 65AMPS HQ in Hollywood, what was it like hearing your guitars through some of the greatest amps in the business?

SC: You’re right about the 65Amps! Dan makes a mean amp alright. We were treated so well by everyone during our visit and Dan, even though he was shell shocked from a busy weekend at NAMM, was no exception. His amps kick total ass! (can I say that?) There is something totally amazing that he has going there. It’s hard to describe, I think you just gotta plug in and feel it for yourself, Bad Seed guitars through his amps were just incredible, man. Killer Tone and Vibe!

RB: So when you're not playing a guitar that is made of Titanium, what is your choice of wooden guitar?

SC: Hmmm, I’ve been lucky to play on some pretty cool guitars. While it may not be the most exotic of guitars around I like the feel and grit that you can get out of something like a DG-335 Grohl edition. There is a vibe to the Semi-Hollow stuff that’s just so cool! To be fair, when I play, I do go straight to my Titanium LP first. I might be just a little biased, but you've got to play one to understand why. There is just something a little different.

RB: Titanium is a really strong material, I'm guessing you could drive a truck over the body of the guitar and it'd be fine? Does this also push up the price of the guitars though, as it isn't the cheapest material to source?

SC: I’m sure we joked about driving that RV over one to find out? You're sort of right Rich, Titanium is pretty exotic amongst metals. I aim to produce the right kind of instrument to suit my clients’ needs, and so compromise is something that I have never thought about. I guess price is a factor for anything right?, but I believe that the Titanium is 110% worth the cost involved! Custom Guitars all over the world cost a little to build and own. I just feel that it’s not so much about the cost as it is about the value. One of my guitars might cost a little to buy, but in years to come when you’re the only one in the entire world to have that guitar your investment starts to look like it makes sense. The price of any custom guitar is really more relevant to its design and attention to detail than just the materials used. I would say Bad Seed’s custom guitars prices are very comparable to other unique guitars on the market.

RB: Your guitars have through necks, which sit inside the hollow part of the body. What does this do for the sound of the guitar?

SC: This to me is everything. The “Single-Piece Neck-Through” is the tone factory. When I started designing these guitars I just felt that I couldn’t impair the tone for ease of construction or assembly. Glue Joints, or screw connections are like walls for sound. Only so much sound and vibration can pass through a poor connection, so I have worked hard to eliminate as many breaks in that sound as possible. Bad Seed guitars have only one piece of timber from one end to the other. That really makes a difference!

RB: You have had some really big name artists’ play on your guitars. Are you aiming to just do artist deals, or are the general public open to buying your guitars too?

SC: Artists for me are where my inspiration comes from. I have been really fortunate to have had some amazing artists and the biggest of names in the music biz today play and buy my guitars but in no way would I limit myself to just artist deals. I am a huge fan of all music at every level. I love hearing anyone that plays well and enjoys what they do. If I can be a part of that for people then I’m stoked!


















RB: If I came to you as a customer with a broad idea for a guitar – in terms of shape, weight, sound etc. How long would it take to get my idea sketched out, designed, and built?

SC: Rich, there are so many factors involved with designing and building a Bad Seed guitar. All of the things that you talked about (and so many more) play a huge roll in the design and build. My intention is to first build a nice, basic and honoured relationship with my client by involving them in the design, from there we build. For me it’s not about you as a customer owning a Bad Seed guitar, it’s more about Bad Seed being able to produce your own guitar, for you. That way it’s yours, and not mine.  A simple guitar build might take me a month to turn around, something more complex might take several. With the world of guitar options at your fingertips, the possibilities are outrageous! We could end up exploring things that neither you nor I have ever imagined on a guitar? I can’t really put a time frame or limit on your imagination.

RB: Finally, just to put your work into context, can you explain how many years of experience you have had to get you to the point where you can weld a guitar from Titanium, and can you also explain just how much care has to be taken to avoid even the tiniest mistake whilst building one of your guitars.

SC: I’ve been engineering for around 15 years now, and I’ve had some awesome people along the way show me so many cool things. The most of my experience has been involved in roll protection structures and chassis preparation for high-end race cars through my race car business. I build equipment that saves peoples lives, in the most violent and difficult of situations and under the most intense forces. It goes without saying that I take this stuff pretty seriously. I guess my skills are now being transferred into building guitars. Titanium has meant some further refinement for me, which is great. With any of this work even the smallest mistake and I start it all over again – I just don’t do that. Patience and attention to detail is everything for me, and I just love aiming for perfection!

Amped Editor

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