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Victor Baker’s milestone guitar

“I forget what day of the week it is sometimes”

The instrument in progress
The instrument in progress

Victor Baker knows guitars. For one thing, he’s been playing them professionally for years. For another, back in the late ‘90s, he decided to start building them as well. “I was teaching a ton of guitar students and playing a lot of gigs, and I just needed a hobby,” Baker explains. “I’ve always done my own modifications and setups, so I decided to take it one step further and build one myself. So I bought a bunch of books and did some research and made my first guitar. Things just grew from there, and I realized I had an aptitude. Before long, I was making guitars more than I was teaching students.”

Baker creates one-of-a kind custom instruments, and he doesn’t seem to have any problem attracting customers. He’s currently building his 600th in his Poway home, having moved to San Diego from New York City four years ago. “It’s a special edition: it’s going to have a lot of inlays and artwork, plus super fancy aged woods. I’m making number 600 and 601 at the same time, so this month is going to require a lot of heavy lifting, because this is the pinnacle of what I do. This is my most difficult project in terms of time, and doing two of them at a time is pretty intense. I forget what day of the week it is sometimes. I’m doing a whole video series on the project, to document each step of the way.”

For these particular guitars, Baker has drawn inspiration from the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha for many of the details. “This one has piles and piles of embellishment, with all kinds of artwork and inlays on the fingerboard. I’m using really aged cello wood from Italy, and the soundboard is coming from some very rare spruce from Alaska. This wood has been submerged for decades, and the grain patterns are amazing.”

Baker makes his guitars with a blend of old-world skills and modern Computer Numerical Control (CNC for short) woodworking machines. “I’m fully modern. I wouldn’t be able to do this kind of work without them. I would never be able to make a living without the CNC. Plus, I have a playing career, so I have to be careful with my hands. I can’t grip tools for too long; I have problems with the impact of repetitive motion on my hands. So, I depend on making use of modern technology. If this were just a hobby for me, I might do otherwise.”

Does Baker have a favorite part of the guitar building process? “Probably playing them when they’re done. That’s kind of why I’m doing it. But I enjoy the whole process. I look forward to every step. There is a certain charm and a challenge as well. I enjoy it all, from top to bottom. I enjoy picking out the wood, roughing it out, doing all the basic dimensioning, and working with the machines. I don’t have a favorite part, because there are so many guitars going on at the same time. I usually have between 8 and 12 guitars in the shop at once.”

Because of Covid, Baker has been working by himself for the last few years, but that is about to change. “I do have a part-time guy. He’s worked at Taylor Guitars for the last 15 years. He’s going to switch over to full-time early next year. That’s a huge deal. His skill set is pretty solid, and I’m excited to have the help finally after Covid.”

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The instrument in progress
The instrument in progress

Victor Baker knows guitars. For one thing, he’s been playing them professionally for years. For another, back in the late ‘90s, he decided to start building them as well. “I was teaching a ton of guitar students and playing a lot of gigs, and I just needed a hobby,” Baker explains. “I’ve always done my own modifications and setups, so I decided to take it one step further and build one myself. So I bought a bunch of books and did some research and made my first guitar. Things just grew from there, and I realized I had an aptitude. Before long, I was making guitars more than I was teaching students.”

Baker creates one-of-a kind custom instruments, and he doesn’t seem to have any problem attracting customers. He’s currently building his 600th in his Poway home, having moved to San Diego from New York City four years ago. “It’s a special edition: it’s going to have a lot of inlays and artwork, plus super fancy aged woods. I’m making number 600 and 601 at the same time, so this month is going to require a lot of heavy lifting, because this is the pinnacle of what I do. This is my most difficult project in terms of time, and doing two of them at a time is pretty intense. I forget what day of the week it is sometimes. I’m doing a whole video series on the project, to document each step of the way.”

For these particular guitars, Baker has drawn inspiration from the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha for many of the details. “This one has piles and piles of embellishment, with all kinds of artwork and inlays on the fingerboard. I’m using really aged cello wood from Italy, and the soundboard is coming from some very rare spruce from Alaska. This wood has been submerged for decades, and the grain patterns are amazing.”

Baker makes his guitars with a blend of old-world skills and modern Computer Numerical Control (CNC for short) woodworking machines. “I’m fully modern. I wouldn’t be able to do this kind of work without them. I would never be able to make a living without the CNC. Plus, I have a playing career, so I have to be careful with my hands. I can’t grip tools for too long; I have problems with the impact of repetitive motion on my hands. So, I depend on making use of modern technology. If this were just a hobby for me, I might do otherwise.”

Does Baker have a favorite part of the guitar building process? “Probably playing them when they’re done. That’s kind of why I’m doing it. But I enjoy the whole process. I look forward to every step. There is a certain charm and a challenge as well. I enjoy it all, from top to bottom. I enjoy picking out the wood, roughing it out, doing all the basic dimensioning, and working with the machines. I don’t have a favorite part, because there are so many guitars going on at the same time. I usually have between 8 and 12 guitars in the shop at once.”

Because of Covid, Baker has been working by himself for the last few years, but that is about to change. “I do have a part-time guy. He’s worked at Taylor Guitars for the last 15 years. He’s going to switch over to full-time early next year. That’s a huge deal. His skill set is pretty solid, and I’m excited to have the help finally after Covid.”

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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