By Adam Perlmutter
As the owner of two guitars built by Tony Zemaitis, Austin-based luthier Teye is the first to admit that his instruments owe more than a little to the designs of the legendary British guitar maker. But the singularly named Teye (pronounced TIE-ya) draws inspiration from other sources, as well. For his opulent El Dorado solidbody, the stimulus was guns from the Sahara dessert.
“I first saw these enormous Bedouin rifles in the southern Spanish town of Granada, and their image has always stayed with me,” he says. “They’re made from dark, polished rosewood and inlaid all over the place with mother-of-pearl and brass studs. Everything is done by hand, so they look kind of rough but have so much soul.”
The guitar shown here is one of just two El Dorados ever made. The first, which has different inlay and engraving patterns along with gold hardware, was built to accommodate a special challenge. “I have a customer in Canada who bought my La Perla model, which has a 500-piece mother-of-pearl mosaic in the center,” Teye explains. “He started stoking the flames under my butt, asking me to outdo that guitar. So I came up with El Dorado.”
For the client’s El Dorado, Teye cut into a plank of ziricote—an exquisitely figured South American rosewood—that he’d been reserving for the appropriate occasion. Enough remained for another guitar, so Teye used the leftover to cap a second El Dorado’s spalted limba (korina) body. The ziricote provides a snappy tone, as does the guitar’s walnut neck. To bring out the grains and luminosity of these woods, and to allow them to vibrate optimally, Teye eschewed pore filler and applied a thin violin-type finish.
The Bedouin influence can be detected in the mother-of-pearl diamonds and raw copper dots that adorn El Dorado’s top, in the fretboard inlay pattern, and in the purple abalone and ebony inlays around the top’s perimeter. As on a Bedouin rifle, it’s obvious that these ornamentations were rendered by hand. This tedious process required months of work, thus justifying the guitar’s $32,000 price tag.
Teye manually machined and engraved all of El Dorado’s hardware and metal parts, save for its Grover Imperial tuners and generic control knobs. (He recently designed some new knobs that will be standard on his pricier guitars and which he intends to send customers who already own those instruments.) The most interesting engraving can be found on El Dorado’s starfish-shaped control cavity cover: it depicts a gathering around a campfire. “It’s a reproduction of a drawing I did back in ’99,” Teye says. “The gentleman with a guitar on his back is actually me. My wife’s in there, too, and the people clapping and playing are Gypsy friends of ours from Spain. The only thing fictive is the camp scene, since our friends all lived in the city.”
Like other deluxe Teye models, El Dorado sports a trio of Jason Lollar humbuckers, which Teye had Lollar wind for extra clarity. The pickups are selected by a five-way switch, and the controls include two volume, one tone, and one called “Mood.” Teye is cagey about the Mood control’s inner workings, but it can be manipulated to produce single-coil, humbucking, and even acoustic-electric sounds. Teye says, “I designed the electronics that way because I got so tired of carrying around four or five electric guitars to get the sounds I wanted, when I only needed one instrument for a flamenco gig. This guitar does it all.”
Photos: Massimo Gammacurta