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November 10, 2016 3 min read

Some of our favorite customers here at Nordstrand are our independent builders. For some it is a hobby, and for some it is a full time job. For Steve and son Richard, of Doner Designs, it is a means to philanthropy.

Name of Co: Doner Designs
Builder/owner: Steve Doner and Richard Doner (father & son)
Years building:  Approximately 5 years (as Doner Designs)

Doner Designs

What inspired you to become a luthier? We started playing about 7 years ago when Richard bought his first guitar and I bought my first bass guitar.  Soon after we started doing a lot of modifications to our factory guitars and after that it wasn’t long before we wanted to start doing some scratch builds (from parts, not from raw lumber).

Since our near term intention was to be a low volume hobby builder, rather than a business, the idea of building for charitable organizations seemed like a great way for us to build at our leisure and help others in the process.  On average we build about one to two guitars per year

What kind of customer do you build for? Our builds are exclusively for donation to large national charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  The charity organizations then auction our builds at large fundraiser events.  We have kept our focus on larger events so that there is enough critical mass to attract a fair price for our donations.

Our builds are outright gifts and the charitable organizations retain 100% of sale proceeds.  We also build guitars and basses for our own use and for testing ideas.  From time to time we sell these as used items to make room for the next project.  One of these ended up in the hands of noted professional bassist Andy Irvine.

Clients of note: We have donated guitars and basses to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (twice), The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the United Service Organizations (the USO).  As stated above, pro bassist Andy Irvine purchased one of my personal basses and has produced a few videos with it.

Favorite materials and finishes to work with? Our charity builds typically have some sort of theme.  We think the artistic aspect broadens the pool of potential bidders in a charity auction situation.  The themes usually involve a lot of colors and lately we have settled into using nitrocellulose lacquer.  Our theme projects also usually have pickguards with elaborate graphics.  These are supplied to us by our friends at Axetreme Creations Custom Shop.

For our personal and experimental projects, we prefer the look and feel of natural wood.  One of our favorite natural finishes is paste wax applied over pure tung oil.  This is an easy finish but, depending on the wood, can take weeks or even months to complete because of long drying times.

When it comes to parts, we think there is little point in building a custom guitar or bass unless you use the best parts.  Besides Nordstrand pickups, we exclusively use Audere preamps, Babicz bridges and Hipshot tuning machines. We stick to the higher end makers of necks and bodies, but use multiple sources.

Doner Designs, Why Nordstrand? There are a lot of good pickup makers out there, but many people, including us, especially in the world of bass guitars, consider Nordstrand to be the best.  In addition to top quality, Nordstrand has a history of groundbreaking innovation. This is something we strive for as builders, so it’s a naturally good fit.

Products like the BigManBig SinglesBig Splitsand Big Blades make us proud to use Nordstrand exclusively.  Nordstrand has been willing and maybe even eager to work with us on some custom experimental pickups such as hybrid Dual Coils with Alnico 5 magnets on one side and Alnico 3 magnets on the other side.  Most recently Nordstrand made us a pickup we call the JazzMan – it’s a quad coil double J. pickup under a Musicman cover.  The coils on one side are similar to an NJ4se and on the other side are similar to an NJ4sv.  We’re still building the JazzMan bass and are very excited to hear what that one will sound like!

Find out more about Doner Designs at

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