My intention is to make guitars which exhibit as much variety of tonal colour as possible and still be attractive to the concert guitarist. For me the sound of an old Torres or Hernandez guitar, for example, is quintessential in terms of quality of sound. That sweet, rich timbre, with a wide range of tone and colour. I want to get as close to this sound as possible but at the same time retain some dynamic response and an evenness throughout the guitars range. It’s a balancing act really. I have incorporated a few additions to what is essentially a traditional (Torres) way of making, which I feel has helped me achieve this balance.

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In order to get close to the quality of sound I want, I build lightweight guitars. I prefer the feel when you pick them up and play them. The intimate connection with the vibrations. For me, the heavier, stiffly braced guitars don’t have this intimacy. More importantly, I want the guitar to move as much as possible. To me, more movement means more tone.

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Above is my system. Soundboards are 2mm thick on average, thicker under the bridge and thinning towards the edges. Lower bout struts are roughly 3mm high. The addition of cross braces in the lower bout, and shorter fan struts, generally make for a slightly stiffer lower bout than a traditional Torres system. This gives the guitar a slightly more even quality and a bit more dynamic range hopefully. More piano like.

Sides are generally 2mm thick, but thinner with denser wood like Honduras. Although I’ve considered stiff laminated sides, I want them to move and like to keep it simple. I use generous continuous linings which really stiffen things up. This, combined with the inherently stiff structure of curved sides, is sufficient for me.

The neck has an extended heal under the fingerboard for added support, as well as a piece of carbon fibre box section running through it under the finger board. I’ve been using neck cedar from Africa (plantation grown) which is the same species, but is lighter and slightly less stiff, hence the carbon.

My back design is relatively new. I explained about this in the “Latest Guitars” page on this site. Basically it adds structural strength without an increase of mass and emphasises the bass response by lowering the resonant frequencies of the guitar.

Bridges are now made of walnut for its lightness. 30% lighter than rosewood.

 

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My Laws of Guitar Making

 

I have four “laws”, or I could say “considerations” when I approach the making of a guitar. These have evolved over the years, and still are. They are basically my philosophy on creating a musical instrument. The important thing about these “laws” is the order they come in.  Like the “Laws of Robotics”,  the first is the one which you should consider foremost and is most important. The order of “considerations” must not be altered. Like the “Laws of Robotics”, they are all closely related. There are four.

1st Law.  Sound.

2nd Law.  Playability.

3rd Law.  Workmanship.

4th Law. The Look.

 

For me, the first thing to consider whilst making, is the sound of the guitar. Pretty obvious really. Everything you do will effect the sound of the finished instrument however small. You need to have an idea of the sound you want to create. This is often a difficult thing to imagine, and I’m sure all makers have at some point got stuck, not knowing what to do next. There are lots of different ways of making a good guitar. You have to follow your instincts and stick by them. Another aspect I think of came from Pepe Romero. He said the guitars he most liked were the ones that sounded different. That stood out from the rest. So it’s not all about making a better guitar, but one that has a unique quality. This is very important, I think, for me as a maker.

Second is the playability of the guitar. Making sure this is right so that the musician can make music as easily a possible. One thinks this is a relatively easy thing to do, but it’s not and has to be the second most important consideration. I have found that as the sound of my guitars has got better, the string action has got better, with less buzzing around those resonant frequencies etc. Break angles, string heights and tensions, frets, neck shape all have to be considered to back up first law. However good the sound is, if you struggle to play the guitar its not going to happen.

Third law “Workmanship” is all about longevity. You have achieved the sound you want, with a nice action, but then the guitar falls apart and it’s not a guitar anymore. Always be thinking of the structural integrity of the instrument. The method I use for constructing a guitar is free from any moulds or jigs, apart from a solera. I find moulds and clamps get in the way of my hands. Everything is glued in a controlled, unhurried way and nothing is forced. Bending sides by hand to just a line means that the guitars shape may be slightly asymmetrical. This is where beauty lies.

Lastly is the look of the instrument. For me a good looking guitar is one that you want to pick up and play. Pickupability. I like to keep things simple in terms of embellishment, for  the guitar has a natural inherent beauty. Making the guitar an homogeneous sum of its parts are key, and keeping things simple are a way of doing this. I spent what was my apprenticeship working with my dad. I learnt most by watching his hands as he worked. He said, “You must do it with panache”. The best way to explain “panache” is the balance between accuracy and precision, and slight imperfection. A spontaneity of action. I use mainly hand tools throughout my work, for this is the only way you can achieve this look.

 

I stick to these rules in this order. Although they are closely related, for example the quality of workmanship will affect the quality of the sound in some way, if one considers (spends more time on) the 2nd, 3rd or 4th law above the 1st, then you are allowing the most important thing about a musical instrument, its sound, less thought. If you spend all your thought and energy on making every joint perfect, or hours getting a mirror like finish with the polish, then you are giving less time to more important aspects.

The problem as a maker is that many people wanting to buy guitars are more interested in a perfect finish. I could get a perfect mirror finish, but it takes a long time to achieve. Torres just oiled many of his guitars, which is fairly simple and quick to do. I have found that a thin polish is better for the sound, especially on the soundboard. I don’t like a high mirror finish either, for I’m more scared of scratching it, stopping me for wanting to pick the guitar up.

 

Going by these laws is the way I like to work. I believe a maker like Torres, who I greatly admire, would have worked with similar considerations as mine. Considering all four laws equally would take up too much time and ultimately I would make less instruments. These might not be any better, and I would have less time for all the other important things in life apart from guitars.

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