Shop Spotlight: Ruben Guitars' Bespoke Six-Strings

Diamond inlays. 18-carat gold logos. 2,800-year-old tonewoods.

These exquisite features are just a small taste of Ruben Becker's magnificent creations. His skill and eye for detail earned him the prestigious position of head of repairs at Maton, netting him countless repair jobs with many of the greats. Tommy Emmanuel, Ian Moss, and Powderfinger are just a few names among his clientele. Today, Ruben and his wife Rose proudly form Ruben Guitars, traveling the world to source only the finest and rarest materials to provide an experience like no other for their clients.

The term "bespoke" embodies much more than a simple tagline for Ruben Guitars. It forms the very core of their business. From his work with the guitar legends of our generation, Ruben realized that each player sought extremely particular specifications, modifications, and setups, and wanted to adapt that same personalization for his own clients. The Beckers ensure that the customer has a say in every single stage of the build, including any unique concept they have in mind.

Ruben Becker (All images by Anthony Martin)

"The whole 'bespoke' experience was the vision," Ruben says. "The vision to deliver high quality, hand-made products that are unique for each person. So, when a hundred or a thousand guitarists come together for a jam, it's like 'Oh, you've got a Fender, you've got a whatever,' then when that one person walks in with their own personalized guitar, it just shines."

"I think what we do is very different to what Maton or Cole Clark do," Rose adds.

"We respect what they do and where they're at in the industry, and what they've done for Australian guitars, absolutely. But for us, we like to push the boundaries a lot and really see where we can take a guitar for our clients. And our clients are very different as well, as you can imagine."

While Ruben handles all the lutherie, Rose lends him her experience in design. Their finest builds exhibit some of the most unique concepts and materials ever seen before in the guitar world.

The Dragon Dreadnaught stole centre stage at the 2017 Melbourne Guitar Show, boasting a beautiful body of private reserve Brazilian rosewood topped with an ancient spruce top, inlaid with a mind-boggling amount of pearl.

Ruben Guitars Dragon Dreadnaught

"We were able to source a really rare piece of Brazilian rosewood, and on the back, it actually looked like flames," Ruben says.

"The moment I saw that, I just thought to myself: Dragon. I'd never seen a dragon inlay done really well, so we contracted an artist to draw one for us. We used more than 350 pieces of pearl—gold pearl, mother of pearl, Tahitian black pearl, and more for the inlay. It kept escalating, really, because that was one of the best sets of Brazilian rosewood we'd ever seen. Plus, we'd just found out about some 500-year-old spruce that we were able to get, so we used that for the guitar. We knew we couldn't just put a waterslide decal on the guitar, so we commissioned a jeweller to make a solid 18-carat gold Ruben logo for the headstock."

Never a pair to rest on their laurels, the duo decided to trump the Dragon Dreadnaught at the 2018 Melbourne Guitar Show, showcasing not one, but two sister guitars, named The Twins.

Ruben Twin Guitars

The Twins featured museum-grade Brazilian rosewood for the back and sides, a striking redwood top harvested from California's ancient redwood forests, and fossilized woolly mammoth tusk for the nuts, saddles, and bridges. Needless to say, hundreds of jaws hit the floor when they saw the pair on display in all their glory.

"The story started when we were able to source these two twin sets of wood and they looked almost identical," Ruben says.

"At the same time, we were able to contact a lumberjack who had cut down some 500-year-old redwood. Since we knew him, we were able to get consecutive cuts, which meant they were also twins. This meant we had twin backs and sides and twin fronts. We built two guitars that had the same shape but with slight differences—one had a cutaway, one didn't. One had a sound port, the other didn't. And to up the ante, which was a bit of a risk, but we did it anyway—one has an integrated arm bevel on the side."

"We didn't want a repeating design for the inlay. We wanted something that would actually interact with each other," says Rose.

"There are two eagles—one is actually flying downwards, and the other is flying upwards," Ruben continues.

"When you look at them side-by-side, they're actually a little offset and are flying towards each other. And again, How do we top that? So we inlaid an Australian diamond in for the eye."

Each instrument Ruben crafts is painstakingly handmade. His workshop is devoid of ubiquitous CNC machines. A humble bandsaw and a few sanding belts are the only machinery present in his surprisingly spartan workshop. An array of modern hand tools hang from the walls, contrasting the varied assortment of rare and ancient tonewoods neatly stacked into piles.

It's Ruben's fascination with premium tonewoods that forms the foundations of his impressive instruments, ensuring that nothing but the highest-quality sound is produced. Every year, the Beckers travel to a diverse range of locations including Alaska, other locales in North and South America, and Europe, in search of the best tonewoods available. For Ruben, his holy grail lies in Brazilian rosewood.

"Yeah, Brazilian rosewood will always be the holy grail for me," he says.

"A lot of the rosewood family would also be considered as premium and are some of the best woods out there. We've also got old growth Adirondack spruce for tops that we use quite often too."

"There's often an interesting story that comes out of North America with each piece of tonewood, 'cause a lot of time they're salvaged from buildings or random places, so you get their own story with it too," adds Rose.

"We were able to source some sets that were carbon dated all the way back to 800 BC," Ruben continues.

"We were only able to get 5 pieces—they cost a fortune—but that's what we do. That's why people come to us, because they want something really special and unique. Again, there's nothing wrong with any other guitar brand—we usually find that our customers usually already have a few other guitars from other brands—but now they want something special."

While high-end, one-of-a-kind instruments are the lifeblood of Ruben Guitars, their exhibition and demo stock are built with the same detailed attention and quality craftsmanship that have become a hallmark for the company. While walk-in sales have been fruitful, Rose and Ruben plan to utilize Reverb for selling some of their surplus inventory while widening their audience to a global scale.

"I think part of selling on Reverb is that its fees aren't ridiculous," Rose says.

"It's actually quite a good incentive for a lot of people to get on board and to be able to sell things at a reasonable price. When you've got other platforms that are charging 10-20 percent, that just crushes everything. The ease of use is really helpful too. Our clients felt like if they wanted to have a look online to see how much our products are, it's quite easy for them to visit our online shop and to have all the information at a glance. It's a really well put-together platform."

"I think it's great too," Ruben adds.

"While we do a lot of commissioned and bespoke builds for our clients, there's a lot of people that want to have something now. For the guitars that we make and have on hand, Reverb's a great opportunity for them to purchase something instantly."

While Ruben Guitars is constantly growing, their prime focus remains fixed on their roots—ensuring each client receives nothing less than a tailored, bespoke experience. Ruben's relentless pursuit of the perfect guitar drives him to constantly research, explore, and experiment with different combinations of materials and techniques.

"My business mentor always said 'you're only as good as your last guitar,'" he says with a smile. "There's always plenty for us on the horizon, as there's lots of people who come to us with different ideas or a concept that they have."

Rose mirrors her husband's smile and nods.

"We'll see where things take us."

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