In April, 2015 I met up with Aaron Dorval in Boulder, Colorado to present him with his custom electric guitar, which he subsequently christened Daedalus, one of my highlights of the year.

Two years earlier Aaron and I spoke about creating a Steampunk-themed guitar. Steampunk is a ‘sub genre of science fiction, and sometimes fantasy, that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery’, according to wikipedia.org.

Aaron’s idea was to have a guitar that looked like it came straight out of Captain Nemo’s quarters on the Nautilus from the Jules Verne classic, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: An Underwater Tour of the World.

I love a challenge like this and felt that it was the perfect concept for a guitar given what we do here at Emerald Guitars; Old meets new; A modern carbon fibre guitar that looks like something from a different time and place.

Over the next two years Aaron and I put together ideas for the headless electric guitar and then honed it down to what he was looking for. Steampunk is all about clockwork, though still very modern. First, I thought it would work as an inlay on the fretboard, but then I came up with the idea of having the control cavities look like they’re made out of clockwork.

Hunting for old clocks around second-hand shops in the area, I sourced an old carriage clock and watches to use the gears for Daedalus. I had to find a clock with the right cogs that would suit the theme of the guitar. Then I modified and soldered them into the right formation.

I fitted the control cavities with LED lights to light them up and also added glow in the dark paint used in the back so whenever the lights are off the clockworks glow.

The guitar’s custom-made volume knob is one of the key features on Daedalus. I used lots of little cogs that he got out of watches, and put them into a small block of clear resin. The ‘machine’ in the knob probably has the most detail on the whole guitar.

For the top of the body, I wanted to find something that looked old and rich, which would complement the modern lock of the clockworks. I managed to source a stunning and intricate camphor burl which made a great contrast to the brass.

The back of Daedalus looks like it is made of a piece of pinstripe suit fabric and this was created by using a carbon weave with vertical lines, as opposed to our usual diagonal-lined carbon weave.

To make the fretboard markers, I used brass pipe tubing and filled the centre with his own mix of a glow in the dark material. The markers have nice brass look, but also glow in the dark, which is very beneficial if you are performing on stage.

Wanting to continue the Steampunk vibe on every element, I did something ‘a little bit different’ with the fretboard. I actually made the fretboard with copper. I mixed a copper powder with resin and then put it on top of the fretboard, so it feels and looks like actual copper. It tarnishes over time, as well, so you get a really natural look to it. It works well along with the wood.”

Aaron wanted to have something with really good balance so he liked the idea of it being more compact and balanced by having headless tuners, so we installed a Strandberg headless tuning system.

One feature of headless guitars is the tuners at the back of the guitar, which generally means the back of the guitar is cut out or made very short to give easy access to these tuners. Aaron gave me the challenge of creating a traditional-shaped guitar that would still still comfortably on a guitar stand, yet still have easy access to the tuners. So I came up with the idea of creating recess at this area allowing easy access while still keeping the full guitar profile. This not only turned out to be very functional, but also adds to the overall look of the guitar,” said Alistair.

This was definitely one of the guitars of the year for us and what made the whole project even better was that I was able to personally deliver it to Aaron. We had talked about shipping it out to him but then, by chance, the completion coincided with a trip across America I was planning. Aaron came from North Dakota and met me in Boulder dressed in his Steampunk outfit, bowler hat, braces and all. It was great to be there to see his reaction as he had not seen the completed guitar. He might have wanted to, but I didn’t want him to see it and kept it very secret. We worked on Daedalus for two years and it all came together in the end – it’s a beautiful piece.

  • CLIENT Aaron (Colorado, USA)


Pickups: Lace Alumitone Humbucker
Tuners: Strandberg Headless Tuning System
Fretboard Surface: Copper
Top Veneer: Camphor Burl
Body Structure: Carbon Fibre Composite
Case: Custom Aluminium Gun Case
Scale length: 25”-26” Fan Fret
Frets: 24 stainless steel frets

Alistair's working processin 3 steps

Alistair takes on a number of Custom Design projects a year. If you checked out our Emerald Custom Shop and couldn't find the options you were looking for and have something very special in mind, send Alistair a query!

browse & be inspired

Browse through the Alistair Hay Custom Design Portfolio and see how endless the possibilities are when coming up with your own instrument design.

contact & develop

Send Alistair a query and let him personally advise you on a one-to-one basis on all the possibilities in view of building your dream instrument.

place your order

Following consultation with Alistair, all you have to do is finalise your specifications and await the completion of your Alistair Hay Custom Design instrument.


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