Interview with Custom77

Winner of Musical Instrument Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Custom77 shares insights


Interview with Custom77 at Monday 24th of October 2016:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
JD : I have no background or education in design. Everything started as an accident.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
JD : Guitar design history is amazing but there is still many things to do. And I’m just designing the guitars I’d love to play and that doesn’t exist yet.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
JD : I was pretty much forced to become one: With the other guitarist of my band, jerome, we decided in 2007 to create a guitar brand named Custom77. We started with classic electric guitar models that almost every company is doing. One and half year later we started to think about making our own designs. And as a matter of fact, I made a guitar design long time ago for a Fender competition, and that I’ve never sent because I discovered it was limited to US citizen. So I took that design, reworked it and it was the first original design we produced: The Lust For Life. And from that, we’ve continued designing new and original guitars and it seems we’re pretty good at that in our industry.

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
JD : For now, I’ve only designed electric guitars.

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
JD : I would say they need to study the history of guitar design.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
JD : The small difference is really the artistic feeling of the designer. Everyone can study design but you have to have something in you that cannot be taught. That twist that will change a good guitar player into Jimi Hendrix. We don’t know what makes a great musician different from a good one. It’s the same for a designer. Because he’s an artist.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
JD : The details. Many guitars have a pretty nice design but details are missing. It’s the final touches that will change a good design into a great design. This is what a great designer do I guess.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
JD : Because a good design speaks to the feeling and not to the logical aspect. And when you touch someone in the “guts”, then the work is done. It will be hard for someone else to convince him to not buy this design.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
JD : I’d love to design for a guitar company like Fender. But major brands are unfortunatly cold feet with new designs. And I’m pretty sure they’re wrong to restrain themselves. Mainly because they’re biggest opponent is the second hand market they created through years. And new design is the only way to oblige customers to buy something new from them. I’d love to work for ESP guitars and bring a vintage feel to their catalog. Ibanez and Yamaha have great design history and are under exploiting their heritage. Rickenbacker has enormous potential as well, but cold feet too. Actually, many major brands would be amazing to work with.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
JD : An archtop guitar. ES335 type.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
JD : Semie Mosley who designed the Mosrite.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
JD : The Yamaha SG5 guitar and the Mosrite. It’s totally original but not too crazy so it doesn’t scared guitar player. The curves are really sexy. In more recent years, I loved the Yamaha CV820WB designed by Wes Borland, the ESP FRX, the ESP Xtone (that could have been even better with some twists)...

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
JD : I have no particular favorite. The Lust For Life which was the first one is important because it defines the overall design style of the brand and everything comes from it. The Blackout matters too as it’s for that design that we won many design awards worldwide. It’s really an original design that pushes boundaries. Looking really extreme but never scaring people.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
JD : Practicing, studying and some luck.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
JD : I wouldn’t define me a designer as my main activity is running a guitar company with my partner jerome. The design is just a part of the whole thing. But if it was my main activity, it would be amazing. Unfortunately, there’s no point in designing 20 new guitars a year. Every model has to be then promoted and too many designs will cannibalize each other. So I have to restrain myself...

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
JD : In the guitar industry, I’d say design is transforming a sonic tool into a visual beauty.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
JD : Jerome is a big part of our success. I do most of it but at the end, when I hesitate, he’s the one who help take the good decision. And that small twist can make all the difference.

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
JD : The freedom to have our own guitar company.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
JD : Many obstacles because of being an entrepreneur in France. But nothing directly related to design.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
JD : Right now, we’re working on a couple of new guitar design. As I said previously, it’s mainly restraining ourselves from designing too much guitars. Right know we really have to promote every design e made and develop their own personal universe to set them asides from each others.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
JD : Being recognised by great artists and by our peers obviously.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
JD : I really don’t know! Having a good chat about guitar design in a pub drinking a beer?!

DL: How does design help create a better society?
JD : Design is art. And art elevates people.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
JD : Usully, when we start a new design, it enforces our creativity and it ends up with two or simultanious new design. So everythin cross each other. But it’s propably one to three month. And there’s always some design that are not mature and that are in the back of our mind until it clicks.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?
JD : I have a database with various hardware and all the previous guitar body design. And it start as mixing, twisting, editing previous things. It’s a way to keep that same design touch between all our guitars.

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
JD : Next design has to be better than previous one!

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
JD : Good designs are following trends. Great designs are setting up the trends.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
JD : It helps me have a perfect visual of it will look like once it’s built. And it allows me to do hundreds of tests before having the perfect design. I wouldn’t have succeed with only papers and pens.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
JD : Mainly graphic editors. I’m more interested in getting close to the finish objects that modeling in 3D. A guitar is almost more a 2D object than a 3D one.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
JD : Color makes the whole difference. Bad choice of color with great design won’t sell.

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
JD : That I’d love to have designed it, of course!

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
JD : As previously answered, jerome is my co-designer. He’s more into the final choices. When I get fuzzy in various options. He’s more outside and bring the fresh look that is needed when you’re lost.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
JD : It wouldn’t exactly be designer but entrepreneurs. Because design is just a part of a big industry. It’s essential but it’s nothing without the rest. So I’d love to have a chat with Leo Fender and Jim Marshall. Those two men totally change the music industry. And they were not even guitarists.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
JD : I only see that as an ego recognition. Real recognition is the public. A guitar acknowledge as a great design and that will not have commercial success is maybe not that great.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
JD : Not at all. Even 10 years ago, I never thought I would do that.