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 like to say that I've made every mistake possible at least once. I also like to say that making the same mistake more than once is not a good thing! Learning this way can be painful but I've always felt that by approaching the learning process in this way you not only learn a positive way to build but more importantly whit's done this way. The knowledge base is deepened past merely doing things because someone else has done it before.
From day one I have been a one person shop, also known as a solo builder. This was a personal choice and has worked out best for me. I realize that there are more than a few established builders who always work with assistants or apprentices and I respect that approach though this approach never felt like a good fit for me. I have always felt that I wanted to be 100% responsible for both the good and the bad (hopefully not much of the latter!). When a customer orders one of my guitars he or she knows that it is built entirely by me with no outside help. This brings me to another point. In the current world of guitar making there is extensive use of CNC technology to make guitar parts on computer assisted routing machines. The upside of this is that highly accurate parts can be made by almost anyone but this also leads to another thought. In some cases the skills may be more in the programming of the CNC than in the traditional woodworking skills of guitar making. I for one love the traditions of my craft and still find great satisfaction in pushing the limits of my knowledge and skills. As of now my only use of a CNC is to have my B and Beneteau logos made by an outside company, very ably by the talented Mark Kett, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. To be clear I have utmost respect for builders who have learned the craft the traditional way and have now decided to branch into using a CNC. They've payed their dues and have the depth of knowledge to back it up.
It's extremely rewarding to know that I get as much of a thrill out of guitar building today as I did when I started out. I think the reason for this is that our craft is so deep and encompasses so many skill sets that we can never master it. There is always much more to learn and what in life can be better than that? This is what keeps me motivated and excited. Not a week goes by that I don't learn something to add to my knowledge base. I have never lost sight of the fact that I am truly blessed to be doing something for a living that I would gladly pursue as a hobby.
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 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.
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.