How You Can Get a Custom Calgary-Made Guitar

James Burley makes scratch-built guitars to suit your sound and style.

Photograph by Jared Sych

James Burley knows a thing or two about guitars – he’s been playing one since he was a kid, and spent time onstage as the lead guitarist for a Calgary band called Hoodwink for four years.

But after becoming tired of buying guitars off the shelf that he would only have to customize later, Burley decided to study under a wood craftsman in Ontario for around a year and half. He created his first scratch-built electric guitar in 1994. Since then, he’s built more than 150 guitars, and repaired countless others along the way.

This two-piece scratch-built guitar, which James has affectionately dubbed “The Headhunter,” features an alder body with a maple neck, a rosewood fretboard and a Floyd Rose tremolo. It has a strat body, though Burley can create any body style from a Flying V to a Tele style.

Design-wise, Burley painted the guitar red, then hand carved a tiger-esque pattern. No two guitars he makes are the same though, and Burley can do a range of designs depending on what a guitarist is looking for.

The benefit of getting a custom made guitar rather than one from the store is that it can be designed to suit a person’s playing style and how they want it to sound and look right from the start. For instance, Burley says the type of wood used produces different musical tones – woods like mahogany would generate a darker, richer tone, while basswood produces more of a treble, mid-range sound.

A custom guitar starts at $1,500. For more information, contact Burlesk Custom Guitars & Repairs, 143 Macewan Glen Way N.W., 403-809-8018,

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