The Carey Story
When I started building guitars, after moving to York, I had an idea that I wanted to design and build three different guitars. The Carey was the first one of these.
I’d had an image of what the Carey would look like for two to three years before I actually built it. Taking inspiration from some of the best guitars there have ever been – Fender, Gibson and PRS – I wanted to build a guitar that was a kind of mash up of these, Fender-like in terms of feel and playability, but unique in itself and with a bolt-on neck. There isn’t a huge amount out there in terms on bolt-on necks and beautiful woods and I wanted to bridge this gap.
I wanted to create a simple guitar – one which you could pick up and play without spending a lot of time adjusting different volume and tone settings.
I knew I wanted a fixed bridge – any guitar I’ve ever had, if it’s not had a fixed bridge then I’ve screwed it down myself and I’ve known plenty of other players who’ve done the same – so the plan was to create an instrument where the bridge was already fixed.
Simple, high quality components and materials, meticulously engineered, crafted, and combined are what makes a good guitar.
So, this is what I built: a simple guitar using the best materials I could get my hands on. A guitar with one volume control, one tone control and a 3-way selector switch. The Bare Knuckle Humbucker Pickups we use are perfectly matched in terms of volume and tone, so there’s no need to have separate controls for each pick up.
The first Carey I ever built was made with Brazilian Mahogany. Now, the Carey Limited editions are built from Mahogany and the Carey Elite are built from Swamp Ash and the Carey Standard is built with Ash, all have a Roasted Maple neck. This may change in time, due to Swamp Ash being hard to sustainably source, but we have already started experimenting with new woods.
I’d always wanted to give my guitars proper names, not just numbers, names that mean something to me. When I was thinking about this, before I’d even built the first guitar, the name Carey came to me. Anthony Carey was an accomplished guitarist in a Welsh band called The Scooters. He was also one of my best friends and we worked together at the Opera House in London. He passed away 7 or 8 years ago and, when I was working on the Carey, the name came to me: it just made sense – my way of paying tribute to such a great friend.
Anthony was always encouraging me and pushing me to succeed. Part of me thinks the success of the Carey (it’s been our most successful guitar) is down to its name and I like to think that the spirit of my friend is there with me, still encouraging me to succeed as he always did. His pride and joy was a very old Fender Telecaster and I think he would have loved the Carey. It’s his legacy as much as it is mine.
When I built the first ever Carey, I remember my mum saying, “I think you’ve got something here,” and I thought the same. It seemed that other people thought so too – the first Carey sold within a week and this kept happening: I’d build another, deliver it to the retailer and it would sell almost straight away.
After I’d built a few, I sent one for review at the Guitarist magazine and was blown away by how much they loved it. I’d go as far as to say that PJD is built on the success of the Carey. It’s definitely our flagship model.
The overall design of the Carey has remained the same since conception – same shape and setup – but has evolved over time with lots of little tweaks for refinement.
Building the Carey is the same as for all our guitars. It used to be just me doing every part of the build. Now we’ve grown, we have more of a department approach – all the attention to detail and the handcrafting is still there, with quality control checks at every stage, but, as a company, we are now able to produce more guitars to meet the demand of our customers.
I’m still the one who orders all the materials and selects the woods for each guitar. This is where the process starts. All the wood we get is of a really high standard and I select pieces for each instrument, saving the figured pieces for our tops and extra special wood for our custom guitars.
The wood is milled on our CNC machine to get the basic shape and chambered body. The neck is cut out on the CNC too for accuracy. CNC machines offer a cost-effective way of being able to concentrate on the more artisan elements of guitar building. Plus, they have the added advantage of being really accurate. We are looking at other methods of automating the more long-winded elements of building guitars to free us up to focus even more on the bespoke elements of our guitars, but I think that’s a whole blog of its own!
On the bench, the next part of the process is to glue the top to the back and bind the body, which creates a nice crisp line between the two different woods: the figured wood on top and the plain on the back.
Then it’s on to shaping the neck – this is close to final dimensions when it comes off the CNC, it just needs refinement: hand sanding and fret position markers adding.
The frets are levelled, crowned and polished before the neck is fitted to the body. A decent fret job is key to a beautiful playing guitar. We add hotdog fret ends: this has been a hotly debated build element at PJD, but I decided that hotdog ends are a key feature of the Carey.
There’s a lot of sanding to be done before the guitar goes upstairs to the finishing department for staining, lacquering and curing. I really enjoy this process. We now have a finishing department, but I find that I just can’t help myself getting involved with the staining and finishing. We use lots of methods to stain and some I like to keep to myself for certain finishes. It’s all done by hand with various techniques. I have always saved gloss finishes for custom guitars, but one of the big advantages of having different departments is that we can develop better ways of working which allow us to cost-effectively produce all the elements of the build. We are excited about our high gloss range we have planned, and I think people who aren’t keen on our matt finishes may be tempted to try a gloss Carey, which should be available in a month or so.
In assembly, the neck gets bolted on. The fitting of the neck to the body is very important for transfer of tone. Then the hardware gets bolted on, the bridge and the tuners, then it’s the electronics, the humbuckers and the controls and switches, etc, and then it’s a case of wiring the guitar and setting it up.
At each stage there are checks to spot any little thing that could cause problems later down the line and, if there’s anything not quite right, it goes back to the relevant department.
Every finished guitar sits for about a week before it goes through a final check, including a checklist of setup measurements that goes out with each individual guitar, signed by the person who’s checked it. The guitar is then boxed-up with all the case candy and sent to its new home.
At PJD we’re experimenting with different designs and materials, but we will never stray from the original idea of making guitars that are beautiful to look at as well as beautiful to play. Mass production isn’t our thing, but there is a place for a hybrid production method of artisan craft and accurate engineering. Although we’re evolving PJD’s production methods all the time, the Carey will always be true to who we are.