Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2012 Grand Legacy Double Top for Sale

2012 Grand Legacy Double Top For Sale

This is a new guitar which rarely comes available from me.  I do however plan to begin offering guitars in inventory as I do with my Conservatory model.

This particular guitar is unique for me as I am again experimenting with the Bouchet bracing that I first began with 13 years ago.  This bracing seems to give a very strong bass side with a lot of focus.  I suspect that the guitar will mellow out into a very big sound as is typical.  The Spruce double top is of Swiss Euro and the East Indian back and sides are from my 15 year old stock of master grade wood.  As a new guitar the sound is a bit young but still quite powerful and interesting to play.

The Front Range Rosette is in Belizian Rosewood burl with new shop made traditional grain of wheat purflings in Austrian Curly Maple.  The guitar has all the "right stuff" with low profile elevated neck, acoustic port and 12 hole bridge.  In addition the guitar can be outfitted as shown with custom Rodgers tuners or any of your choice.

All in all a handsome, contemporary instrument with  traditional features blended with a powerful sound for any musical style.  A true concert quality instrument that will please in your own home studio.

Price - $6950 plus Shipping and applicable taxes if any

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What are the important factors in guitar power and tone?

I suppose all luthiers think about this question constantly in their career. Here is my list:

1.)  Having and properly selecting high quality wood that has been properly seasoned.  This is often where intuition and/or technology can make a difference in meeting the tonal objectives of the player.  I tend to use my experience in an intuitive way but I do value technical testing of my woods.

2.)  The design selected for the guitar whether it be a Torres-Hauser, double top or lattice sets the luthier out on very different process journeys in the shop.  Of course most of us specialize in one school or another and this makes all the difference in the final outcome.  Every luthier and every guitarist have ideas as to preferences and there are many details that can make or break the ability of the guitar to perform as hoped.

3.) - Joinery is a term I'll use here to describe the process of properly milling, and mating the guitar component surfaces with adhesive/glue.  This involves preparing the surfaces to finely judged measurements and then gluing and clamping in the best manner possible.  This is a complex effort and it is easy to effect power and tone in a negative way if not accomplished correctly.  Just as an example I believe that the decorative elements such as purflings and bindings can have quite an impact and is a reason why I prefer to keep these features simple and hopefully elegant.

4.) - How the guitar is set up has a lot to do with how the guitar plays but also how it produces volume and tone.  An improperly shaped string ramp in a nut can make a miserable sound while a high fret or poor intonation just adds to the impression that an otherwise excellent guitar makes for the guitarist.  At my last count there were over two dozen string makers each offering several varieties of types and tensions.  Finding the "right" string type often is a matter of finding what the guitar and the guitarist is happy with and has a fair amount to do with a satisfying instrument.

5.) - All that said I find that a guitar can sound very different from day to day and I don't know if it's my hearing, the environment or the guitar.  I have learned to not make judgements in one sitting about the quality of a guitar.  This is a luxury afforded by having the guitar in my studio for a period of time and one important to consider when you only have one opportunity to test an instrument. 

In this category I would comment on the age of a guitar.  Since I am a guitar maker I am used to hearing a brand new instrument on the day it was first strung up and comparing it over the next several days as it accepts string tension and understands that it is a guitar so to speak.  Also I often get to hear my guitars as they play in over a period of years.  I can testify that a strongly played instrument that is several years old is a far better example than when it is new.

Finally, there is the environment the guitar is played in and whether you're the listener or the player.  These are important considerations and well beyond the scope of these brief comments but I'll close by saying that a guitar that projects it's sound out to the audience might indeed sound pretty modest to the player sitting behind the instrument.  In order to judge the power and tone of the individual instrument you may wish to evaluate it both as a player and by listening to it out front in various environments.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tradtional or Modern Sound?

Traditional sound: Mellow, Introspective; Boxy; modest power and a pleasure to play because of it's intimacy.  Good color possibilities; A solid top that has played into maturity; just a fine sound for most settings; Usually a perfect guitar for recording; Sometimes a weak treble "E" string above 7th fret.

Modern Sound: Powerful, Resonant; sometimes very sustaining; Clear; broad capabilities for playing many music styles; brilliant trebles above 12th fret; sometimes too bright when young; focused basses; Ideal for projecting sound in concert or Gig settings.

So are these accurate descriptions? They certainly can be but often an individual guitar will have many overlapping characteristics regardless of it's definition as traditional or modern. 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

2009 Reynolds Conservatory

2009 Reynolds Conservatory - East Indian Rosewood with Euro Spruce top - $3200

Please see my models section for a full description of this guitar.  This is the first Conservatory and has been sitting in my studio since last year waiting for my new web site to announce the model.  A very good sound (perhaps a little too good!) as the basses have a lot of appeal and the treble side really works well with good separation and sustain.  There are no weak or problem notes to break in.  This guitar is ready for immediate shipment.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Which Luthier? Which Guitar??

If you're like me you enjoy pointing the browser at various websites describing classical guitars and guitarists playing them.  Which one has the best sound, who has something new and innovative?  The addition of YouTube has spawned all sorts of sampling experiences so luthiers and dealers have learned to tempt guitarists using that medium.  Alternatively there are many debates on the forums as to the "best" guitar based on commercial recordings.

My view possibly is like yours where I feel like the web videos almost always do a disservice to the luthier and player alike because of poor video and audio quality.  In contrast commercial recordings are also a poor way to evaluate a guitar sound because of the studio recording effects usually alter the instrument's natural tone.  I can defend the guitarist who makes a recording with studio editing because their principle objective is to present the music in the best way possible to the listener.  Accuracy of guitar sound isn't and shouldn't be a high priority.  In my experience when a guitar maker goes into the studio he is literally directing the electronic virtual sound of his instrument and the temptations to juice up the recording are hard to resist.

As a luthier, I like my fellow craftsmen and women, want to present the web viewer with information about my instruments.   The web is a great way to present a guitarmaker's craft allowing people around the world exposure to descriptive text and pictures.  The rate at which guitarmakers have learned from each other has resulted in quite an advancement in the craft.  Guitarists learn from the luthier's website and similarly have educated themselves to the pros and cons of various design approaches advocated by guitarmakers.

Isn't this a good thing?  Maybe, but it also leads to information overload and an escalating hyperbole amongst the participants.  It has become quite a contest of words and the reality of selecting a guitar properly can get pretty muddled amidst the opinions and claims that abound.  I know as a luthier the temptation is to believe my own descriptors and I have to be wary of this.  Every guitar I build is not going to make every guitarist happy nor necessarily be the best for all types of music.

That said I try to specialize in building a client's guitar to his or her needs.  This means that I need to do my job carefully when discussing tone descriptors and musical preferences.  It isn't easy!  As this is written I am entering into my tenth year of making double top guitars and I really do think this soundboard development greatly improves note production consistency with natural tone across the fingerboard.  However for some clients they are going to prefer the subtle tonal differences found in a traditional solid top guitar.  Moreover they may want a very traditional "Spanish" sound vs the piano-like sound of my Concert Grand guitar with it's very non-traditional construction and bracing.  I enjoy making traditional guitars and my website features several Homage guitars including a Santos style Flamenco and a Torres bench copy.

So just to circle back to the original thought of how to go about selecting the luthier-built guitar that will be a great musical partner for you?  Given the dizzying information overload out on the web I would organize your own thoughts and requirements while trying to shut out the opinions of all the "gearheads" out there.  I would visit with the luthiers that appeal to you to see if they can make the guitar you want or are they going to produce their "signature" guitar thereby requiring you to adapt to whatever that may be.  To be sure all luthiers are in business of doing a good job for their clients.  Just be sure that you know what you want and can describe it and that will go a long way toward finding your great guitar.  Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Evaluating a Guitar in Tone Production Qualities

The following lists the character of guitar tone production as I deal with them from a luthier’s standpoint. To evolved players there are other subtle issues that only they can evaluate individually and that I can only respond to on a case-by-case basis. Examples of this are responsiveness of vibrato; hard or soft action, timbre of a string going up the fingerboard, et cetera.

Articulation - Note consistency fret-to-fret and string-to-string, balance and intonation are all features of articulation as I define the term. If you listen carefully to a plucked note’s overtones as it decays, you can often hear weak notes where the note is formed but is lower in volume than it’s neighbor and of less sustain. Wolf notes are notes that are very loud and have little or no sustain. These articulation issues often are cured as the guitar ages but not always. They are also features of very resonant powerful guitars. One has to make the decision as to whether it is worthwhile living with those problems if the guitar is of exceptional quality otherwise. I would be careful of this, as I have seen some players become so obsessively focused on the fault that they have to sell the instrument. It is possible for a luthier to correct or reduce these note problems if only to move the problem note to one that appears less in music.

Intonation problems can spoil how we relate to guitar sound without us even being aware of it. A luthier can sweeten a guitar considerably just by refining the intonation to seemingly minor degrees. It is beyond the scope of this paper to explain what intonation is but suffice it to say that individuals react to note pitch accuracy either not at all or with excessive sensitivity. If intonation bothers you on most guitars, put yourself in the hands of a very good luthier and don’t change guitars or string types very often.

Balance refers to how well the bass, mid-range and treble voices blend with each other during passages in music that pass through those voices. A guitar with a strong bass and treble but with a weak mid-range can be destructive to the interpretive objectives of the guitarist. To what degree the player can evaluate this feature is highly individual and is likely best listened to while playing set pieces in context rather than scales. Correcting a mature guitar with poor balance is a difficult job and usually involves adding or subtracting density and stiffness from areas of the top or back. One would be better advised to move on to a different instrument.

As a general comment I observe guitarists listening closely to a specific note and playing it over and over in isolation with the exclamation “Do you hear that?” When they would be better served listening to potential problems in musical context. Remember that the guitar strings are normally always ringing sympathetically from previous notes and that is how almost all tone production is experienced. To isolate a note by dampening other strings is inappropriate and an inaccurate diagnostic procedure except for the luthier troubleshooting an issue.

Separation/Responsiveness - Ability of inner voices to support contrapuntal work. Alternatively, it can mean how quickly tones are produced and projected. This feature in a guitar voice is often appreciated in music that is fast moving with a lot of notes where the player wants little or no competition with associated tones. Flamenco music would be at one end of the response/separation curve while Romantic classical music could be thought of as wanting long held notes with vibrato and sustain for example. More players are sensitive to this voice feature than they themselves know and I believe that highly responsive guitars make for a lively playing style with a lot of feedback. This category can only be deduced by playing passages of music where one can expect familiar behavior from the instrument. If it’s not there in the way the player wants or needs then it isn’t ever apt to develop in that individual guitar.

Sustain/Resonance - I suspect that while sustain is on every guitarist’s list of important instrument virtues it can really only be evaluated in conjunction with separation and responsiveness as described above. This is because long sustaining, resonant guitars are at odds structurally with the features that allow responsiveness. Sustain usually need stiffness and mass, which takes longer to develop while responsiveness requires less of those things. Sustain and responsiveness then become a balanced compromise and this is where I spend a bit of time with a client to try and make sure the guitar will satisfy the needs of the music being played. To be sure certain woods such as Brazilian Rosewood are capable of differing sonic behavior than say East Indian Rosewood and this knowledge becomes the luthier’s friend when selecting woods to suit a purpose. For example think of the vibrato. Guitarists begin a vibrato and have to get on it right away before the natural sustain decays away to nothing. An instrument with power and sustain will allow the guitarist to bring in the vibrato slowly and still have something left to be effective.

Sonority - In an overall sense often described as from warm to brilliant the way I position the term. E.g. Cedar is often thought of as warm and Spruce as bright or (ideally) brilliant. Since this is a highly subjective judgment, there is no right or wrong. If you think the guitar is warm and that’s what you want then you are going to be very happy.

Timbre - Subtle qualities of note character in the guitar voice. This is where the colorful wine connoisseur-like vocabulary occurs. E.g. “That guitar has chocolate basses” Surprisingly, I find that players can communicate quite well with these creative terms and if I cannot drift into being too analytical they are helpful and fun.

Power/ Dynamic Range- These are two related features of the guitar. Power is usually thought of as loudness or the ability to be heard at some distance. This is important for the professional player and should be almost a non-issue to 95% of all the rest of us. However there is something in human nature that values the loud guitar and no matter what anyone says it is the more powerful guitar that gets played. Luthiers and guitarists alike play word games with this descriptor and I’ll just make a few contentious generalizations:

A player should make choices regarding how powerful a guitar they want. If they play for their own enjoyment, choose the guitar that among other things sounds as powerful as is desired.

If you play out in un-amplified settings, choose the guitar that projects. For this you will need help from another player…..in other words get out in front of the guitar and listen to it from an audience perspective. I seldom see professionals paying enough attention to projection.

Cedar guitars often keep their sound around the player in an intimate manner while Spruce guitars brightly project their sound away. This causes many to believe that the Cedar guitar is louder. Having worked with concert guitarists as a concert manager, I believe that all other things being equal, Spruce guitars are heard better by most of the audience and they have much more color to boot.

Some guitars are a pleasure to play behind and some are not. Guitarists playing for their own enjoyment will enjoy a guitar more if they can hear it very well. One that gives them tactile or vibratory feedback while playing is also of value.

Some guitars that are superior concert instruments are less enjoyable to play behind because they project their sound forward so effectively. Many Lattice- braced Australian School guitars are examples of this type of instrument.

A Spruce guitar tends to provide those “singing trebles” more so than Cedar. Those singing trebles can be heard by the audience.

A Cedar guitar tends to deliver a big, warm bass to the player. Those big basses aren’t heard as well by the audience.

Dynamic Range as I define it is the usable range between low and high volume. For some guitars this span is small and there isn’t a lot of difference between normal playing volume and the loudest possible volume. This is the historical nature of the classical guitar. Guitarists over time haven’t had enough range of power available to them to take advantage of any interpretive possibilities offered by some other instruments. I believe that many contemporary makers are exploring the search for power for these purposes while retaining the basic quality of sound so revered in our instrument. In evaluating this quality in a guitar one will need help from another player and hopefully a player capable of exercising the instrument properly. It is very difficult to come to conclusion on several of the qualities detailed above by yourself

Color – The ability to provide effective tone variation for interpretive purposes is a natural virtue of the classical guitar. To be frank, I’m not so sure this is a very controllable factor by the luthier in traditional guitars and I suspect it is more a player skill than anything. Jonathan Leathwood while playing one of my Double Top guitars was searching for a certain color and it took some time. Eventually he did find the area on the guitar just “not where I was expecting it to be” I do know that when I go to our local classical guitar meeting, I always look for a certain player to demo the guitar as I know he can get great tone with a lot of color variation. In summary I believe that similar colors are available on every guitar but perhaps not in the same place or with the same stroke.

String Effects - Type and health of strings effect tone production. From the condition of the strings on guitars coming through my shop it appears that players aren’t sensitive to the terrific effect that strings have on tone production. The same can be said for dealers and retail stores for that matter. My own guitar instructor is pretty thorough in this regard and he will search for many months to find the right string for a new instrument while I have had other clients specify a certain string that the guitar must conform to. Which is the right method I’ll leave to the reader but I will resist certain string brands that are well known for intonation problems.

Keeping the intonation in mind, know that some guitars will intonate properly with certain types of strings but not with others. Just be aware of the possibility that you may not care for a certain guitar, which could perform much more, to your liking with the proper strings. This is a major issue when doing comparison guitar shopping. It may be that you could simply be selecting the best set of strings in the shop rather than the best guitar.

Set-up – How the guitar is set-up can have great impact on the quality of sound. Action at the nut and/or saddle can cause tone degradation, as can ill-fitting nut or saddles and their respective string slot ramps. If you listen closely to the partials of a plucked note coming on after the fundamental, sometimes you can hear a whine or irregular tone. Some people can hear this while others can’t. As a luthier I have had to train myself to hunt for these rogue notes as it can make the difference between a good and great guitar. I would ask for a luthier to check out a guitar before investing in it especially if you like a guitar except for a couple of issues. It is possible that they can be remedied.


Selecting the best guitar is a subjective matter but this doesn’t mean that it is a job to be taken on by your lonesome. As mentioned several times above try to team up with another competent guitarist for testing projection, dynamic range, timbre and so on. If there is a luthier in your area contact him to see what services he might offer you in evaluating a prospective instrument. Certainly I would attempt to convince the guitar owner or dealer to allow you the opportunity to play the guitar in your own environment over a couple of days. As a minimum take your existing instrument along to compare with possible candidates. There is an appeal about a fine instrument and as you go about evaluating a number of guitars, one of them will eventually speak to you in irresistible terms. I just hope that before you surrender you will have worked your way through as many items on the above list as possible.

Classical Guitar Sound

It is a common thing to discuss a luthier's "sound" e.g. "Hauser's sound is always…” While it is true that most luthiers will produce a signature sound in their mature work, it isn't as safe to generalize these days because there are a lot of very talented guitarmakers producing a broad range of instruments. No longer can we characterize a guitar as coming from the "Madrid" or "Granada" schools just to name two. In truth there are probably any number of schools such as the Australian School, an American School, a European school and a Latin American School just to mention a few. Come to that, there are enough innovating luthiers in each area to bewilder any attempt at categorization.

Ok then, how about the hallowed "Torres-Hauser" tradition? I do agree that this "school" is somewhat helpful to describe some maker's style but in reality any luthier working with that model are doing their best to be differentiated from their seven fan strut brothers through quite variety of unique and personal refinements. It can be confusing.

If you try to relate to a "Fleta sound" or a "Romanillos sound", remember that most of the old masters guitars have been effectively removed from circulation as they exist for the most part in the hands of dealers or collectors where the prices make owning these guitars prohibitive but for the few. When it comes to valuing or studying the sound produced by a particular school or master luthier it has been reduced to so much historical mystique and hyperbole. Almost all professional guitarists are performing and recording on instruments made by contemporary builders. Some will say that the current crop of classical guitars lack the qualities of the old instruments but I think that isn't true especially when considering any character that can't be explained away by the notion of aged instruments sounding better because of age alone. It's so hard to build in 60 years worth of seasoning!

All that being said, some guitars are going to be better suited for some music types than others. A big warm, lush Cedar guitar probably isn't going to be the best guitar for pre-Romantic era music. Players who specialize in that music might prefer guitars with clarity, responsiveness and moderate sustain. Speaking as a luthier, I'm a firm believer that every guitarist should own several guitars to fit each musical period.

If you play out for audiences you might want to make sure your guitar has plenty of power so that you can compete in less than friendly environments where you're apt to be playing. If you play only in your own studio, how about a guitar that sounds great from behind the instrument since most of the time you're going to be the only listener? I have played guitars that would speak very well to an audience but sound terribly uneven to me the player.

I would recommend that any player searching for the fine instrument ignore romance and reputation and instead shop for sound and playability based on your personal evaluation not on dealer liner notes. Learn to discuss these issues technically with other players, dealers and luthiers without getting swayed by the romance. There are terrific guitars out there and you shouldn't have to go in debt to afford them.