Oftentimes, whenever we get enthusiastic about an artform (say…”playing guitar,” or something crazy like that) we eventually find ourselves diving deeper into the craft than we ever thought we might. This was definitely the case for Donnie Scearce, the founder/creator of Sugar Guitars.
Donnie designs and builds some incredible instruments...
which he has managed to put into the hands of some equally incredible musicians. I knew Donnie was something of a virtuoso in the guitar realm, but I wanted to find out how he got from point A to point B, so recently, we sat down and had a nice chat.
I wanted to start at the beginning, so I asked Donnie how he first became interested in music/guitar playing in general…
“I started playing guitar at age 13. I had a friend in school - Doug Sellers - who was an incredible musician. Doug inspired me to take my playing seriously. During my music career, I have been a guitar player, writer, producer, tech, and engineer. I stay inspired being in these roles revolving around guitar. Now I build the guitar that I would want to play.”
Pretty well said in my opinion. This initial inspiration probably doesn’t sound too different from many of our stories. It’s obvious Donnie was the type of person to take an idea and run with it in as many directions as possible; a mentality that tends to provide efficient fuel for this particular industry.
But again, how did we go from jamming on guitar with Doug to building world-class instruments?
“As a kid I was a tinkerer of sorts. I would take apart electronics and speakers to see how they worked…and then my parents would freak out and make me put their stereos back together. In high school shop class I built a huge guitar cabinet. It was probably 5 ft. X 3 ft. X 1-1/2 ft. with a Realistic 15” speaker from Radio Shack. It lived in my bedroom because I couldn’t fit it in my VW bug to take to gigs or band practice. Lesson learned!”
Another relatively familiar story, but we are definitely starting to see how Donnie progressed from a guitar player to a connoisseur of all things ‘music’.
“Throughout my guitar player career I would replace pickups and pickguards on my guitars. I basically learned out of necessity how to do various modifications whenever I wanted to try something different. I did the setups on all my guitars myself and would also do setups for friends. Woodworking skills also help! Being a full-time musician means having a part-time job in most cases. My part-time jobs gave me the woodworking skill set.”
Well said, once again. I like this guy! Sometimes you’ve just got to dive in and get your hands dirty; I feel like the best techs I’ve met over the years were all self-motivated and took the initiative to just learn the craft out of necessity.
But on a more personal level, as it pertains to music, where did Donnie’s inspiration come from?
"My aim was to create a guitar that I would want to play. In my formative years as a player, I was into Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Ozzy, and the other rock guitar hero bands of that time. At the same time, I was into The Fixx, Del Amitri, Hoodoo Gurus, The Cure, and some Indie bands. I think the broad spectrum of guitar-driven bands helped me understand a lot of the signal chain complexities and capabilities you can have in a guitar rig to get the soundscape for the style you want to play. The guitar should be the gateway for your expression. The look and feel are part of your artistic expression. I wanted to create a guitar that looks like it has been “woven into the fabric” but is still unique. There's a fine balance, as anyone who has ever tried to design a new electric can attest."
Sounds about right to me. So after all of this inspiration, after all of the jamming, producing, tech’ing, etc., where have his guitars landed? I did mention he had managed to get his guitars into the hands of some pretty great players. So let’s talk about it…
“Right now it's Jordan Lawson with Carrie Underwood, Josh Reedy with Thomas Rhett, and Michael Westbrook - YouTube guru and hired gun who plays or has played with Noah Guthrie, John Hopkins from Zac Brown Band, Crowder, and Corey Smith. Corey Smith plays one of my guitars as well.”
Pretty darn cool. So what does Sugar guitars bring to the table?
What are the defining characteristics of these super sweet guitars?
“My guitars are unique yet traditional. If you are a player who feels connected to old school but wants to be unique at the same time, try a Sugar guitar. There are a ton of companies making great guitars that are their versions of the same S or T designs. Sugar guitars are 25” scale length, so they sit between the traditional S/T or LP designs which inherently makes a tonal difference because of that. I also use a compensated neck radius that feels great at both ends of the neck.”
My curiosity has officially been piqued. I’m ready to get my hands on one of these axes and get to shedding. What about you?
I really enjoyed my time with Donnie and want to thank him for sitting down with me. We sure hope this article has given you some further inspiration for your playing and tinkering. Make sure you keep with us for more insight into the builders and players that make this the best industry in the world. Thanks for dropping by!