The building of musical instruments is an ancient and venerable art, as old as civilization itself. The craftsman develops intimacy with the materials, familiarity with the music and the musician, and blends innovation and tradition in a creation that enables the fullest possible expression of the performing artist. The “modern” guitar is one of the more recent additions to the vast array of instruments, but still has a long history of tradition, experimentation, and adaptation to the changing demands of music and performers
In 1971 I had my first encounter with “ a really good” classical guitar. Remarkably, this was a pre-war Hermann Hauser, in a local (but very good) repair shop. It was so amazingly different than anything I had previously experienced (and so out of my price range!) that within two years I was embarked on what has become a long journey toward building guitars that have the same “wow” factor as that fine guitar. This has been mostly a part-time effort, sandwiched in between demands of work and family. Over the last 6 years, with more time available, I have been able to do more building. I have also taken apart and repaired or rebuilt several of my earlier instruments. Techniques and information acquired from this process have greatly enhanced the sound and playability of my guitars. Now retired from my “day job,” I have a number of instruments from the last 14 years for sale, and am prepared to take orders.
The opportunity to create something as wonderful as a guitar, and to do so with some of the most beautiful woods imaginable, has always seemed to be a real privilege. It also allows for a dialogue between builder and player. The musical and physical demands of individual players varies. The custom builder has the opportunity to address these needs with changes in woods, dimensions, and bracing to achieve both sound and fit for the customer.
I am pleased to use some old construction techniques--like handscrapers for flattening sides, trimming binding and shaping the neck, and rope to clamp backs, purflings, and bindings. Some of my chisels and planes come from my grandfather’s father. These are supplemented by standard modern shop tools. Several specialized tools were made here in the shop, as well. The connection to past builders and their methods, and the hands-on intimacy of working with the wood--carving, shaping, bending sides, fitting and trimming bracing while flexing and listening to the top--all of this gives me a satisfaction that is difficult to convey. And then when the guitar is finished and strung up and played...!
The woods we use are precious, and the builders I know are very conscious of the importance of rainforest and temperate alpine forest sustainability. Some traditional woods I do not have available--like Brazilian rosewood. It may take centuries for recovery of this species, if it is not already too late--though some luthiers still have old stores of this wood. But there are many wonderful alternatives (and some well-known players and builders are on record for preferring the sound of cypress back and sides over that of Brazilian rosewood.)
I have top wood of Englemann spruce, some alpine spruce (from Germany, Switzerland, or Italy), Sitka spruce, Adirondack Red spruce (for 6-string steel guitars), some redwood, and lots of western red cedar (great for 12-string as well as classical guitars). I make almost all of my necks from either Honduras mahogany or Spanish cedar. Back/sides are available in Indian rosewood, Southeast Asian rosewood, Honduras rosewood, Cocobolo, Bloodwood, Padouk, Goncalo alves, Grenadillo, Morado, Monterey and Canadian cypress, American walnut. Other woods can be obtained sometimes from the luthier supply houses. I am checking on a local source for flamed maple, but if I obtain this, it will need to dry for a couple of years before use. I make most fretboards from ebony, but some from cocobolo or other rosewoods. My necks are usually made Spanish-style, with the sides slotted into the heel. I split the neck blank and reverse one piece, so the neck naturally resists warping, then laminate additional hardwood between the two halves for ultimate stability--these necks don’t go anywhere! Even on the 12-strings, I do not use a truss rod.