Now based in Sonoma, California!


It’s been a big year for Chris Miller Guitars!  One that started as a relocation from Portland to Sonoma, California; a year that (almost!) saw my first son being born; and a tragic one in that my workshop was destroyed in the Nuns Fire.  So you can say we’ve had the worst of times, and the best of times.  I cannot begin to describe the anguish of losing my shop, years of tonewood collecting, and especially our family home where I was raised.  The rebuilding process will be slow and may be painful; we are still remembering things that were lost in the fire, and my parents have moved into a small rental nearby our house.  It would be easy to despair over what has happened…And yet, I feel so fortunate!  What an opportunity this was, being able to see an entire community forged together, helping one another and caring for each other.  I feel so lucky, in having such a strong, supportive spouse, a healthy son, my parents safe and sound; not to mention my fabulous customers and community.  A friend set up a GoFundMe that was critical in providing a safety net for lost wages, and will form the basis for the new shop-when it’s time.  Thanks to you all— we are safe and sound, in body and mind.  Thank You.

Elijah Miller was born January 2, a healthy 8lb 12oz baby boy!

While being evacuated from the fires in October, I picked up some work, helping to build an enormous redwood slab table. It was 26  12′ long, 3′ wide and 2″ thick slabs joined into a spiral.  Best of all, it was set on very not-level ground next to Bolinas Lagoon!  A most beautiful worksite.


In case you’re wondering about my work life: I am currently a Service Advisor for a hot rod shop in Santa Rosa.  This way I get to indulge in all things involving horsepower and chrome.  It provides some much needed stability for our family at the moment.  I continue to perform instrument setup and repair from my home workbench, so feel free to get in touch for a chat or to schedule a set-up, fret dress, etc.  I’d love to hear from you!

Stay tuned for more lutherie-related developments!



For your approval, some photos of the M-45 Dreadnought, in Hemlock & Claro Walnut, just after polishing and yet to receive a pickguard.  This guitar is patterned after an excellent 1935 Gibson Original Jumbo, with knife edge bracing, no popsicle brace, two scalloped tone bars, and a small maple bridge plate.  Working with an awesome customer with great taste, we went with a 1940’s sunburst and a Brazilian Rosewood belly bridge.  Rounding the guitar out is buttery smooth Waverly ivoroid-button tuners and amber binding.  The neck is Spanish Cedar with a c-carve and 1.75″ nut width.  The M-45 will get a Dazzo Pickup for beautiful amplification.  The Hemlock has many of the qualities of Adirondack Spruce, and was sawn from a very old and fine grained beam from a building in Wisconsin.  The Walnut does a wonderful job of mellowing the guitar, and providing focus for the tone of the top.  After just a few hours being strung up, the whole guitar comes alive when strummed, having the rotund authority of a vintage Gibson, and offers a very strong bass response while being reasonably balanced across the range.  A singer or flatpickers dream!

The wonderful Adam Kiesling and AJ Srubas just posted some videos including the Miller Roy Smeck Dreadnought. The guitar is constructed of Adirondack Spruce and Big Leaf Maple with a 1934 sunburst and unusual blonde back and sides. This is a 24.75″ scale, 12 frets-to-body dreadnought with extra depth. Enjoy!





Fall 2016






Another wonderful Fall is upon us, and I’ve been doing repairs, building an M-45 sunburst and getting married! This guitar is a sort of mashup of late 1930’s to mid 1940’s appointments, with a claro walnut back & sides, old-growth Hemlock top (rings like a bell!), and spanish cedar neck. I am very excited to hear this guitar’s voice! This one is going to a wonderful customer in New York, NY, and I think he will be pleased.



The Ranch Hand

Introducing the Ranch Hand:

This 14 frets-to-body guitar was built of sitka spruce, spanish cedar, and reclaimed mahogany.  Built upon the pattern of a pre-war O-17 Martin, it is a lightweight powerhouse that is a joy to sing with.  A small guitar is not only easier to hold, but can pack a surprising punch.

This guitar has a vintage-correct through cut bone saddle, custom pickguard, an 1 11/16″ nut and 2 1/4″ bridge spacing, celluloid binding and fret markers, and my favorite Evo fretwire.  It is set up for easy playability with DR Hi-Beam 80/20 11-50 strings and low action.  All parts (besides tuners, pins, and binding) were made in-house, by hand here in Portland Oregon.

This guitar is sold and headed off to it’s happy new owner in Montana.




Fall Update

I’ve had a busy Fall, with helping run the bike shop and improving my shop, playing lots square dances and getting really into Red Allen and Frank Wakefield’s Kitchen Tapes.  Two guitars are nearing the home stretch, and my shop has been vastly improved with a thickness sander, increased bench space, storage, and a new sharpening station that I am very pleased with.  I don’t have pictures of everything that has been getting done, but I’ll post what I do have now and try to be quick about showing all of the other cool stuff.

I am currently building a J-35/Roy Smeck 12-fret dred and a little O-18 I’ve taken to calling the Ranch Hand.  The Smeck is Adirondack spruce throughout, built in the Kalamazoo fashion (though cleaner, I should hope), while the Ranch Hand is sitka, with reclaimed back and sides, and a lovely aromatic spanish cedar neck.  Next up will be a pair of F-5 mandolins and a J-35 14-fret guitar.


Meanwhile, I have a lovely visit to Lopez Island in the San Juans, and made some new friends at Kestrel Tool.  They craft the finest traditional American carving tools I’ve ever seen.  I’ve put in my order, so we’ll see the knife they make me in the not-to-distant future.


Kestrel Tool

Fiddle Tunes

I was offered the opportunity to be a staff luthier at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes at Port Townsend, WA.  Myself, Jamie Herrmann Violins,  and Jacob Mitas Bows set ourselves up in the airy upstairs of Building 205, and offered setup, repair, and assessment services for the duration of the week.  And we were busy!  The pictures tell the tale, but suffice it to say, we spent our share of late nights in the shop, making repairs so that students and faculty could play their instruments the next day.

In addition to plenty of great music and friendship, I also had the extreme pleasure of examining a March 31, 1924 Lloyd Loar-signed F5 mandolin.  It was wonderful.  This was a long-awaited meeting, and my thoughts have again turned towards deciphering varnish techniques and wanting to return to mandolinmaking.  Feast your eyes!

Meanwhile, back in the Portland studio, I’ve been putting finish on the Oahu spanish-conversion (getting  nice mahogany sunburst), and prepping three different guitars to get built during this moderate summer climate:  a D-28, a Roy Smeck Maple Dred, and a 14-fret O-18.  I am in the mood for efficient work, and these guitars are going to eager customers, so stay tuned for more!

bench fern

a 1918 F4 Gibson, in for a bridge fitting

a 1918 F4 Gibson, in for a bridge fitting

Jacob, Chris, and Jamie

Jacob, Chris, and Jamie


The coveted Lloyd Loar signature

The coveted Lloyd Loar signature

sitka and adirondack spruce, mahogany, and Indian Rosewood for upcoming guitar builds

sitka and adirondack spruce, mahogany, and Indian Rosewood for upcoming guitar builds

Harwood Mandolinetto and The Oahu

Lately, the shop has seen some great repair work happening.  One banjo got a refret, others got setups and railroad spikes, a 1930’s Oahu squareneck is getting a complete spanish conversion, and a turn-of-the-century Harwood mandolinetto got a new bridge.

harwood1 harwood2 harwood3 harwood4 harwood5harwood6bridge

The mandolinetto is a beautiful instrument, barely larger than a soprano ukelele, but strung with steel strings and tuned as a mandolin.  This one was found at a garage sale for $10.  I made a new brazilian bridge for it, and here it sits.  I haven’t cleaned it or even replace the strings.  I’ll soon level the bar frets, attempt to heat-set the neck, and give it a thorough cleaning.

This Oahu is a really cool project.  The customer wanted a ladder-braced, all mahogany gypsy jazz guitar, so he purchased this square neck off Ebay.  I will be resetting the neck while adding carbon fiber reinforcement, replacing the fingerboard with ebony and adding a zero fret, using a floating bridge and trapeze tailpiece, and fretting with evo wire.  In the process, I’ll fill some holes, fix a number of typical ailments such as loose braces and shrunken binding, and of course carve the neck into a satisfying chunky-v shape.  Here is the progress so far, with the carbon installed, the heel extended, and the neck set complete:

oahu2carbon oahu1 oahu3

A square neck guitar will typically have a zero neck set (neck not angled back from the body), a very tall nut, and no neck reinforcement.  It is meant to be played horizontally, with a slide and fingerpicks.  This guitar is getting converted to spanish play, which means it will also be getting a number of enhancements along the way.  It is a bit of a mystery how it will sound when finished, but I’m betting it’ll be woody as hell and be a really sweet old guitar with modern playability.

I’ve also gotten a new commission for a Roy Smeck-style, all maple dreadnought from an excellent player in Minneapolis;  I’ve started making new molds and patterns to suit.  It’ll be a great one, I’m sure of it!

Buckaroo Recap


The Lil’ Buckaroo was completed on Day 10, with the combined efforts of myself and Aaron Tacke, and by all accounts it was a success!  Here is the details:

Aaron called me from Minneapolis, suggesting we collaborate and build a quick guitar for a friend.  We would build a 1937-spec L-OO out of all local walnut and whatever spruce was on hand, build it in about a week, and have it ready to play for the Portland Old Time Music Gathering on January 17th, 2015.  We talked briefly about having it be top-bound, black painted, and put a few supplies on order.  I don’t think I seriously believed that we could do it (and have any finish on it), but when I returned from a days work at the bike shop to find the top and back joined and sides thicknessed, and brace stock milled, I was thrilled to dive into the build.  The only pieces I had prepared ahead of time was a rough walnut neck blank slotted for a two-way truss rod, and a Brazilian Rosewood bridge I had from a previous build.  The rest would be made from raw stock.

Here is the specs:

1937 Gibson L-OO 14 frets to body, 24 3/4″ scale length, 1 3/4″ ebony nut

Sitka Spruce top and bracewood with a very well-aged maple bridgeplate

Claro Walnut back, sides, neck

Palisander Rosewood fingerboard and Brazilian Rosewood bridge with a bone through-saddle

ivoroid celluloid binding and rosette

Finish is enamel and oil varnish.

And it’s for sale!

dunzo2 20150117_6811  20150117_6831 20150117_6822 20150117_6840 20150117_6900 20150117_6813

Day 5

Okay!  The Lil’ Buckaroo is fretted, the neck joint is made, rough sanded out, the box is done, and we’re doing finish samples.  We’ve also made some trial firestripe pickguards for the project.  We’ve been burning the midnight oil, but it is on schedule!

I've made a hand planer fretboard radiusing jig from an example from John Greven, it will radius a fretboard in a couple passes!

I’ve made a hand planer fretboard radiusing jig from an example from John Greven, it will radius a fretboard in a couple passes!

We made the bolt-on neck joint using a shopmate's mill...overkill!

We made the bolt-on neck joint using a shopmate’s mill…overkill!