Monthly Archives: February 2018

  • The Random Musings of an Acoustic Guitar Lover - episode 1

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    An opinion piece - feel feel to dispute.
    What to write about first?
     
    Well that’s a tough one as I always have a lot on my mind. Just ask my partner! She is continually frustrated that I 'hear' but don't 'listen' to what she says. But she doesn’t appreciate how much thought it takes to be a guitar player: What shall I buy next? What shall I let go? How do I hide all traces of how much this one cost? Family holiday or a new OM?.... It’s a full-time preoccupation.
     
    I think I’ll kick off with personality….luthier personality that is, not mine and I’ll start with a basic statement: handmade guitars have more personality than production-line guitars!
     
    Contentious? Well....I agree that someone will have designed the production-line guitar, decided on types of wood, bracing, string gauges, tuners and so on. What personality there is at that stage, however, then gets watered down by accountants/business managers and the profit needs of the business: What’s the cheapest we can get the mahogany? Let’s go with exactly the same bracing on every guitar. What's the maximum build time per guitar that we can afford? How many can we make in a day? Our buyers don’t mind that we consider them as a demographic not as individuals. Let’s pick a uniform selling price. And more….
     
    Compare that to a typical North American/Canadian luthier that TAMCO represents. He or she will probably already have tucked away, great sets of wood that are decades old and that they have kept aside for the right build. If they don’t have the right wood for your build, they’ll go and get it. These sets are almost certainly more special and unique (and yes more expensive) than you’ll find in a global brand that churns out 500+ guitars each day.
     
    Then there’s the chance for a buyer to commission a build and to have direct communication with the luthier, allowing the buyer to state their preferences and to tell the luthier about themselves and their playing style.
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    For me, however, the single most important part of the building process and which decides its personality and demonstrates that of the luthier is…..
     
    Bracing! 
     
    If you’re lucky, you’ll own a guitar that has a top that spent considerable time being held up to the luthier’s ear and tapped (the top not the ear!)….a minute slice of wood is then removed from a brace….the top tapped again….another razor sharp chisel deftly guided to shave another tiny sliver of timber….and so it goes until the luthier is convinced that the top's potential has been realised. Note that the luthier decides this not the buyer. I don't think that the buyer will be allowed in the workshop at this point.
     
    For me, this is where the personality is. I’ve heard maple guitars that sound big and fat. I’ve heard mahogany guitars that sound bright and thin. I’ve heard parlours that ring for days and that could be your one-does-it-all solution (and no I would never tell my partner that nor should you). I’ve heard guitars that are so quiet that you could play them in bed without waking your bedfellow. This is the bracing effect; how much or how little does the bracing allow the top to do it's important vibrating thing.
     
    Apprentices will confirm that tap tuning is taught and learned, but I believe that the truly gifted luthiers, the ones whose brilliance and consistency I admire, have an innate ability that raises them above the ‘very good’ luthiers.
     
    I won’t name names but I am thrilled to own two guitars by two of the ‘special ones’. I can’t afford the guitars of another two that I admire. One of those made a Koa guitar that I played a few weeks ago that made me intensely emotional and it has set an unattainable benchmark against which whatever I play in the future will be compared…a bit sad that! I have also spent considerable time with guitars by luthiers whose place in luthiery legend is already cemented and yet I really don’t like their work at all.
     
    This is both the beauty and the dilemma of having a handmade guitar. You can choose a luthier with an incredible reputation, you can be excited by the choice of timbers and specifications, you might even be reassured by the 2nd mortgage you’ve taken on to pay for it BUT you won’t know if it floats your happiness boat until it arrives….your boat might spring a leak.
     
    For this reason I have only ever commissioned one guitar. It was lovely and I kept it for 30 years and learned my craft on it….thank you Kinkade in Bristol.
     
    These days though, I prefer to purchase those handmade guitars that weren’t loved enough by previous owners. I on the other hand, love these guitars, I love the luthiers' personalities; my happiness boat doesn’t leak. 
     
     
    Afterthoughts
    • I have played and owned very good factory produced acoustic guitars and I appreciate that many people do not have the finances to even start to consider handmade. I still own a mass-production parlour and I like it very much, it just wouldn’t be the guitar I’d rescue in a fire.

     

     
    • To imagine that a few thousand tops will each reach their potential with an identical set of braces.....that's takes great imagination.

     

     
    • I do not aim to discourage players from commissioning their own builds. It's just that am not a risk-taker, preferring certainty, though that of course means there is less excitement in the building of my collection (I don't do rollercoasters either).

     

     
    • Buyers will happily spend £2,500 to £3,500 on a factory made hand finished acoustic, when that money puts them into 'used' handmade territory.

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