James Trussart is one of the few builders who has broken the mold of traditional guitar making. Working with steel as the primary material, he produces guitars that are as unique in appearance as they are in tone.
Trussart is a musician-turned-luthier. The Parisian native began his career as a fiddler, accompanying Cajun singer-songwriter Zachary Richard in the late ’70s, before turning his attention to crafting violins and later guitars in 1980. From his current So-Cal home workshop (where he’s resided since 2000), Trussart crafts custom steel-bodied guitars, basses and violins in a dazzling array of finishes, reminiscent of shiny chrome resonator instruments and rusty, weathered or fossilized discarded machinery. And the tone is so distinctive that Trussart guitars have become ‘must-have’ instruments in the arsenals of influential artists including Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, Billy Gibbons, Charlie Sexton, Daniel Lanois, Marc Ribot, Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow), Rich Robinson (Black Crowes), Sonny Landreth, Joe Perry, Tom Morello, Billy Corgan, The Roots and many, many more.
“I've always like the look and feel of old guitars, believing them to have a life beyond that of their creator," says Trussart. “And I wanted to somehow emulate that effect of age and history on my own guitars. I wanted to make a guitar that came with a history and a slight element of neglect, of decay, so it had a personality of its own.”
Trussart’s creations are designed to have the look and feel of a vintage instrument with the added appeal of a metal construction. His "Rust-o-matic" technique (a term coined by Billy Gibbons regarding Trussart’s unique finishes) involves leaving the guitar body exposed to the elements for several weeks, allowing it to corrode before treating it to stop the corrosion. He then sands it to replicate years of distress, and then finishes it with a clear satin coat.
Many of the Trussart models features patterns either engraved or literally imprinted into the metal bodies or on the pickguard or headstock. Engraved skulls, roses and tribal art are some of the more common themes, while others feature textures of alligator skin or plant materials. He literally ‘sandwiches’ the metal with the alligator skin and lets it sit in water for several days.
Various pickup options are offered like TV Jones, Golden age, Arcane-inc, Lindy Frailin, Tom Holmes, but standard fare is the Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II’s. Neck options offered are the classic radius and shape guaranteed to fit the most demanding players needs.
And the sound? Former Guitar Player magazine editor and guitarist Joe Gore (Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, Tracy Chapman) summed the distinguishing tone of Trussart’s Steelcaster with the following rave:
“I literally believe this guitar makes me play better. I love the combination of ultra-articulate attack and full-bodied sustain. It’s almost as if one is playing through a high-quality compressor, only without sacrificing a shred of transient impact. The subtle metallic resonance—that extra midrange peachiness—telegraphs articulation details. I play predominantly with my bare fingers, and I've never before encounter an electric guitar that communicates the texture of skin, nail, and combinations thereof with such breathtaking immediacy. I also find myself better able to ‘shape’ notes. I think that’s dueto: a combination of the guitar’s innate sustain, the perfect fretwork, the way subtle neck bends complement finger vibrato, and the gratifying ‘feedback loop’ created when the metal body hums against your chest."