Artist Series Guitar to launch hybrid shop in Fender’s hometown with grand-opening event.
For local musician and businessman Vijay Kumar, everything he’s ever done always comes back to the guitar.
Artist Series Guitar Grand Opening
Where: ASG at Fullerton Guitar Academy, 509 W. Commonwealth Ave., in downtown Fullerton
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 28
The 32-year-old Illinois native, above, picked up the instrument at a young age, and after moving to Orange County 14 years ago he joined several local bands, most notably swapping six strings for four to serve as bassist for Huntington Beach hardcore outfit Bleeding Through on its first two records.
Kumar left that group in 2003, instead earning a degree in classical guitar at Cal State Fullerton and then giving lessons. The experience, he says, put him in touch with the instrument like never before – and soon he became interested in designing his own line.
A few years later he started Artist Series Guitars (ASG), which has since created limited-edition and custom-designed axes for artists such as metal bands Asking Alexandria and Demon Hunter, local favorites Reel Big Fish and Death by Stereo, and punk mainstays Pennywise and Adolescents.
“It all started in my garage in Pasadena,” Kumar says during a recent interview at Layer Cake Bakery in downtown Fullerton. “It was a simple concept and all I really wanted to do was make a piece of merchandise for my friends’ band that was a cool guitar.” He started prototyping at the end of 2008, “and it was all rattle cans, razor blades and a lot of mistakes – just a lot of trial-and-error, but mostly error.”
Kumar’s first effort was a black-and-white guitar sporting the skull and lighting bolts logo of La Habra metal band Death by Stereo. After numerous attempts at affixing the logo to the surface, the neophyte manufacturer finally figured out that chemical bonding process and presented DBS guitarist Dan Palmer and vocalist Efrem Schulz (who now works alongside Kumar at ASG) with the finished product.
“We were pretty stoked and blown away that someone actually wanted to make a guitar with our logo on it,” Schulz recalls. “It was really rad, and Dan … he played the hell out of that guitar. He took that thing everywhere.”
Upgrading from his garage to a warehouse in Pomona, Kumar expanded ASG as more artist deals were inked, and now allows anyone to order their own guitar design.
That idea isn’t new, but he has figured out how to create a quality product with a quick turn-around time: generally two weeks, as opposed to the lengthy waiting periods (six months to a year) other companies require for custom work. He also has made his guitars affordable, starting at $549.
The company has rapidly grown so much, however, that Kumar opted to move his facilities to a hybrid shop near downtown Fullerton, birthplace of Fender instruments in 1946.
“We want this shop to be part of the community,” he says in preparation of the grand opening on Sept. 28. ASG will host a soon-to-be-announced musical guest while unveiling a new guitar design for metalcore band Killswitch Engage at the event. Given how many musicians hail from the area, not to mention Fullerton’s rich guitar history, Kumar says he hopes the public will stop in and check out what ASG has to offer, as well as participate in monthly events, clinics and lessons with artists like DBS’ Palmer, Ian Fowels of the Aquabats and other local luminaries.
“It’s an experience that you just don’t get when you walk into any old music shop,” he insists. “The guitar has such a cool identity – it’s punk rock, it’s heavy metal, it’s rock ’n’ roll – and you don’t really feel that vibe when you’re in a big store and in the next room you’re hearing ‘Three Blind Mice’ being played on a flute. I want this to be a fully immersive environment where you actually feel that connection.”
Kumar and his passionate crew of four full-time employees also have created fully functional guitars as trophies for companies like Vans, which recently presented ASG models to winners at the US Open of Surfing. The company also partnered with nonprofit organization Cuipo to raise funds toward saving the rainforest.
“With every ASG guitar purchase, one cubic meter of the rainforest will be saved,” Kumar contends. “I think ASG is pioneering in that regard. We’re a new generation of forward-thinking guitar makers. We might be small, but we throw a big rock.”
ASG is currently working on making limited-edition designs for Anthrax and Motorhead, while it continues to partner with Wendy Dio, widow of metal legend Ronnie James Dio. The manufacturer just released a Dio tribute guitar to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Holy Diver, a quintessential touchstone for the genre. Only 30 have been made, and they’re nearly all sold.
“We didn’t know what to expect when we met with her, but she was such a breath of fresh air and she was just like us,” Kumar says. “She was so excited about new heavy metal and old heavy metal, and she was so open-minded and excited. … We’ll definitely be sitting down with them again to work on some other cool things.”