About three years ago, when Chase Gullett had about $800 to his name, he decided he wanted to make electric guitars for a living.
So he sold two vintage automobiles to help raise capital and went into business.
After a fairly slow start -- "I ate a lot of ramen" -- he now has little trouble finding buyers for his instruments, handmade from scratch and selling for up to $4,900 each from his Delaware-based business, Chasing Vintage Guitars, 21 New Market Drive.
Gullett said most of his customers learn about him through word of mouth -- or are convinced by handling one of his instruments at a guitar show.
Aside from electronic components and some hardware, including bridges and tuners, Gullett manufactures everything himself.
The process begins when he visits sawmills to select the mahogany, maple and other woods he uses. It ends eight months later, with a guitar Gullett has fine-tuned to achieve a high state of visual appeal and playability.
Many electric guitars, even those sold for high prices by major manufacturers, need adjustments after their sale to improve playability and ensure a perfect pitch for each note.
That's not the case with Gullett's guitars, he said.
"The last 5 percent of the work you put into a guitar is what 100 percent of the guitar's going to be judged on," he said. "It's your fit and finish and playability. It doesn't matter how good that seam looked when it was prepped and glued up -- if it doesn't play good and doesn't look good, it doesn't matter."
One of Gullett's customers is Delaware resident and professional musician Bill Hilt.
"One thing I know is guitars," Hilt said. Gullett's guitars "are art. They are wonderful. The type of precision and workmanship and the smallest detail -- they are the most accurately made and engineered musical instruments I've ever seen. Plus, they are spectacular-looking."
Another pitfall Gullett has avoided is the use of traditional electric-guitar body shapes -- some of which date to the early 1950s -- which are widely copied by boutique luthiers and large-scale companies.
Gullett uses his own distinctive body designs. He uses a traditional shape only when it's selected in advance by a buyer for a custom build.
Gullett honed his woodworking skills while employed by a cabinetry company that specialized in portable display assemblies for trade shows. Some sold for $100,000 each.
He decided he had more to learn after making his first electric guitar five or six years ago, he said.
A novice might see no flaws in that guitar, but Gullett pointed out what he called several errors: the bridge wasn't positioned correctly at first; a glue joint has a defect; the tone knob was poorly positioned.
"You have to get your math right and pay attention to all of your stuff," he said.
He now performs all types of guitar maintenance and repair, on both electrics and acoustics, through Delaware Music Academy.
Adam Furay of the academy said the work Gullett performs on instruments broughtthere "is at or above the level of excellence you would expect from a dedicated luthier shop."
On his YouTube channel, "Chase Gullett," Gullett shows details on several guitar repair jobs and a number of the steps in his manufacturing process.
Unlike many guitar manufacturers, Gullett doesn't use computer numerically controlled, or CNC, machines.
Instead, he uses band saws and routers, plus a number of jigs, some of which he designed. Each body design is conceived on paper with full-sized drawings before a template is created.
Most of his guitars have mahogany bodies and necks, with flame maple fronts on the bodies. Gullett mixes the colors himself for their finishes.
Because of the long construction time, Gullett makes guitars in batches. The current batch is 15 instruments, including his first electric basses. When those are sold, he will have sold 60 instruments, he said.
While his prices begin at more than $3,000, they are dwarfed by the amounts charged by the custom shops of huge guitar companies, such as Gibson and Fender. Those can reach nearly $7,000.
His guitar models have names such as the Cuda, Challenger, Screamin' Chicken and Model T. By the end of this year, he will have produced eight different models.
While he finds having his own business rewarding, Gullett takes the challenges seriously.
"You generate all of your own drive," he said. "If it was easy, everybody would do it. ... Like any business, it's hard work. Your rewards come later. Sometimes you work for months and don't make a dime. Then one (guitar) show comes along, and everybody buys everything. ... If I settled for 'good enough,' I wouldn't be where I am now. You keep pushing and every day try to do better."
As he spoke, hanging on the wall was a gleaming black guitar with large mother-of-pearl inlays on its neck.
When he completed that guitar, he said, "I did a little dance. I was pretty happy with that one."
For more information, visit www.chasingvintageguitars.com.