Custom Build: The Dogwood by Virgil Guitars

Guitar making on any level is an artful endeavor, but some custom builds raise the bar from being artful to being true works of art. Virgil Mandanici and his handcrafted Virgil Guitars are prime examples. We sat down with Virgil recently to discuss his process and outlook on balancing aesthetics and tone materials.

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Gas Tank: What got you started building these guitars?

Virgil Mandanici: The father of one of my guitar students, who is a master cabinet builder/woodworking craftsman challenged me to build my first guitar. I had done very little woodworking prior to the first build. I cut my teeth for the first 3 month on learning inlay, and during that time I was designing my first guitar on my computer spending tons of hours of research. The first guitar I built ended up being too good looking to play, so I eventually sold it to buy more equipment & supplies to build more guitars.

GT: How did you develop your unique inlaying style?

VM: That was done by looking at some of the masters. Grit Laskin & Larry Robinson are my favorites. I had actually been a pen & ink artist since the mid 70’s working with only black & white for nearly 40 years. Moving into inlay opened up all of these amazing colors from nature’s palette, including exotic woods and various shells.

GT: Apart from the inlay work, what other elements set your builds apart?

VM: One for sure is the uniqueness of each guitar. They have their own personality because of the combination of elements I incorporate into these builds. I discovered that I had hidden talents for finding the feel of various woods—their sizes and weights and the ability to select these combinations separately. Also the custom handwound pickups. No two guitars are alike and most of my guitars have NO paint on them – I let mother nature provide those colors!

All of my customers go through quite a process to determine what they are looking for in a guitar. This is about forming a bond and letting that lead the way on the journey of the custom build. As for the builds that I have in stock – these guitars are more about the feel & tone at the end of the day. The inlays are merely frosting on the cake.

GT: What other builders and guitar designs have influenced your work over the years?

VM: I was a die-hard Strat fan for more than 25 years, and big fan of Les Paul's for the big tone they had but didn't like the weight of the guitar or feel of the necks. Around 10 years before I got into building, I started playing PRS guitars. I liked the different tones I could get from their guitars, but didn’t care so much for the large neck heel on their set-neck models. I had a feeling I could beat them and today I feel that I have accomplished just that. Getting a custom-built one-off guitar is a game-changer and once you experience that, you may never go back.


Building the Dogwood Guitar

Getting ready to install neck pocket.
Wood: Bookmatched Ziricote top, Black Limba body

The dogwood flower inlays.
Materials: Abalone (center), gold mother-of-pearl (petals), and Bloodwood (branches)

Making control knobs
Wood: Black Limba

Making the trussrod cover including a 14k gold number “9”

The End Result

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