As with many other design features on my guitars, the soundhole inlay has gone through a series of transformations over the years.
My first few instruments had a simple ring of alternating dark & light wooden strips. This was simple to execute and served the purpose and my somewhat limited skills at the time.
As stated elsewhere, when I started in the mid 1970's a major influence was the guitars of Jean Larrivee, and a feature that set his instruments apart was his use of a classical style rosette around the soundhole. Since this appealed to me, I set about learning to make and inlay a mosaic design of my own - (see photo below). Most of my guitars built between the late 70's and the early 90's had this type of soundhole design.
Gradually I decided that a change was in order. At first I switched my steel string models (more on this later) but kept making rosettes for my classicals. It soon became obvious though, that the considerable amount of work involved in making mosaic inlays didn’t make sense considering the number of instruments involved, and I eventually changed to bought rosettes for my classical models. But back to the steel string models. At this time I decided that I preferred the somewhat conservative look of the traditional three line Martin style inlay. There is something timelessly classic about that look, so I changed direction and with minor variations, used this style through the 90's. (see photo below)
Though fairly satisfied, I eventually found that for my headstock shape and bridge design, as well as the soundhole, I really needed something more personal. These changes began a number of years ago with my headstock design, followed by the bridge and finally, in the past year the soundhole.
In redesigning the soundhole, I wanted something attractive and, to some extent unique. In addition, I hoped to incorporate at least some natural colour, having always felt the traditional white/black soundhole somewhat stark looking. I’m glad to say that the new soundhole design achieves these goals successfully.
The concept incorporates a two line pattern and utilizes either the wood of the back and sides or a complimentary wood to great effect. One final benefit of this change is that I can now use one design on my classicals as well as my steel strings, something I’ve wanted for a long time.
After thinking about it for quite some time, I have finally started to offer, in addition to my normal inlayed woods, various types of burled and spalted soundhole inlays. The beauty of these inlays is that each one is quite unique, being an abnormal growth on the side of the tree (burled) or the spread of a fungus after the tree has died (spalted). The two soundholes pictured are just a start and I will be constantly looking for striking examples of these beautiful woods.
From the first time I saw Bocote wood I was struck by it’s rich beauty. I find the colours both warm and brilliant. The contrast of the golden amber and the darker grain lines was beautifully striking.
Like many guitar makers, I am always on the lookout for beautiful or unique tonewoods. While visiting one of my favourite wood shops a while back I came across some stunning Flamed Granadillo. This wood was incredible with an amazing curly figure throughout combined with a contrasting figured white sapwood along the edge.
2 1/2 years ago Don Ross approached me asking if I would consider taking on a Harp Guitar project. Though my first inclination was to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction, I soon warmed up to the idea and was pretty excited about the challenge involved.
I've seen a lot of changes in the guitar making world since building my first instrument back in 1974. At that time there were no personal computers and the idea of a world wide web would have sounded not only amazing but the stuff of science fiction. When I started out there were only a handful of books on the subject and these were not easy to find. I did devour the few that I came across and this, besides meeting Jean Larrivee in 1975, was the extent of my access to established knowledge on the subject. I learned by studying quality instruments but mostly by trial and error.
I find myself building and promoting, or is that promoting and building more maple guitars recently. I’ve really come to love this wood in its many figured varieties. Flamed or curly maple, birdseye and quilted maple all have their own unique visual characteristics. It took me a long time to warm up to the idea of maple as a guitar wood, but now I really enjoy working with it. I guess in the early days, you could say I was a bit of a purist, using only Mahogany and Rosewood.
One of the attractions of guitar building for me is the ability to create a wide range of guitars starting with one basic model. Even small detail changes can greatly alter the character of an instrument. In this talk, I’d like to show you what I mean.
As I touched on in an earlier guitar talk things have changed greatly in the realm of guitar wood choices. Not so long ago, an instrument made with a non traditional wood (something other than Rosewood, Mahogany or Maple) on the back & sides of a guitar was a rare sight.
When I started building guitars in 1974, I assumed that, given a few years of experience, I’d pretty much figure out the secrets of guitar making. It didn’t take long to realize how naive this assumption was, but by then I was hooked and it was too late to turn back.
When I built my first guitar in1974 which, incidentally, I still have, I was under no illusions as to the quality of the finished product. In fact, I used an old set of Kluson tuners salvaged from a Gibson I had owned, thinking that I wanted to improve my skills before spending hard earned money on new machine heads.