While studying guitar making at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix in the late ’80s, Matt Flaherty remembers people saying, “Building an electric guitar is like an eighth-grade shop project.”
Flaherty, who started Texas Toast Guitars out of his Arvada-based shop in 2011, has been thinking about that quote since first hearing it.
“It’s true, building one is an eighth-grade shop project,” he says. “But building 200 and having them all look like something people would want to buy and they’re all perfect enough to where I feel confident that they can go out – that takes a different kind of level of quality control and quality assurance.”
Having a guitar built by a craftsman is a different experience than something that’s mass-produced by computer-controlled machines. Flaherty says he and the guys in his shop don’t use any tools that weren’t available in 1959. When he starting making guitars in 1989, those were the only kinds of tools he could get his hands on, and he's been using a process he calls "vintage tooling" ever since.
“Ours are actually made with the same tools and the same practices that the old guys used to do,” Flaherty says, “like real guitar makers making real guitars instead of robots making guitars.”
Flaherty, who grew up in Texas, is introducing some new guitar models at Texas Toast Days, an open house on Wednesday, August 30, at Dog House Music Rehearsal Studios, in Lafayette, where people can play his guitars and buy them at demo model prices. He's been honing one design, the Challenger, over the last three years, and it has gone through several iterations. The current model, which starts at $1899.99, is unique to Texas Toast.
Flaherty says a standard guitar can take around thirty hours to shape from a hunk of a tree into a playing guitar, but if someone wants something out of the ordinary, the time it takes to make it can increase dramatically.
“The thing that takes the longest is paint,” Flaherty says. “The woodworking part is a snap. But getting paint to be right can really take a long time. We want it to look really nice. For me, paint is a big deal. It doesn’t do anything sonically for the instrument, but if you have a lousy finish, then that’s not cool.”
While the attention to the paint job is one thing, Flaherty says he pays more attention throughout the entire build than companies mass-producing instruments. He says someone who’s just starting to play guitar might not be aware of the subtle differences, but a veteran player would notice the “little things or esoteric kind of things that you can’t really put your finger on. But, man, if you know what you’re looking for, you can really tell the difference.”
Some local players who use Texas Toast Guitars include Tony Asnicar of the Railbenders, Mac McMurray of the Outliers, Paul Shellhooe of Kerry Pastine & the Crime Scene, Jeff LaQuatra of Mr. Majestyk's 8-Track Revival and Brett Hager of Hawk Attack.
Flaherty grew up in Amarillo and says a lot of his favorite guitarists are from Texas. He jokes that Texas Toast is one of the dumbest guitar brand names he's ever heard, but it's a lot easier to remember than his own name. He says at National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) shows, people recognize Texas Toast from his website or from his YouTube videos, "and they didn’t have to remember my name."
Texas Toast Days, 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, August 30, Dog House Music Rehearsal Studios, 525 Courtney Way, Lafayette.