The 1980’s were a high time in the Los Angeles music and guitar scene. People were very much into hot-rodding their guitars. As the “Superstrat” started to emerge, players wanted to add electronics, and the “perfect” combination of pickups and hardware to yield a popular array of tones. The L.A. studio scene was coming into its heyday with players emerging like Dean Parks, Dann Huff and Michael Landau among others.
Neil Stubenhaus was one of the first studio players that started promoting James’ expertise to other players – both bassists and guitarists. James had started making custom instruments to order using a myriad of parts from Schecter and Kubicki, and then had custom pieces made at Tom Anderson’s shop.
During the 1980’s, the shop was moved to North Hollywood on Lankershim Blvd and expanded to include one of the first high-end boutique stores for guitars, basses and bass gear. Situated next door to the rhinestone cowboy tailor himself: Nudie Cohn. There was no sign on the store front, no advertising from the curtained windows, and the “Either You Know Or You Don’t” mystique began. The shop’s notoriety grew by word of mouth, and James never knew who would walk through the door. On one particular day, Michael Landau and Buzz Feiten both came into his shop for the first time. Another day, he found out that David Williams, who was recording for Michael Jackson on the album “Thriller”, had used his guitar on that iconic riff in “Billie Jean”.
The L.A. studio guys like Neil, Mike, Buzz, Dean Parks, Dann Huff, Steve Watson, and Abe Laboriel would rattle around the shop, testing things out and pushing James to go further. After working with such great players, seeing all the custom work that he’d done for famous folks on TV and in concerts, James decided to define his work by creating his first identifiers—the Tyler logo and headstock. At that time, all headstocks were pretty much Fender style headstocks. By coming up with a different silhouette, James was able to build the brand a bit more, and when Fender decided to trademark their headstock shape, James had already been using his own for some time. The headstock and Studio Elite debuted to the public at the L.A. Guitar Show in 1987.
The Studio Elite model with its distinct pickguard shape was also another identifier that took some basic credit for the shaping and contours that gave Tylers their reputation for maximum playability. In 1988, Studio Elites were built for many of L.A.’s session guys including Steve Lukather. James was also doing some more zany projects at this time—most notably for Michael Anthony of Van Halen. Michael, a regular client, came to James to build a Jack Daniels bass that he could tour with, and followed it up with a Tabasco sauce bass.
The 90’s started out with great promise for James. Schecter Guitar Research USA (now owned by ESP) approached him in 1990 and proposed a partnership for research, development and promotion of Tyler Guitars. Suffice it to say, after a few grueling months, it didn’t work out. What it did do though, was act as a sort of litmus test for how far word-of-mouth had traveled by this time. James never ran ads, never “marketed” per se, but unbeknownst to him, his international reputation had been steadily growing. After he parted ways with Schecter, he was able to simply pick up from there and move on. He opened a new shop on Sepulveda Blvd, in the San Fernando Valley and focused on producing new custom instruments.
In 1991, James created the Psychedelic Vomit finish for Mike Landau as a joke, and the future of guitar finishes would never be the same. That same year, the Ultimate Weapon model debuted. A lot of guys used Tylers on hard rock recording, but when it came to live appearances, they needed something that looked more contemporary, so James gave them the Ultimate Weapon model with a bit more edge. Dann Huff took one out on his 1993 Giant tour.
1992 brought a few new releases. The pendulum was swinging back toward vintage, so the Classic was added to the model selection. That year also saw the debut of the Tyler 4 and 5 string basses. In 1993, Tyler Guitars was contacted by the Santa Monica Heritage Museum for an exhibit: The Ultimate Guitar Show—the History of California Guitars. James Tyler Guitars was chosen to be displayed among the great California guitar companies such as Fender, Rickenbacker, Mosrite and Charvel. Also in 1993, lightning struck the same place twice when James created the Burning Water guitar for Mike Landau. People dug it and demand for it made it a standard model offered from 1994 on. This year also marked a limited run on 7-string guitars, the Dann Huff classic, and the Mongoose.
In 1995 in collaboration with Abe Laboriel, James revised his standard bass for a narrower neck and different silhouette and added it to his available models. A lesser known fact, James has dabbled in the acoustic guitar realm some as well. He produced several prototypes but never got to bring them to production since demand was too high on the other instruments.
In the mid 1990’s, Tyler Guitars jumped on the wagon of the crazy phenomenon known as the “world wide web” and became internationally accessible through their website. James was able to take some time to do other special projects and create some other model variations. 1998 brought about the Studio Elite HD, which came to be by removing the lead/rhythm circuit and going more retro with the sound. The first shmear paint job was also developed in 1998.
The 2000’s saw more expansion of models and innovations. James created new versions of the Burning Water and Psychedelic Vomit models. The Mongoose body shape and Tylerbastar gave way to a hybrid Mongoobastar (now known simply as the Mongoose Retro).
The long-time desired dream of creating a line of James Tyler pickups was fulfilled in 2005 with the creation of James Tyler Electric, and that year they began being available in Tyler guitars. In 2006, the Tylerbastar was no longer offered and the Joe-X line was released in Japan.
For 2007, the pickup line was expanded into dozens of different versions of single coils, humbuckers and soapbars. The Rat guitar was released in the Joe-X line. That year, James was also contacted by the guitar modeling and amplification giant: Line 6 to discuss a revamp of the Variax modelling guitar. James and Line 6 agreed to collaborate on a new line to be known as the JTVariax. Through many design hours and prototypes, three styles of the JTVariax evolved with the look and feel of a Tyler guitar and the extraordinary guitar modeling and alternate tuning capacities of Line 6 electronics.
Later in 2007, James was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In preparation for taking time off in 2008 to undergo brain surgery, Tyler Guitars production was scaled back, and no more dealer orders were accepted. The several years after that were challenging, what with James’ recovery from brain surgery and his commitment to prototype and overhaul the Line 6 Variax, but thanks to improvements in James’ health, staff changes and major capital investments—James came back motivated and ready to drive JTG ahead.
2012 marked the 40th year of James Tyler’s guitar career, 25th Anniversary of the unique Tyler headstock, and 5 years after James’ “Well, actually, it WAS brain surgery” tour.
2016 James Tyler Guitars Japan is introduced at Winter NAMM 2016 as our mid-priced line of guitars as well as the Studio Elite Psychedelic Vomit 25th Anniversary guitar
2018 25th Anniversary of the Burning Water model and a limited edition run of 75 guitars.
- 1972 Tyler repair starts in a garage
- 1978 repairman for Norman’s Rare Guitars
- 1980 James Tyler repair shop in Los Angeles
- 1982 Lead/rhythm circuit with Demeter midboost preamp is developed
- 1980’s L.A. studio guys become clients, Tyler boutique guitar and bass store in North Hollywood
- 1987 Tyler headstock and Studio Elite are debuted at the Los Angeles Guitar Show
- 1988 Studio Elite pickguard design, Steve Lukather “Puffy” Studio Elite is built
- 1990 The Schecter debacle
- 1991 Moved to Van Nuys location, Psychedelic Vomit finish, Michael Landau signature model, Ultimate Weapon model, Neil Stubenhaus model bass
- 1992 Classic model, 5 string bass
- 1993 First Burning Water guitar built for Michael Laundau, Ultimate Weapon for Dann Huff Giant tour, exhibit at the Santa Monica Heritage Museum: The Ultimate Guitar Show—the History of California Guitars with James Tyler Guitars displayed alongside Fender, Rickenbacker, Charvel and Mosrite
- 1994 Burning Water model, Dann Huff Classic model, Mongoose, 7 string
- 1995 Abraham Laboriel 5 string model bass
- 1997 Double neck
- 1998 Shmear finish, Studio Elite HD model
- 2000 Burning Water 2K model, Psychedelic Vomit 2K model, Mongoobastar model (becomes Mongoose Retro)
- 2004 Studio Elite Retro, John Ou buys his first Tyler
- 2005 Pickups
- 2006 Tylerbastar model is discontinued, Joe-X starts selling quietly in Japan
- 2007 Joe-X Rat, talks begin with Line 6 for a James Tyler Variax line
- 2008 Classic model is discontinued, James undergoes brain surgery for an acoustic neuroma
- 2009 James continues long-term recovery, R&D continues on JTVariax designs
- 2011 Three JTVariax models are launched at NAMM 2011, Tyler Guitars relocates to a much larger shop and design space in the San Fernando valley, Tylerbastar model is brought back
- 2012 James Tyler celebrates 40 years in the guitar industry
- 2016 James Tyler Guitars Japan is introduced at the 2016 NAMM Show, 25th, Studio Elite Psychedelic Vomit 25th Anniversary guitar
- 2018 25th Anniversary of the Burning Water model is celebrated with a limited edition run of 75 guitars