Meet Luthier Darko Gagi Milojević of Leo Guitars. Gagi is quickly making a name for himself; this year he caught the eye of Master Luthier Juha Ruokangas at the Musikmesse show and was invited on the spot to the upcoming, “Holy Grail Guitar Show.”
Being a self-taught luthier has allowed him to think outside the box, thereby bringing certain innovations such as a camel bone nut, single bar double action truss rod—that the machines himself—and a headstock design that reduces friction and delivers better intonation.
My advice: keep the name, Leo Guitars on your to-do list when you are looking to purchase a new guitar; from what we see thus far, the Leo Guitar line is a guitarist’s best friend—easy to play, ergonomically sound, and handmade.
Guitar Connoisseur: So let’s start with the company name “Leo Guitars,” I think we all get the reference, why use this name?
Darko Gagi Milojević: Since my real name does not sound that fancy and international, it was clear that I have to use another company name. Leo is my zodiac sign and it feels just right—I love it.
GC: How similar to Leo Fender’s guitars are yours?
DGM: There are some similarities in design, just as 60% of all guitars today, since a lot is based on Leo Fender’s inventions and design, but when it comes to the craftsmanship, construction, the way I approach things, building techniques, time, the love and passion I put in it…there are no similarities at all. You cannot compare a handcrafted master instrument made by the owner and founder of a small company, standing behind every instrument, to mass produced guitars made by automatic and CNC machine operators—so, absolutely not similar at all.
GC: What kind of innovations is Leo Guitars using?
DGM: I like vintage guitars, so in some ways, my guitars are very traditional. My guitars don’t have some weird looking innovations or constructions, but there are many improvements as the single bar double action truss rod that I machine by myself, some very specific glues that I use, and nut material (camel bone), and many other constructional improvements. You will not see an overhanging fretboard because of the 22 frets on a Leo Guitar, for example. But it is the craftsmanship—the whole package—rather than a few visible innovations.
GC: As I understand it, you are a self-trained luthier correct?
GC: Thinking back to when you first started and being self-trained, what did you do to make sure the quality was where it needed to be; what did you use as a basis for comparison between a good guitar and a bad guitar?
DGM: Well I was already playing guitar for 15 years before I started building guitars. If it’s resonant and sounds right, sustains and stays in tune, it’s a good guitar.
GC: What are some of the advantages of being self-taught; do you think this gives you an edge over other luthiers who received proper training?
DGM: As a self-taught luthier you approach things fully free minded—you are questioning what works and sounds best on your own rather than building it how someone trained you. But on the other side, when you received proper training many things you don’t have to learn the hard way…
GC: How many models do Leo Guitars offer; can you walk us through the specifics of each one?
Note: Leo Guitars has expanded it’s line of musical instruments as this interviewed was conducted in 2013
DGM: I got three guitar and two bass models. There are many custom options available, even set neck or bolt on as all the standard options: MVP a modern carve top, set neck guitar with 25″ scale; LEO a traditional body shape, also carve top, bolt-on neck, 25.5″ scale; DILLINGER is a telly based guitar, mostly rosewood neck, 25.5″ scale; also there is the LIBRA bass and LIBRA UNICORN bass that I mainly build for exhibition and to order.
GC: What do you think about the whole boutique scene, you know, buying a guitar that cost as much as a car? Is it worth it in your opinion?
DGM: I like it, you can see some magnificent stuff, and it’s very inspiring even beyond guitars and lutherie; a lot of hard work involved, talent, knowledge, and experience. I think the guitars are worth every cent.
GC: What do Leo guitars bring to the boutique market?
DGM: Meticulously handmade instruments, original designs and ideas, and highest quality—all made to players’ specs.
GC: What are some of your favorite materials and why?
DGM: As I said before, I love vintage guitars, so my wood choice is very traditional: mahogany, maple, alder, ash, Indian rosewood, ebony, and Brazilian rosewood—also, some more or less exotic woods every now and then.
GC: What contemporary luthiers out there do you like, if any, and why?
DGM: There are a lot of luthiers that I like and who inspire me; some of them are: Michael Tobias, John Suhr, Vincent Fodera, the two guys from Tao Guitars—when you see how they do the wiring and pots polishing, it’s like a dessert from a five star chef cook—and Juha Roukangas—he mastered marketing and everything around the guitar. Basically, every honest luthier that feels driven to do it, just like I do.
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