By Elizabeth Kalfsbeek
Innovation is brewing in the world of electric guitars in the form of boutique guitar designer and crafter Mike Peterson of Williams. Peterson, who successfully began creating guitars this year, is out to develop an electric guitar that looks as good as it feels with his new enterprise, MAP Guitars. The question is, once a musician goes MAP, will they ever go back?
“I know what a good electric guitar should feel like and I wanted to do something that nobody else has done,” Peterson, 32, explained. “One of the things that differentiate my guitars to any other is that I approached my design based on ergonomics, from how you grip the neck to how it hangs against your body. In particular, the neck profile will feel different than any other guitar.”
Musicians will recognize the uniqueness of the instrument which sports a trapezoid-shape neck, rather than the standard C-shape, thin or V-shape. Moreover, where most guitarist are partial to a thumb over or thumb on the back position, MAP Guitars are specifically built for maximum comfort in all playing positions, and hands won’t get as fatigued when playing.
“If something is off on the instrument by even a half a millimeter, a guitarist can feel it more than they could ever measure it,” Peterson expounded.
“You have to be within a thousandth of an inch accurate, which is finer than the width of pencil lead.”
In all his years as a guitar player, Peterson has never been perfectly happy with any guitar design, as if they were designed for looks rather than comfort. Guitarists, he explained, ask themselves three questions about the instrument in this order: Is it cool looking? How does it sound? How does it feel?
“The more I learn about guitars, the more I realize I’m just hitting the tip of the iceberg,” Peterson said. “I know if it feels good, you’ll naturally be able to make it sound good and then you’ll look good playing it.”
The evolution of guitar player to guitar maker began years ago for Peterson with, of all things, a black walnut tree that was misdiagnosed as diseased and chopped down. It turned out the wood was perfectly healthy – and striking.
“It was huge, massive and old,” said Peterson of the tree which once stood in his parents’ yard. “We had the wood milled and it was so beautiful you could hang it on the wall as art.”
Over the years he spoke with various luthiers, or guitar makers, about making a guitar with the black walnut wood. He found the craftsmen were only willing to build the standard Fender or Gibson, older models.
Finally he was challenged by his wife, Alice, to come up with a new design and build it himself. Peterson was mentored by Master luthier Charles Fox of Portland before spending his nights and weekends perfecting his blueprint.
“I didn’t want to replicate what someone else has done,” Peterson said of accepting the challenge. “I took my favorite design features of body shapes and combined that with a re-designed neck profile that no other luthier has put on their standard guitar design.”
Ever since the age of five Peterson has held a passion for music where he was initially inspired at a Beach Boys concert, brought up on stage, and felt the excitement of live music and performing. At the age of 16 he began taking lessons at Music Connection in his native Chico. Shortly after, Peterson moved to Alicante, Spain to finish the last two years of high school.
“I thought electric guitars were the most beautiful instruments made,” Peterson recollected. “The way people play them and how they look, they’re like jewelry in a way; like sculptures.”
He found Spain to be a “musical desert” in terms of guitar playing and spent much of his time teaching himself the instrument. Upon returning from Spain Peterson enrolled in Chico State, where he dabbled in a few bands while completing his Liberal Studies degree before moving to Williams.
The primarily self-taught musician chose the name “MAP Guitars” not only after his initials, Michael Andrew Peterson, but since he’s traveled much of the world he found it appropriate.
“Once players get used to this neck profile they’ll realize it’s more comfortable than any other guitar,” Peterson said. “And I hope they play the hell out of it.”
Peterson is currently taking orders for custom electric guitars. For more information, or to contact Peterson, visit www.mapguitars.com or www.facebook.com/MAPguitars.■