Story by Dick Hildebrand
To say that Phil Culleton is a busy man is an understatement. During the day he’s an automotive technician for the city of Windsor…a job he’s held for the past 20 years. At night and during many of his spare hours, he’s an accomplished guitar builder.
He grew up in Windsor, attended Brennan High School for three years and completed fourth year at Herman Collegiate. After signing up as an automotive mechanic apprentice, he worked for a number of racing teams including Chip Ganassi and Stewart Racing which featured talented drivers like Gil DeFerren and Robbie Gordon before returning to Windsor where he applied for, and got the job he still holds today. He’s married to Patti and the couple has two daughters, Sarah and Emily. The family lives in Tecumseh.
As a kid Phil always wanted to be a guitar player, but as a left-hander he had trouble finding the right instrument. Eventually, through a friend, he found one at a pawn shop. It was a left-handed Fender Stratocaster with a rosewood fretboard which he bought and eventually traded in for another one with a maple fingerboard. Being the ultimate perfectionist, he slowly began modifying the guitar to his exact specs.
“I ended up making a new body,” he says, “which wasn’t perfect, so I made another one, which resulted in me basically creating my own guitar.” As his enterprise grew, so did his need for parts, many of which were not available at local music stores. He managed to contact Sheryl Crow’s guitar player who directed him to a parts source. The two met at DTE in Detroit where Crow’s band was touring with John Mayer, whose guitar tech and Phil became close friends. To this day they still consult with each other. The simple fact is that Phil has, over the years, been able to collaborate with the world’s guitar royalty and has successfully created instruments above and beyond their expectations. “These guys,” he says, “like the bread and butter guitars — but they have specific wants and needs which I’ve managed to supply.” Phil recently completed custom hand built guitars for the Guns n Roses “Not In This Lifetime Tour” for 2017/2018. At the moment, Culleton is preparing several instruments for the heavy metal band’s upcoming tour and making others for the Bon Jovi tour. PSE Guitars have also been supplied to Aerosmith and the country bands of Kenny Chesney and Miranda Lambert.
Over the last decade, Phil Culleton has evolved his business into making guitar cases, heavy-duty shipping cases and wardrobe cases. Ironically, most of the material for those cases comes from a factory in Oldcastle… “just a few minutes from my house,” as Phil likes to say.
To get where he is today, Phil has had to learn a lot… “I had to learn how to properly paint the guitar, how to cut frets and install the frets — it was a mountain to learn this craft…unbelievable, like memorizing Chinese images. A guitar just isn’t a piece of wood and strings and I figured out how to make it better.”
And thanks to Phil’s ingenuity, he’s never lost a sale to a player who ended up with a better guitar than he started out with, PSE guitars do not come off an assembly line — each one is built by hand and Phil does not cut corners. Bodies are cut with a band saw and an ordinary router is used to make the cavities for pickups, wiring and tremolo systems if required. Usually, solid body models are composed of two mirror-imaged pieces of wood which are glued together. While basswood is a popular choice, Phil says guitars can actually be made out of any type of wood. “I even built one out of plywood,” he says, “just to check stuff and, believe it or not, it played great.” He’s convinced that, ultimately, the sound that comes out of a guitar depends on the player ...not the wood it’s made of, or its paint, or the electronic innards. In the end, it’s the player who decides the specifications for his new guitar, which Phil follows to the letter.
Generally he buys pick-ups, bridges, tuning keys and other hardware from various sources, while players who have contracts with specific companies often send him the gear they want installed on their guitars. He does have one model where he makes all the hardware with the exception of the electronics. “It’s 100 percent mine,” he says. His manufacturing repertoire is quite large — he will custom create solid-body electrics, hollow-body electrics, acoustic electrics, acoustics, basses, and even uekeles. There’s also the possibility that Phil could be crafting a cello for an artist, who needs the instrument by July of next year. In order to make the delivery deadline, work on the project would have to start in February.
Once an order is placed, a custom built PSE guitar can be ready in 3 to 7 days if the finish is bare wood. “If you want the high gloss finish and beautiful colors on it, it can take up to 2 or 3 weeks because of the meticulous process required to give an instrument that windshield finish normally found on a car.”
And, depending on the type of hardware requested by a player, the guitar’s delivery time could be delayed by several weeks until the parts arrive. Phil emphasizes that his part of the job will be done on time and buyers are free to stop by his shop to take a look. PSE guitars start at around $1000 and could soar up to $5000 or more, depending on what the player wants. The same care and quality goes into every instrument that leaves Phil’s Tecumseh shop and each guitar comes complete with a 100% lifetime warranty to the original owner. Of course, he also makes repairs to any make or model of guitar.
He’s the only employee, or as he tells it; “I do everything. I’m the PR guy. I’m the finance guy and I’m the builder. I’m the guy who makes the deliveries.”
To find out more about Phil Cullerton, PSE guitars and available repair services, log on to psecustomguitars.net. He can be contacted by telephone at 226-280-3305 or you can email him at
. He loves guitars and enjoys talking music with people of similar likes. His guitars are top-notch and his service is always in the interest of the customer. He’s certainly worth checking out!