The Day I Changed My Thinking About Electric Guitars

Saul Zonana

Saul Zonana

A few years ago a friend of mine needed to meet me in Murfreesboro to deliver a guitar distortion pedal that he had repaired. He said, “Let’s meet out in front of Guitar Mill by the Public Square in the ‘Boro.”

“Guitar Mill?” I asked. “What’s that?” I was still fairly new to town and had no idea what Guitar Mill was. Well, boy, do I know what it is now.

That day, after meeting my friend (who successfully fixed my pedal), I had to peek my head inside of this Guitar Mill place and see what was going on. I was stunned. You see, at that time, though I was really happy to be here in the ‘Boro, I had been feeling the culture shock of moving from New York to Murfreesboro. I had been truly missing the diversity, the pace and the entrepreneurial spirit of New York. I just didn’t see it enough here in Murfreesboro. Well, not until that day.

What I found inside of Guitar Mill was a full-blown, independently owned custom electric guitar manufacturer. Not just a store, not just a repair shop, but the materials, the machinery and all of the skills needed to build any high-quality, custom electric guitar from scratch. Now this is cool. First I met the owner, Mario Martin, and his wife, Shannon. Mario was happy to give me the tour. He showed me a large room filled with many different types of woods for guitar bodies and necks—wood that Mario himself handpicked and brought back to his shop. I also saw every type of machine you would hope to see in a shop like this: CNC machines that cut out the custom shapes of guitar bodies and necks, spray rooms where they apply custom paint and lacquer to the instruments, heated dry rooms where they place the guitars to dry, buffer rooms where they buff the guitars, and all sorts of work stations where they work on custom pick guards, electronics, etc. You name it, they have it. Heck, they even have a separate “sparkle” room for sparkle paint jobs.

But what came next changed my thinking about electric guitars forever. I’ve had an electric guitar in my hands since I was about 5 years old, only putting it down to eat dinner or to go to the bathroom—40 years of listening to, playing, recording, reading about and owning electric guitars. When I picked up these Mario Guitars that day and started playing, I soon realized that these were about the best I had ever played. The combination of the lightweight Paulownia wood he often uses, with the beautiful custom necks, incredible fretwork and the world’s best pickups, these guitars are second to none.

I thought, “What a score finding this place!” So how does he know how to make guitars this good? Where did this guy come from? I learned that after Mario Martin had a second-string career as a country artist, he eventually turned to building guitars. He worked at Fender’s custom shop for several years and then worked at Gibson for a few years as well. There he learned the dos and don’ts about constructing a high-quality electric guitar. He took all of that knowledge and with his own experience applies that to making his own guitars today. So of course, I soon took one home. It was a thin-line Telecaster-style guitar, easily the best feeling and sounding guitar in my collection of about 40 guitars. I started using it primarily on my Fix the Broken CD. It played so well I just couldn’t put it down. When it was time to hit the road a bit I knew I had to be playing Mario Guitars. Because it is a complete custom shop, I’m able to order a guitar exactly how I want it down to the last detail. And for me there are a whole bunch of details when ordering a guitar. Mario and his head luthier and technician, Timothy Scott, have been getting it right for me ever since.

The fourth guitar that I’ve ordered is complete! (pictured) It’s a coke-bottle green sparkle Serpentine guitar with 13-pin midi, acoustic piezo, TV Jones pickups and a Wilkinson tremolo system. It’s superlight and plays and sounds like a dream. I now use these guitars everywhere and always. I own two Mario Telecaster-style guitars, a custom Mario purple Jazzmaster style guitar (pictured), a custom Mario blue T-Master (pictured), and now the green Serpentine. I have happily paid for every one of these guitars and Mario Martin does not pay me to say these things.

So why am I telling this story? Because I strongly relate to anyone who has the entrepreneurial spirit and has the courage to do something different and do it well. There are so many guitar players in Middle Tennessee, maybe more here than anywhere else in the world. Most players seem to follow the same old mundane routine of going to one of the big music chains (toy stores, really) to buy the same old cheesy, cookie -cutter guitars. I’ve never been one for doing what everybody else does. Besides, most of the time you’re paying for an inferior instrument that has a popular name on the headstock, but nothing much else to offer. But right here in your own back yard is a skilled guitar builder who can deliver whatever you would want in a guitar at a far higher level of quality, handmade in the USA, for less money. Mario guitars are truly so much better than 99 percent of the guitars that you would buy at these retail chains, there’s really no comparison. And the bonus is that it’s local! How can one not support that? I make my living playing these guitars every day. I rely on them. I’m so glad I found the Guitar Mill and Mario guitars.

For more information on Guitar Mill, visit guitarmill.com. For more on Saul Zonana, visit saulzonana.com.


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