Cheney Rock City

How guitars made in an Eastern Washington woodshop are making their way into the hands of players around the globe.

The mark of every Marcus Daniels guitar: his logo on the 12th fret. - JEFF FERGUSON
Jeff Ferguson
The mark of every Marcus Daniels guitar: his logo on the 12th fret.

Marcus Daniels had been hoping for silence. For months, he had been toiling in his Cheney woodshop over a custom electric guitar for Paul Hodgson, the guitarist of South African rock band the Parlotones. Now it was time for delivery. Standing in a noisy Seattle concert hall during sound check, Daniels was faced with trying to convince the guitarist to put down his mainstay Fender Telecaster (the axe used by David Gilmour, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townsend) and pick up a homemade instrument built in a tiny Eastern Washington town he’d never heard of.

“It was like letting another kid into the world,” says Daniels, a 29-year-old father of three.

But at the first note, Hodgson smiled. “I gave him the guitar,” Daniels recalls, and he said, “‘This is the guitar.’”

Since starting his business, MD Custom Guitars, in 2005, Daniels has been custom-building guitars for musicians from local bands like the Perennials and Horse Thieves to the Parlotones and New England-based the Thickness.

“What I like about Daniels is he’s very talented and he can build anything,” says Danny Songhurst, a former protégé of Daniels, who now runs his own business, Songhurst Guitars. “He just sits there and cuts all the bracing. … He just does really nice work.”

Daniels plays guitar, but not as much as he would like. When he got into the instrument back in high school, a teacher asked him, “Why do you want to do this?” “You know, I’m probably not going to be famous,” he remembers saying. “But I’d like to build.”

He started by building a picture frame and then went to luthier school in Phoenix, where he learned the finer points of carpentry and an instrument’s electronics.

When his parents announced they were moving from Western Washington to a home just north of Cheney, one with a shop where he could base his nascent business, he decided he was coming with them, selling his 1965 Ford Mustang to pay for the saws and jigs he needed for his shop.

Those tools now sit in the cluttered backyard shop, coated with a fine layer of sawdust, so that they all have a slightly brownish hue.

His failures are obvious: Rejected instruments in various states of disrepair are mounted on the shop’s walls.

His successes, the instruments he hasn’t sold, are kept protected in cases, which he also makes himself.

“I’m by no means that great,” he remarks, as he plugs one of his guitars into a dusty amp to demonstrate its bright, sharp tone.

Daniels has a knack for networking: The Parlotones connection came from seeing them open for another band. Other times, it’s luck: He recently got an inquiry from an Australian man who said he’d heard a Daniels creation on YouTube.

His diversity of crafts also helps. In addition to guitars, he’s ventured into more obscure instruments, like the hammer dulcimer and the hurdy gurdy.

Songhurst, who specializes in electric guitars, turned to Daniels when he wanted an acoustic, because he knew he could get exactly what he wanted.

“They’re all different,” Songhurst says. “When I ordered my guitar, I told him about the tone I wanted for the guitar and he nailed it.”

Each instrument is a labor of love, or a work of art, as Daniels puts it. He has a six-month backlog of orders and hopes to soon move his shop into his house in Spokane.

But while his instruments are played by rock stars, there is little glamour to Daniels’ work. On a Thursday afternoon, he’s waiting for some glue to dry on the back patio of his parents’ place.

“Most people are pretty understanding about it,” Daniels says of the long process of building a custom instrument. “If they’re not, they can buy a Fender.”

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