Inside: BiLT Guitars

BilT was born out of the creative spirit to change what you can because you can. Founded by friends and coworkers Tim Thelen and Bill Henss, the boutique Des Moines brand specializes in creating highly customized, effects-laden guitars in under two weeks’ time, built by hand according to a wealth of shared experience as high-end luthiers and restoration experts. 

On behalf of BilT, Tim Thelen tells us more about how he and Bill somewhat reluctantly became two of the industry’s most respected innovators and how BilT uses history to fuel progress, not impede it. 

“These are the guys who can pull off anything you can think of to do to a guitar.”

Q&A WITH TIM THELEN

What is BilT?
BilT Guitars is a custom electric guitar manufacturer based in Des Moines, Iowa.

Who is BilT?
BilT is owned and operated by Tim Thelen and Bill Henss.

How did you get started building guitars?
Both Tim and Bill attended lutherie schools and spent many years running repair shops and doing high-end restorations.

When and how did BilT begin?
In 2008, a very good customer of the repair shop Bill and Tim worked insisted that they install several effects into his telecaster. After they initially refused, the customer persisted and wore them down. Once the project was complete, everyone was impressed at how fun and usable it turned out to be. Then they found a picture of a Lake Placid Blue Fender Marauder prototype that had several plates and switches and they instantly realized that would make the perfect template for an effects laden guitar. 

What inspired you to begin and what inspires you continue?
The love of the music that guitars make and the mere thought of what they do can help people create amazing music.


How would you describe a BilT guitar to someone new to the brand?
These are the guys who can pull off anything you can think of to do to a guitar.

How is a BilT constructed from start to finish?
By hand. Period. 

BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups Electric Guitars / Solid Body

BilT Relevator LS Aged Ice Blue Metallic w/Mastery Vibrato/Bridge & Lollar Jazzmaster Pickups

$2,375.00
From Bilt:

Ok, Ok, the sheer number of knobs on the Relevator freaked you out. It’s all right, just get the Relevator LS (less stuff). Same body style sans effects, and for us it’s nice to get a break from wiring the full-on Relevator.

Serial #: 18517
Weight: 8lbs 2.8oz

Body: Alder, Arm & Belly contours
Neck: Light Roasted Maple, Medium "C"
Neck Finish: Nitro
Fingerboard: Bound Rosewood
Scale Length: 25.5”
Radius: 9.5”
Nut: Bone
Truss Rod: 2-Way
Inlays: Dot
Tuners: Kluson
Bridge: Mastery Vibrato
Pickguard: Parchment
Fretwire: Vintage Fender
Pickups: Lollar Jazzmaster
Case: TKL Hardshell Case
View details

What components, woods, customizations, model specifics, etc. make BilT guitars unique?
BilTs are made with several guiding principles. One of the most important aspects is player preference with regard to sound and feel, along with serviceability and repairability. They keep the long game in mind so as much music can be made as possible.

How long does it take to make a BilT, start to finish?
To turn around on an order is approximately 90 days but actual construction time is less than 2 weeks.

What inspires your creative process?
Diving into everything that has been done in the past and bringing elements of all of this history to their designs and capturing some of the more wackadoo ideas and putting them into a high quality playable guitar.

What is the spirit of BilT?
Get them what they want!

What is BilT’s mission?
Get them what they need!

Where does BilT go from here?
We’re going to go into the future wrangling, tweaking, experimenting with guitars so that we can enjoy what all the BilT players do with them. 

What kind of guitar player doesn’t like wrangling, tweaking, and experimenting? That‘s what it’s all about, and you want BilT to be the ones to do it. Many of us here at CME own BilTs personally, and with the kind of guitars we’re surrounded by everyday that’s saying something.

Call, click, or stop in today to check out our extensive selection of Tim and Bill’s work. Wrangle, tweak, and experiment with one in our live rooms or check out our video demos to see just what a BilT can do. They are what you want. They are what you need. Call us to discuss Bilt Guitars!

SHOP BILT GUITARS

BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020 Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow

BilT SS Zaftig w/Sustainiac Blue 2020

$2,295.00
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow
BilT S.S. Zaftig Red Electric Guitars / Semi-Hollow

BilT S.S. Zaftig Red

$2,500.00
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body

BilT Relevator LS Eggplant Sparkle LEFTY

$2,370.00
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body
BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle  LEFTY Electric Guitars / Solid Body

BilT Relevator Blue Sparkle LEFTY

$2,575.00

Related Posts

Antelope Audio | CME Exclusive Interface Plugin Promo

Antelope Audio | CME Exclusive Interface Plugin Promo

As part of Chicago Music Exchange's ongoing partnership with Antelope Audio, we’ve partnered up to offer CME’s six-string devotees three FREE quintessential guitar effects plugins—including the Memory Cat Brigade Bucket Brigade Delay,...

Read more
Earthquaker Devices | CME Exclusive One-Of-A-Kind Series

Earthquaker Devices | CME Exclusive One-Of-A-Kind Series

Chicago Music Exchange has started up an exclusive partnership with EarthQuaker Devices to offer our customers unique, one-off editions of some of the most popular EarthQuaker Devices pedals! Check out our entire offering...

Read more
Taylor Custom Guitars At CME

Taylor Custom Guitars At CME

As a Taylor GuitarsCustom dealer, Chicago Music Exchange will work with you to help you choose from an assortment of Taylor’s finest tonewoods—including non-standard species and premium grades—as well as...

Read more