The first BelAire was the result of a conversation Mark was having with a few guys- and there is a joke in here somewhere. It starts like, "A salesman, a Rabbi, and a roadie walk into a guitar repair shop"... and the BelAire is the punchline.
This guitar was purchased by Alain Johannes. Josh Homme ordered the second. That was 2004. The rest is history.
This wheat pasted image of Josh Homme with a devil on his back, and a BelAire in his hands, is by artist Boneface. It's just one of many included in the album artwork for Villains, The Queens of the Stone Age's seventh studio album. Photo taken in London in August 2017, by unknown.
The LaMirada is inspired by the Starfire, the ES-175, and many other classic electric archtop guitars with a Florentine cutaway. The woods may vary from guitar- but they are all made from bent sides and carved tops and backs.
In addition to pick guards and control plates- Mark Fuqua makes most of the tailpieces for his guitars. These hand crafted pieces of aluminum (or aluminium, if you like) hardware, are part of his overall concept. They have unique sonic qualities and functionality.
BelAire 12-string bridge
The LeMans is a light weight little rock'n roll guitar. It's style is inspired by Japanese guitars from the 1960's- but it's heart is 100% '68 SG. It is the perfect vehicle for power chords through the one bridge pickup turned all the way up.
If for some reason you need more than that- a variety of nice, usable sounds can be achieved as well. All it takes is rolling the volume knob back, and you'll find tones perfect for jazz and even some country twang.
Mark Fuqua started building guitars under the name MotorAve in 2002, on the 2nd floor of this auto parts dealer. This is where the first BelAires were made.
LA's car culture is clearly on disply in these photos: Mark's 1969 Mustang Fastback, a jack in the box drive-thru, Venice Blvd, and a tire store.
Our repair shop on Sunset Blvd was an incubator of guitar ideas. In the short time we were there (2005-2007), Mark saw hundreds of interesting customers and worked on thousands of guitars... quite a few of which would be considered holy-grail guitars.
Regular repair customers included producers: T-Bone Burnett, Tom Rothrock, and Oliver Leiber. Bands: OK GO, Rilo Kiley, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, and many more.
In addition to repairs- Mark also made the first LeMans guitars here- despite not having a spray booth. We will now admit to building a "garden shed" with and explosion proof fan and light, on our patio. Don't try this at home.
"The creatively chambered mahogany body keeps the weight down to just under 8lbs without seeming to denude the mass and sustain one jot, and the McQueen’s shape hangs just as easily on the strap as it sits comfortably in the lap. Fuqua says the design results in a somewhat “smaller and tighter” tone, and I wouldn’t call that verdict inaccurate. At first blush, though – tested through modified JTM45-style and custom AC15-style heads through a range of cabs – I’d say the guitar also ably nails just about anything you’d expect to need a traditional Les Paul for. The Wolfetones are capable PAF-style pickups, with good edge and bite, and a focused response that’s also enticingly rich and lively. As such, they help the McQueen excel at more vintage-leaning humbucker voicings, with great raw rock ‘n’ roll snarl in the bridge position with either amp pushed into breakup, or surprisingly clear twang when you clean it all up. The neck pickup is as buoyant and round as you might hope, with plenty of vocal thickness, but admirably clear, too.
In brief, given the template, there are no major surprises – yet the McQueen does everything elegantly and well, and is smoothly and superbly playable in the process. Some players like to look down and see the same old carved-top, singlecut shape that their heroes played when they were doing these tricks. Personally, it’s refreshing to be able to get there with an alternative look in your hands. I certainly don’t feel the McQueen’s fast curves and sexy slant lose anything in the rawk department; and besides, they just might inspire me to come up with something a bit... different."
- David Hunter, Guitar and Bass Magazine, June 2016
Lets cut right to the chase, shall we? I don't like playing the tone game. There are millions of experts out there nowadays, chiming in with their 2 cents of electric guitar wisdom- usually weighted down with buzzwords like 'beefy' or 'buttery' or some-such nonsense. Convinced they can hear the minutest of nuances brought about by the age of the wood, or the screws in the pickguard, these gurus spread a LOT of useless information. Having been in the guitar business for a couple of decades now, I believe I have the right to be tired of it.
Some basic crap might go like this- " I like Korina over Mahogany for the sweet upper mids it delivers." This kind of statement is just stupid to me. Trees are not all the same, and different pieces have different characteristics. The wood could be decades old or recently kiln-dried lumber. It may have grown during a wetter or dryer climate than other trees in the same region. There are a million variables.
You could A-B two exactly identical guitars, made from the same boards, same batch of electronics, same pickup winder, same amp, same player.. the guitars will sound different. Not much different, but when played immediately side by side the small differences will be audible. Does that make one better than the other? Maybe.. but I doubt it.
So.. how to navigate the ocean of bs?
Firstly, I think it's important to understand the true hierarchy of tone creating elements in the electric guitar. Wood is only part of it, after all.
#1- "the player". the person playing the guitar has more influence over the tone of an instrument than any other factor.
#2- "scale". The speaking length of the string, the distance between nut and bridge, increases in tension the longer it gets when tuned to the same pitch. This greatly affects the nature of the vibrating string and so has a huge influence on the tone.
#3- "quality of materials and construction". A good guitar plays well, and stays in tune. First and foremost. To do that consistently over time it has to be constructed with great care. Joinery is everything in guitar making. Clean-fitting, well-set joints throughout the guitar will produce a stronger tone as well as increased stability. Tonewoods are obviously a factor here, as is the type and quality of hardware used in holding the strings over the frets.
#4- "pickups". Pickups are microphones/filters. They are reading the vibrating string, the character of which is determined by #'s 1-3 above, at the same time imparting their own particular harmonic qualities in the process. This balance is a critical factor in a great sounding guitar.
So there you have it! All the mysteries of great guitar tone broken down into 4 basic food groups. All the variables lie in those ingredients. And the strings, of course.
For me, after having played thousands of guitars through all the best old American and English tube amps, I arrived in my 'area' of guitar sound preferences. I think it has mostly to do with your favorite music, but for whatever reason I like the "Gibson-Marshall" model. Some people really love the "Gretsch-Fender" model, or the classic "Fender-Fender" model. They're all great.. but as a builder I'm definitely drawn to the Gibson camp. So.. I use a lot of mahogany, I use the 24.625" scale, & I use a set-neck, angled headstock design. That gets me in the ballpark. The rest of course, is the quality of the joinery and hardware, and the choice of pickups.
I only write this because the real joy in playing the guitar is in the playing of it. I don't play now as much as I should but I have logged a lot of hours in my time. Even when my gear was crappy, the thrill from playing in a band was incredible, and that's what I always try and think about when I'm making guitars. A guitar has to inspire you to pick it up, so it has to appeal to you visually. You're going to play it hard so you'll need it to stay in tune and not break strings. It has to work every time, and it has to sound great. That's my job. The rest is up to you.
My name is Mark Fuqua, and although my guitars don't bear that name, I build every MotorAve guitar myself. Except for the pickups/electronics & some of the hardware, I make everything that goes into them here in my shop, including the finishes. To me, the only way a guitar can be truly exceptional is if all of the many steps are done with the same level of care as the next. Good materials will only produce a good guitar if they're handled correctly, so the actual process and order of these steps is critical to achieving the desired result. In the 50's and 60's the great Gibson guitar company in Kalamazoo employed dozens of experienced, well-trained and dedicated people working in concert to produce an extremely high-quality instrument. Nowadays, those jobs don't exist really, and most of the people who fill them are very inexperienced.. like I was in 1990 when I first started working for Chandler Industries in San Francisco.
I have always been captivated by the electric guitar from moment I first saw one.. way back in the '60's when I discovered the Beatles. That music absolutely ruled my imagination, and Guitars were my new obsession. I drew them endlessly, and not being very good at drawing people, I just drew the guitars being invisibly held on stage, with all kinds of amps and speakers everywhere. (everything with a VOX logo, of course:) When I got older the fascination only deepened, and I eventually left school to pursue a career in Rock & Roll. I just couldn't see the point of doing anything else, and the immediate hardship.. poverty.. wasn't going to deter me. I played in lots of bands in Seattle in the 80's, moving back to San Francisco in '89, just in time to completely miss out on the grunge thing. Not one of my better timed decisions, but whatever, you move on. In San Francisco I continued working as a Hotel waiter, which I'd done in Seattle, but I was starting to really hate it. So I answered an ad in the weekly looking for a 'guitar expert' and got the job at Chandler. At first it was just answering phones and making copies up in the office, but ultimately I was transferred downstairs where I was trained to assemble finished parts into guitars. It was revelatory to me. Before that I think I saw the guitar as sort of a magical thing that only otherworldly beings could produce, and here I was putting them together from parts. I have not worked outside of the guitar business since.
I was not quite 30 at the time, and today I'm over 50. In those years I started my first guitar repair business, worked many years in the vintage guitar business, worked for independent builders, and ultimately had a very lucrative repair shop in LA. I would have continued doing that happily, but by then I'd already built a handful of guitars and two of them got into the hands of Alain Johannes and Joshua Homme. Queens of the Stone Age really put MotorAve on the map, and before I knew it I had orders. I juggled both businesses for a few more years, but ultimately decided that building guitars was where it was at for me. I just love it, and can look back on my life leading up to now as all being very well worth the trouble.
Anyone who makes guitars has obviously got their heart in a good place, and the world is better for them. I consider myself very lucky to get to do what I do.
I AM passionate about it, however, and may from time to time veer a little too close to snobbery for some peoples tastes. My guitar aesthetics have been very well refined by years in the vintage business, and I confess, I’m fairly opinionated about what’s cool and what’s not.
This MotorAve Lap Steel was a one off Mark made in 2011. The finger board is made of plastic and the custom bridge is covered with a brass "ashtray" Mark made to rest your hand on. Pictured here with a last minute, custom plywood case.
Designed as an homage to Mosrite and Univox guitars, the MotoVox is the embodiment everything Mark loves about a skinny little rock'n roll guitars. Very lightweight all mahogany construction, P-90 or humbucker pickups, and classic finishes like black, white, and sunburst.
Mark made seven MotoVox guitars between 2009-2010. While it's not one of our official models- it's a great example of Mark's range as a guitar maker.
Masthay Studios, created this cool poster for a recent QOTSA show. You can find out more about them HERE.
MotorAve pulled up stakes and moved to Durham NC, in 2007. It's not the first place you think of when talking about guitars- but it's full of history and friendly people. We still miss LA, our old friends and customers, and the food- but, Durham has enough radical lefty politics to make any California transplant feel at home.