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.
An instrument bound with plastic will have a different character than a wood bound model. In plastic, a Grained Ivoroid will impart a vintage feel to a guitar as opposed to the more modern look of white or black plastic. On the wood side, Maple will give nice contrast against a darker back and sides while Rosewood bindings will give a darker, more conservative look. My maple bound models utilize Flamed or Curly Maple to add yet another visual dimension.
Generally, the choices are Spruce or Cedar. Spruce can range in shade from light tan to white, depending on the species while Cedar is usually darker. As well, they each have a different tone so the sound as well as the look has to be taken into consideration when designing an instrument. A Spruce top can be shaded to impart a different effect for those who don’t like a white top. This is commonly done on Classical models.
The choices here are pointed (Florentine) or rounded (Venetian). It’s amazing how the look of a guitar can be altered by using a different cutaway shape. Some builders opt for one style only while others offer both. I fall into the latter category but have found myself moving away from the Florentine in favour of the Venetion.
This technique is often used on tops but can also be used to great effect on Maple guitars where the possibilities are almost limitless. Some makers like to darken their Mahogany necks (I wonder how many people out there think that Mahogany is really dark brown!) Another use of shading is to spray a light yellow coat to the whole instrument to impart an aged look.
Thank goodness this area is finally opening up. When I started in the 70’s, the accepted choices were Rosewood, Maple or Mahogany! Due in part to the scarcity of traditional tonewoods, alternatives have become increasingly popular. I’ve always believed that excellent instruments could be built with a wide range of tonewoods. Not only do these alternatives each have their own distinctive sound, but the visual possibilities are exciting as well.
Inlaying an instrument with various types of shell as well as other materials can transform an otherwise plain guitar into a dazzling visual display, limited only by the taste (or sometimes lack of it!) of the customer and the abilities of the builder.
There are other ways in which to change the character of an instrument such as the use of a clear tap plate in place of the traditional teardrop pickguard. Opting for one or the other here can change the whole look of the guitar. Some players even opt for no pickguard at all but this is best only on Classical models or where the player doesn’t strike the top at all. Finally, using a slotted headstock in place of a solid one can be very effective on certain models. I like to use these on traditional looking instruments.
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.
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.
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.
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.