“A guitar was always my best friend,” admits Scranton-area musician Butch Frable. This statement should come as no surprise to those in the know as far as Frable’s nearly three decades in NEPA music are concerned. From touring the country during the early 1990s as guitar tech for rockers Wicked Maraya, to Godzilla-esque riffing with Northeast Pa.’s own Graphic Violence and Beyond Fallen, Frable’s lifetime of six-string aptitude has led to his most recent endeavor – opening his own custom guitar shop.
Located in Clarks Summit, CHUD Custom Shop (derived from a nickname bestowed upon Frable by his wife) is the ultimate labor of love for this guitar diehard.
“I’m just getting this shop going,” says Frable, who in recent months has actually left Beyond Fallen and scaled back on his live gig schedule due to some health concerns. Frable still maintains active roles in Fireball, a blues-tinged outfit, and the metal-slanted Vicegrip.
“I’ve been looking for something a little better to do with my life, and I’ve had to cut back. Building guitars, though, I’ll never stop doing it.”
“I have a lot of good friends around here,” he says understatedly of the word of mouth that has driven his reputation as a would-be “Dr. Frankenstein” of guitars. Local recording facilities like Old Forge’s Sound Investment Studios have been using some of Frable’s creations for quite some time, impressed with his workmanship and affordability.
“My expertise is Stratocasters,” Frable says. SI Studios’ owner Tom Borthwick soon caught wind of the guitars Frable was building and, consequently, became one of the first local music professionals to purchase one of Frable’s ’68 Strat copies, with the added modification of more modern electronics, for studio work – the word quickly spread.
“Tom said almost everybody that comes through that studio ends up playing that guitar on one of their recordings,” Frable notes. “That just strikes me; I feel absolutely speechless when I hear that.”
Other notable area guitar-heads have come to Frable to satisfy their need for quality customs as well. Rocco Lameo from Militia, Green Light Go’s Kevin Locker, Frable’s ex-Beyond Fallen bandmate Steve Jasuilewicz, and his own handpicked replacement in BF, Greg Barczmaga, are just some of the NEPA shredders who own Frable’s customs. Guitarist Dan Malsch, for whom Frable used to tech with Wicked Maraya, was actually the first studio owner to inquire about Frable’s instruments. Malsch’s Soundmine Recording in East Stroudsburg proudly houses a couple of Frable’s famed Stratocasters.
“Dan was just getting the studio going,” begins Frable, “and he wanted to see a couple of photos of the Strats I made – he didn’t want to wait for me to build a couple more. I took them over, and he bought both of them on the spot without question.”
Even more admirable is Frable’s decidedly “nod to the little guy” business practices. For example, he says if a customer is looking for a guitar with a more vintage sound, he has unique sources for additional equipment, like Electric City Pickups in Scranton.
“That guy winds the pickups to the exact specifications of the old pickups,” admits Frable. “You’ll think you went back in time. He winds the pickups by hand, watching where each strand of wire goes into the coil. That’s passion, man, that’s the same passion I have. You can hear it in the sound.”
Other recent projects or those in the works include a custom acoustic for guitarist Jay Luke of The Mess and a beautiful pink-finish custom Jackson donated for sale at a breast cancer benefit. There seems to be no limit to Frable’s designs.
The spark of inspiration was all originally fanned over a guitar played by Ratt’s Robbin Crosby during the 1980s.
“I loved his custom Jacksons,” recalls Frable. “Could I afford them? No. What did I do? I built one. A custom replica of his red Jackson Firebird was the first transparent finish I did; that was the first truly 100 percent custom axe that I built from scratch. It came out beautiful – as of right now I think Dave Ellefson from Megadeth wants to buy it.”
That’s right; it turns out Brain Tomsak, bassist for Frable’s Vicegrip, actually designs the Megadeth bassist’s personal website.
“Brian sent Ellefson a picture of the guitar, and Ellefson came back and said, ‘Where’d you get that?’” laughs Frable. “He said to Brian, ‘Ask him how much he wants for it.’ I said, ‘Uh oh. Do I really want to sell my baby?’ But now, I’ve actually got a collection of guitars that would boggle the mind – some are absolutely insane. My mind just thinks about guitars constantly.”
It turns out some other high praise was heaped upon Frable from another industry titan that has since bolstered his courage in beginning CHUD Custom Shop. Len Thompson of Paul Reed Smith Guitars, who is a go-to guy for players like Carlos Santana and Creed/Alter Bridge guitarist Mark Tremonti when setting up their instruments to spec, inadvertently gave Frable a much-needed shot in the arm.
“I took my used PRS guitar to Northeast Music Center on Route 6 where Len was appearing,” Frable recalls. “He set it up and he goes, ‘Whoever set this up did a really good job; I don’t have to do anything to it.’ This was coming from the guy who sets up Carlos Santana’s guitars. Jack (Gretz, owner of Northeast Music Center) even came over and patted me on the back. That was a really big compliment; it made me feel that I do really need to be here doing this.”
Prior to the launch of CHUD, Frable christened his shop Fat Cat Customs, but had taken heat from a music store in Indiana with the same name. A cease and desist letter ended Fat Cat; thus, CHUD was born. Frable says he also took some flak from Fender, as his Fat Cat logo contained a backwards “F” as Fender’s does. Ironically, Frable has received offers of employment in the past from Fender.
“As of January 1st, that’s where we’re at,” Frable says upon unleashing the CHUD brand, “even though I’ve had instruments out there forever.”
Frable builds mostly for himself and jokes that visitors to his shop will have to sit through listening to his vision, but he is pleased that so many people have taken notice of his custom work that they’d actually want it for themselves. Also, the value he offers with his custom pieces is second to none; he insists a customer won’t be plunking down an unnecessary chunk of their income when visiting CHUD.
“I do everything on a shoestring,” Frable says. “You’re not going to spend $1,000 in my shop; you’re going to spend between maybe $300-600, and you’re going to get a really good guitar, and I guarantee it all if anything goes wrong. I don’t care if you break a string and you don’t want to change it yourself – bring it back in and I’ll do it for you. I love seeing my babies come back.”
Frable wraps up his thoughts on CHUD by reflecting upon an NEPA music scene in which he played such a monumental part over the past few decades.
“We have such a great metal scene just resurging, again, almost from nothing” he says. “We have clubs with metal nights twice a month, where before you couldn’t get any, even with a national act. Bands like Beyond Fallen and Threatpoint are going to other parts of the country and coming back kings.”
One can even say that Frable is seeing his own career come full circle in bands like Threatpoint, which Frable speaks particularly highly of; he was initially impressed with the band’s guitarist, Alex Olivetti.
“He was a student of a good friend of mine, Charlie Russello,” says Frable. “I could tell right away in Alex’s phrasing. Those guys just came out of nowhere; they’re just so good.”
Even though he’s not quite the road dog that he used to be, Butch Frable is still determined to be a fixture among the NEPA musical community, whether it be building or playing the guitars he envisions – most likely it’ll be both. You’re not going to ever see him sans guitar.
“When they pack me up and put me in the oven, you’re going to hear me twanging away.”