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Handmade & Vintage Instruments: Acoustic Guitars, Classical Guitars & Electric Guitars

Sneak Peek: Guitars Not Yet on the Website (updated 10/22/14)

Bookmark this page for frequent updates. (Please scroll down for additional guitars.)

 

Taylor Custom DN  2012

Asian Ebony and Adirondack Spruce

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R. Taylor Style 1  2007

Indian Rosewood and Western Red Cedar

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Martin 00-21 Limited Edition  1987

1 of 19 Made

Indian Rosewood and Sitka Spruce

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Henderson D-18  1996

Mahogany and Spruce

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Tippin DST-12  2002

Madagascar Rosewood and Bearclaw Alpine Spruce

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Martin 00-16DBFM  2006

Flamed Maple and Sitka Spruce

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Kohno 15  1978

Indian Rosewood and Spruce

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Collins CL-4  2006

Honduran Rosewood and Cedar

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Martin OMC-28M  2005

Laurence Juber Custom Edition #32

Madagascar Rosewood and Spruce

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Lowden F35  2004

Brazilian Rosewood and Alpine Spruce

sneakpeek

 

Martin OM-18 Sunburst Custom  2002

Mahogany and Adirondack Spruce

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Martin OM-28 Sunburst Custom  2002

Brazilian Rosewood and Adirondack Spruce

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Martin OM-45  1993

Indian Rosewood and Sitka Spruce

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Martin OM-42  2003

Quilted Maple II  6-of-30

Quilted Maple and Spruce sneakpeek

Humphrey Millenium 2008

The last guitar Thomas Humphrey built Figured Maple and Cedar sneakpeek

Martin OM-42  2001

Indian Rosewood and Sitka Spruce sneakpeek

Petros Applecreek GC  2005

East Indian Rosewood and Sitka Spruce sneakpeek

Schoenberg ES-14C by Sexauer  1998

Brazilian Rosewood and Spruce sneakpeek

Flammang RS35

Mahogany and Adirondack Spruce

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Flammang GC50-L

Indian Rosewood and Sitka Spruce

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Goodall ECJC  2005

Macassar Ebony and European Spruce

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Martin HD-28  1990

Indian Rosewood and Sitka Spruce sneakpeek

RainSong CO-WS1000N2T

Unidirectional Carbon

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Blanchard Tamarack Dream Series #01  1998

Brazilian Rosewood and European Spruce sneakpeek

Taylor T5-S1

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Rainsong OM1000

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Rein RJN-3C

Cocobolo Rosewood and Lutz Spruce sneakpeek

Ryan Signature Series Nightingale Grand Soloist  2011

Brazilian Rosewood and Italian Spruce

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Rivero Classical  1998

Brazilian Rosewood and Cedar sneakpeek

Bourgeois DBJC  2012

Cocobolo Rosewood and European Spruce

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Stötzel SJ “Zoe”

Wenge and German Spruce sneakpeek

Rodrigo Rodriguez Signature SJ

Brazilian Rosewood and Red Cedar

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Charis SJ

Brazilian Rosewood and Western Red Cedar sneakpeek

Maingard GC

Brazilian Rosewood and European Spruce sneakpeek

 

 

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EVENT CALENDAR

We at Dream Guitars welcome you all to come join us at our Concerts, Guitar Clinics, Setup Saturdays and other events throughout the year. Come visit Dream Guitars and the wonderful Asheville area!

Dream Guitars Presents:

Danny Ellis in Concert @ The Music Academy – Asheville!

Sunday, Nov 2nd @ 4 pm
The Music Academy – Asheville
1408 Patton Avenue, Suite E, Asheville, 28806
In the rear of the building that houses Music City. Enter through rear doors. Potluck before show at 3pm.
Bring a small dish to share, Hor dourves because of the early hour. BYOB.

Tickets $20, Reservations required

To RSVP for this event, call us at (828) 658-9795.

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About Danny Ellis

“From the moment I first heard Danny Ellis I have been a huge fan. Few artists have the ability to combine, words and melodies in such a moving fashion. Danny’s songs are stories that the audience gets to be part of, as if you are right there in the moment. Inspiring, uplifting and heart-warming. Danny has become a musical mentor and great friend and am delighted to share his music with you all at this his second appearance at Dream Guitars!” – Paul Heumiller

Music has been the main driving force in Danny Ellis’ life almost since he was born. Born in a time and place where everyone sang, his mother would sing for the family every night by the fire before bedtime; “her voice so filled with emotion, that sometimes she’d almost scare us.” Danny’s songs are startlingly personal, exploring waters seldom plumbed by other writers and are gauged to “crack your heart wide open”. His writing is tapestried with a rare emotional depth and acute understanding of human nature-garnered on an orphanage playground with 800 wild kids. “In that tough orphanage, every kind of personality, even the most guarded, revealed its secrets over time. Hopefully my writing holds some of the insights and healing that has blessed my own life. I write a lot about relationships because they are a metaphor for an indefinable inner journey, expressed in everyday terms. You might say I’m obsessed with trying to express the inexpressible.” – Danny Ellis.

The classic “musician’s musician”, Danny has drawn praise from a wide swath of fellow artists including, Bonnie Raitt, David Wilcox, Mary Gauthier, Patty Larkin, Peggy Seeger and Beth Neilsen Chapman. Tim Hain, London based singer/songwriter said, “Danny has one of the most natural voices on the planet!”

Danny has toured Ireland, England and the US with the show he’s written around his “800 Voices” material. In 2009, he was awarded The Lyricist of the Year by Just Plain Folks, the biggest independent music award organization in the world. His song from that album, “Tommy Bonner” was awarded best Lyric of the Year by the same organization. His book, “The Boy at the Gate” based on his orphanage experience, reached #2 in the Irish non-fiction charts. This book will be released in the US in September 2013. It has been very favorably reviewed in the prestigious KIRKUS review magazine, July 2013 and by BOOKLIST.

Songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman heard Danny’s 800 Voices CD and played it for her friend, Bonnie Raitt. Bonnie contacted Danny to let him know how much she enjoyed his music and asked him to open for her at her concert in Charleston in May 2013.*

For more information, please visit his website: http://www.dannyellismusic.com/

Reservations required for event, please call us at (828) 658-9795.

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www.musicacademyasheville.com
www.rockacademync.com
www.givetothemusic.org

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Three Decades of the Somogyi Sound!

“The guitar itself has always been my best teacher.  She has always revealed herself to me bit by bit, taking her own sweet time.  I’ve been the student.” – Ervin Somogyi

We are extremely fortunate to have three Somogyi Guitars in-stock at the moment so we decided to record all three for another special video which we have named, “Three Decades of the Somogyi Sound!”

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Click here or on the video image above to watch “Three Decades of the Somogyi Sound!”

“Ervin Somogyi has long been one of my favorite builders. He was one of the original luthiers 80-somogyi-mod-dto create the open modern voicing that we now all think of when we hear fingerstyle guitar recordings. In the 1970s and 80s when artist like Alex De Grassi first started to record fingerstyle guitar, they went to Ervin Somogyi and asked him for guitars with more open voicing that would be more appropriate to make recordings with. The factory guitars of the day were simply not expressive enough for solo guitar pieces. To this day Ervin is considered one of the masters of guitar voicing and he has taught his ideas and techniques to many of today’s top luthiers the world over.” – Paul Heumiller

Here at Dream Guitars we have been a dealer for Ervin Somogyi for many years and he is constantly a favorite for our clientele. It is a sheer delight to have three of his guitars in the shop right now, each from another decade.

We simply could not resist recording them side-by-side to share with the world. Somogyi’s voice is one that all lovers of guitar should know and understand. It has so influenced modern guitar perhaps more so than any other single builder.

We asked Ervin Somogyi himself for a few thoughts on how his building has evolved over the last few decades and here’s what he had to say:

“Lately, some guitars of mine from the eighties and nineties have come on the market, and some of them have come to my shop for visits, checkups, or for a tweak or repair . . . or because the original owner was no longer playing guitar and wanted to see if I knew anyone who would want to buy their baby.  And so on.

I have been pleasantly surprised in every instance by how well they’ve held up.  Yes, they’ve had signs of wear and tear — if not in small scratches and such, then most notably in the look of the lacquered finish.  Lacquer has the capacity to separate from its underlayment, over time; and these guitars show small spots of lacquer separation/bubbling from the wood underneath.  This is not in the least bit serious; it’s cosmetic and easily fixable; a guitar simply looks not-brand-new in this regard.

Happily, not one of the guitars that I’ve seen or heard about, from this period, has been mistreated: they seem to be structurally sound.  And I’ve been pleasantly reminded of how far back I was using certain elements of decoration, or arrangements of bracing, that now seem to me like the most intelligent way to carry out this work.” – Ervin Somogyi

 

Click here to view our in-stock Ervin Somogyi guitars.

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GUITARS WANTED! SELL YOURS FAST!

We have a long list of clients looking for certain guitars on our Dream Catcher Watchlist. If you have one of the guitars below we may be able to facilitate a quick sale for you. Call us today or email sales@dreamguitars.com.

Immediate Need for a Client:

Kim Walker 000 or OM Not Brazilian
Somogyi OM Brazilian
1967-68 Ramirez Cedar Top

Steel String Guitars:

Baritone Guitars, McCollum, Doolan
Circa Guitars by John Slobod, all models
Collings 00
Collings OM, Dread, other models
Dyer Harp Guitars including style 7 or 8
Franklin OM, Brazilian
Gibson J-45s – Vintage
Gibson, 1930s-1950s, L-00, J-30, J-35, J-45, J-50, AJ – Vintage
Greenfield Guitars
Kim Walker Acoustics
Long Scale 00
Martin Dreads – 1950s
Martin D-40 Tom Petty
Martin Small Bodies – 1930s
Martins, particularly prewar 0, 00, 000, OMs and Dreads but also 1950′s all models – Vintage
Matsuda Guitars
Olson Guitars
Petros Dream Series
Schwartz Oracle, 3 hole in Rosewood
Somogyi Guitars
Terraplane Resonators
TJ Thompson Guitars
Wayne Henderson Guitars

Classical, Flamenco & Crossover Guitars:

Andreas Tacci
Buscarino Cabaret
Cervantes Crossover
Contreras I
Dominelli Classical
Gropp
Humphrey Millenium, 650mm Scale
Mauel Reyes
McGill Super Ace
Quality Nylon String Crossovers, cutaway, narrow nut
Ramirez 1950s-1960s
Robert Ruck Guitars

Electric Guitars:

Beauregard Thinline MB or MB-S
Detemple Strats, Teles
Fender Strats & Teles – Vintage
Gibson CS-356 w/o Bigsby in Vintage Sunburst with an ebony board
Gibson Les Paul Bob Marley Custom Shop
Kay Semi Hollow and Solid body – Vintage
Low Wattage Tube Amps, Princeton Reverb, Champ, Magnatone, Citation, Gibson GA – Vintage
PRS McCarty rosewood neck (original run)
PRS modern eagle, braz neck, faded blue jean (1st run)
PRS Ted McCarty DC245 in glacier blue
Tom Anderson Strats and Teles

Archtop Guitars:

D’Aquisto – Original
Gibson L-4 and L-5 – Vintage
Gretsch White Falcon

Bass Guitars:

Airline Bass Guitar

Other:

Nylon String Banjos

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An Amazing Incoming Mountain Song Baritone Guitar

Ken Jones is up to it again – this time this guitar is going right to our own Paul Heumiller. Ken is building Paul a very special IMG_5447-2Baritone featuring Padauk, Carolina Red Spruce and fanned-fret neck. The scale lengths range from 28.5″ on the bass side to 27.25″ on the treble. The body is slightly smaller than Jumbo proportions with a 16.5″ lower bout and 20.5″ body length, and a 4.75″ body depth at the tail, tapering to 4″ at the heel. Ken also offers the same body shape in a full-Jumbo size of 17″ LB and 21″ body length, with a 5″ body depth at the tail and 4.25″ depth at the heel. Top bracing is also Carolina Red Spruce.

“I knew for certain that I wanted the body to be Padauk Wood. The finest baritones I have ever played were made from Padauk. It has an amazing clarity that really helps the bass notes maintain separation when they’re tuned down to A or B. In recent years I have been primarily playing Fanned Fretted instruments and knew that I wanted that element as well. I play in many alternate tunings and it is key for me to have the bass strings longer than the treble strings. It insures that my bass notes will be strong and never floppy, while at the same time the trebles maintain a pleasant tension and sweet tone. Ken had a chance to get some wonderful local Carolina spruce tops from legendary luthier John Arnold so he suggested we use that for the top as it is wonderfully stiff and has incredible tap tone,” says Paul Heumiller.

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Other details include ebony headplate, fingerboard, and bindings, armrest bevel and ribrest bevel and a one-piece, carbon fiber reinforced Honduran Mahogany neck with double-acting truss rod.

Paul first played a Baritone guitar at Martin Simpson’s home in England many years ago. That very first moment he felt a wave of inspiration that has led him to continue to play in alternate tunings and on Baritones ever since. Paul states, “The most wonderful thing about the Baritone guitar is that you play exactly the same piece that you would in standard pitch but everything changes. The low register, rumbling bass and sweet, lucid trebles alter the mood and inspire the soul.”

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“I started to play the guitar for the sole purpose of writing songs. While I can do a lot of things on guitar, I consider myself primarily a  singer-songwriter. So whether an instrumental piece or accompaniment, my Baritone guitar offers me a voice that takes me into another world, another head space and invites me to write something I would likely never find at standard pitch,” says Paul Heumiller.

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Paul continues, “When I decided to invite Ken Jones of Mountain Song guitars to build me a Baritone instrument we had long conversations about the many Baritones that I have been able to play in the shop over the years. I am in the very fortunate position of getting to play the finest guitars ever made every day of my life. I have played many Baritones by Lance McCollum, Bill Tippin, David Berkowitz, Steve Klein, Ralph Bown and so many other of the finest makers in the world. So having the chance to collaborate with Ken was like dropping a three-year-old in the middle of a candy store with a credit card!!”

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“It’s been really enjoyable and informative collaborating with Paul on the various design elements, from the scale-length spread, to tonewoods, to the neck shape/profile. That was particularly interesting, since we were able to look closely at some of Paul’s favorite neck shapes, and come up with a hybrid that perfectly suits his needs. It’s essentially a D-shape with a slight V carved into the bass-side. We decided to keep the adornment to a minimum, with side dots only, and just a small inlay on the fingerboard at the twelfth fret. Being a large-bodied guitar, we agreed that an arm bevel was in order, as well as a super-comfortable ribrest bevel,” says Ken Jones.

IMG_5386-2“Paul has played more of the world’s finest guitars than just about anyone out there, and it’s been a pleasure and honor to learn from his insights what makes a truly great guitar,” Ken continues.

Great news! There are two more Baritones underway from Ken and Mountain Song Guitars – one in Quilted Maple and another in Cuban Mahogany. Ken is shooting to have these completed by the end of this year. These two will have similar features however it is still early enough for customizations.

Call today 828-658-9795 to reserve and customize your own Mountain Song Baritone Guitar!!

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Take the Avian Guitar Adventure

songbird-rosewood2-cut-spaceA few years ago, we began the search for great sounding but reasonably priced guitars to offer our many clients who were asking for such an animal.

As luck would have it at that same point in time, our luthiers Michael Baskin and Harry Fleishman were in the midst of designing guitars that would be built overseas as a new company called Avian. Today, these guitars are hand-made in a small factory only building Avian guitars. This is not a situation where a huge factory is pumping out 20 different brands. That is why the quality is so great and the tone so wonderful.

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Click Above to Learn More about Avian Guitars from Paul

songbird-maple4-spaceMichael and Harry have personally trained this small, talented staff and the results are evident. We have sold many of these guitars to people here in the shop where quite frankly they sell themselves with just a few moments of play. But for those of you out in the Internet land, we want to offer you a risk-free way to try one for yourself.

Hence, we are proud to announce the Avian adventure!

For a limited time, try an Avian guitar for three days in your home. avian-skylark-rosewood1-spaceWe are so confident that you will agree with us that these guitars rival others that cost more than $5000, we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is. Call us today and we will ship you an Avian guitar at no charge. All we ask is that if you return it, you pay just the return shipping which is only $75. We will pick up the rest.

But that’s not all – We will also include a Dream Guitars Volume One CD and Tablature so you’ll have plenty of music to play on your new Avian guitar.

Select from any of our in-stock Avian guitar models including:

Ready for the Avian adventure? Call us today to take advantage of the above promotion.

Offer valid through 10/15/14 or while current inventory lasts

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My New Five String Nylon Fretless Banjo

IMG_1010-iClick Here to watch Robert Anderson play Paul’s Five String Nylon Fretless Banjo

Years ago when I was spending a lot of time with Martin Simpson, the great guitarist from IMG_1008-iEngland, he had a Turkish Cümbüş that he had converted to a five string nylon fretless banjo. I remember that the neck had a super glue rubbed finish that was pretty cool. Martin used this Cümbüş on his amazing album, “Cool and Unusual”. The aluminum bowl has an amazing strong percussive sound and the nylon strings give it smoothness that is just, well cool and unusual.

While traveling in Italy a few years ago for a guitar Festival in Sarzana, I came across a dealer of Turkish instruments tucked in the mountain side of Cinque Terre. I bought a Cümbüş there and carried it all the way home IMG_1013-ito the US knowing someday I would convert it like Martin had done.

Robert Anderson, a renowned banjo maker, moved to Weaverville North Carolina just miles away from my home. I showed Robert the instrument and he was excited about trying something new. He had never seen a Cümbüş before but was game for the project.

Robert is a true artist who loves to do carvings and extensive inlay work. This neck was fairly simple compared to many that he does.

I’m delighted with how it came out. The tone is amazing and it plays like a dream. This is a new instrument for me so I’ll be IMG_1014-iwoodshedding the next two years! Wish me luck!

Click Here to watch Robert Anderson play Paul’s Five String Nylon Fretless Banjo

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Robert Anderson and Paul Heumiller

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Dream Guitars is proud to announce the acquisition of Acoustic Pro Musician

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Dream Guitars is proud to announce the acquisition of Acoustic Pro Musician

With the acquisition of Acoustic Pro Musician (www.acousticpromusician.com), Dream Guitars (www.dreamguitars.com) now has a dedicated web destination for quality instruments affordable to all players and staff tested gear.

Whether you need a stage instrument, are looking for a travel guitar or flight case, or you are new to the custom guitar world, Acoustic Pro Musician is your resource.

For the past 14 years, Acoustic Pro Musician (www.acousticpromusician.com) and its founder, Danny Brevard built a strong apm-logoreputation within the guitar community. Upon Danny’s decision to retire from the acoustic guitar business, he reached out to Paul Heumiller and a deal was struck for Dream Guitars to acquire Acoustic Pro Musician and continue building the Acoustic Pro Musician brand and reputation of offering quality instruments and gear in affordable price ranges for all musicians.

“As you know, music is my passion and serving others has always been a priority in my life.  As I have reached the age of 60, I’ve realized that there are things that I still want to do but I have to make some life changes to do them.  Dream Guitars is perhaps the finest shop in the world and known for tremendous expertise and helping players in an honorable fashion. Paul shares my vision and passion and I am confident you will all be delighted to work with Paul if you haven’t already.” – Danny Brevard

The team of 8 professionals at Dream Guitars, and now Acoustic Pro Musician, look forward to continuing to build two strong brands into the future, offering customers the full spectrum of quality acoustic instruments and gear available throughout the world.

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“I am extremely delighted that Danny has asked me to carry on his wonderful shop Acoustic Pro Musician. I have heard nothing but great things over the years and I have the utmost respect for Danny’s expertise and service. I will continue to operate Acoustic Pro Musician as it’s own entity, offering the same guitar lines and the great service everyone expects from Acoustic Pro and from Dream Guitars.” – Paul Heumiller

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Clive, Clive, and More Clive!!

(Clive Carroll has toured with Tommy Emmanuel and Michael Manring, visit Clive’s site for more information.)

We had the absolute pleasure of having Clive Carroll at Dream Guitars for a house concert back in February…and we took full advantage of our time with him before the show!! Clive was gracious enough to perform some of his amazing tunes and provide a handful of lessons for our viewers.

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“I have the great fortune as the owner of Dream Guitars to often have the chance to be in the company of some of the world’s top guitarists. I am always amazed at the extremely high level of play they achieve and of course it’s because they put the hard work in on the techniques that often elude mere mortal guitarists. Well here’s a look at a few distinct techniques and riffs that are very doable for everyone, if you just take the time it takes and have fun with it. Challenge yourself to play something new today, something you’ll learn from one of the very best Clive Carrol.” – Paul Heumiller

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The grouping of videos include amazing performances of “Autumn Leaves” and “Black Moon” as well as four mini-lessons covering the Plectrum Technique, a great blues riff, a right hand exercise, and a lesson on thumb/finger independence.

Click here to view all six Clive Carroll videos.

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About Clive Carroll:

Soon after graduating from London’s prestigious Trinity College in 1998, Clive was given the opportunity to play at a gig with UK guitar maestro John Renbourn, who, on hearing him play, immediately suggested that Clive record an album. So one year later, Clive was working away in the studio, recording his first album ‘Sixth Sense’, which was greeted by press and audiences alike as something of a breath of fresh air in acoustic guitar circles. The album’s 2000 release didn’t go unnoticed by mentor and friend John Renbourn, either, because the pair spent the next two years on tour together in Europe and the United States.

In the meantime, Clive would occasionally return to playing classical repertoire, recording the ever popular ‘Canon’ by Pachelbel for BMG/RCA Victor in 2002. His next solo album, ‘The Red Guitar’ appeared in 2004 and this time it was guitar legend Tommy Emmanuel’s turn to invite Clive to tour with him. After a jaunt across Australia together, the pair continued to perform all over the world. The collaborations with John Renbourn continued, meanwhile, and 2005 saw them work together on the Sony Picture Classics film ‘Driving Lessons’ which starred Julie Waters and Harry Potter star Rupert Grint.

After years of travelling with guitar giants Renbourn and Emmanuel, it was time to go solo and so in 2006 Clive embarked on a series of tours under his own name, accepting an invitation to appear at the highly regarded International Guitar Night of America along the way. All the time, the buzz concerning this young virtuoso began to grow ever louder…

So, with barely time to draw breath in between working on side projects like tutoring at the Irish World Music Centre in Limerick, playing at events organised by the likes of film director Guy Ritchie and Michelin award-winning chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and travelling to the Middle East to play at the Strings Of Freedom concert for the Sultanate of Oman, work began on Clive’s third solo album, ‘Life In Colour’. The result is a roller-coaster ride of six string virtuosity that takes the listener from the dusty roads of ‘Mississippi Blues’ one minute to the wide epic open space of ‘Oregon’ the next.

One thing is for sure; ‘Life In Colour’ represents a milestone both in the career of a remarkable musician and the music world in general.

For more information, please visit his website.

 

 

 

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Intonation

By Nigel Forster – Luthier

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Instrument design involves shifting your attention. You shift it from subject to subject. Hopefully you remain on a topic long enough to think up an improvement or a refinement. You pick a topic, you examine, you contemplate, you experiment, you reflect, you move on.

I spent quite some part of 2009 studying, understanding and working on intonation. Its one of those “bottomless” subjects. Its a huge subject. To some extent it’s one of those doors you open only to wish you’d left it shut.

You realize that intonation is all one big compromise, that no matter what you do, choices have to be made which by improving something means making something else worse. You learn that even the ideals:Just intonation, Meantone and Equal temperaments are all compromises.

You also realize that you don’t have to actually understand intonation very well to make, play or enjoy guitars. Then you also realize that very few guitar makers or players understand it either.

You also make the discover that the type of instruments you make has an effect on how critical your instrument should be intonated. That in turn helps you see why so few makers either understand the subject or even want to understand the subject.

But what (if you’re a maker like me) do you do when you have a customer who is obsessed with intonation?

You either decide to learn about intonation or you ignore the customer.

Ive a friend and customer called Ian. He’s obsessed with intonation. It drives him nuts. In turn he drives me nuts. This had to stop. So, I decided to look into the issue a little deeper than I had in the past.

Ian now wanted the guitar to be as close to Equal temperament as possible as in the current crop of bands he played with he had to play in a lot of different and sometimes just plain odd keys. I mean, who plays in F#?

Ian does.

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Here is a brief rundown of my learning

“Perfect” intonation is impossible to achieve.

The luthier (and the customer) must be willing to accept some degree of approximation.

“But my old (insert the name of a guitar you’ve played/owned) plays perfectly in tune all up and down the neck”

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but…

it doesn’t,
it didn’t,
and it never will.

It’s not possible,
it never has been
and never will be.

What is possible are a couple of things: the instrument may have lacked the power and clarity that show up the many intonation errors which are inherent in all guitars. This is very common with guitars that follow the traditional American steel string design. (Think Martin.) Then there are our ears and our discernment of tuning which varies greatly. Some folk are blessed/cursed with perfect pitch. Such people really struggle with guitars. All guitars. Some folk can’t hear when its out of tune. They’re the lucky ones.

The ideal for many would be to have a guitar that plays in just temperament or just intonation (JI).

This is when chords sound in tune with themselves; the intervals are in tune with the bass string overtones and is what many players try to achieve by tuning the guitar to a chord. This is because it sounds nice. It sounds correct. But as soon as we change to a different chord shape on a guitar that has an equal temperament fretboard we expose the fact that the nice-sounding intervals are at the expense of others. The only way the JI can be sustained is for the player to tune the guitar so one chord (like an open E chord) “sings”, use only  that one chord shape and slide it up and down the neck.
The next best thing to JI is “meantone” temperament.

This is where some chords and keys are close to JI, but at the expense of other chords and keys which will be far worse. The groups of keys that work in the meantone scales I’ve come across are don’t work all the keys we want to use. Eg: E, A, C, G, F. And the corresponding minors.

Many luthiers have tried before.

Over the last few hundred years makers have tried all sorts to achieve JI or meantone scales:removable frets, semi frets, guitars with multiple and removable fretboards, more than 12 tones per octave and, more recently, wiggly frets. But still the results, even if executed well will give us a compromised result: some keys will be good but only at the expense of others.

So what do we do?

So if we are to play in more than one key a different compromise is required. The equal-tempered scale used today is in fact one of several options available (I discovered an online library of over 3,500 different temperaments!) but it is probably the only scale of any use if we expect to play reasonably in tune in several keys. This particular division of tones is now generally accepted, even though the only intervals that are in tune are the octaves; all other notes are actually sharp or flat of just temperament). The fifths are pretty close to JI but the thirds are all noticeably sharp (by around 14 cents) so this universally accepted compromise has flaws even if executed with precision.

Thanks to the nature of the guitar there are more obstacles to overcome – the act of fretting causes a string to stretch. In stretching, the pitch is raised by different amounts according to the distance the string has to travel, and how much further it is stretched once fretted. Add to this a rather complicated problem called inharmonicity, which relates to the inherent stiffness of steel strings. This stiffness means the higher overtones of the note sound sharper than the fundamental of the note being played. This is especially true of lower notes.

Further complications can be caused by string inconsistencies and/or the appropriateness of the string gauges used. Excessive neck relief, built in to allow for the vibration of the strings, can also compromise intonation. Its not easy. There is a lot to be said for making “warm” sounding guitars, as they mask so many of these issues. No wonder they’re so popular.

But what if we want to make great sounding guitars?

The long and short of it is the maker must change how they intonate. Learning to do so is a lengthy process involving measuring and adjusting the value of every note fretted and then calculating the position of both the saddle and the zero fret according to the string gauges used and tuning employed.

Complicated.

It involves a combination of a compensated saddle, something we are all pretty familiar with, and a compensated “wiggly” zero fret or nut.

The amount of compensation depends on the scale and the preference of string type and tunings to be employed. It is a laborious process but worthwhile.

guitar-neck

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve managed it, and so have a few other luthiers. Does it really make a difference?

Well, that depends, it gies back to what was said earlier about the type of instrument we make and the players discernment, but yes, it does make a difference, and it is the only way to achieve equal temperament (itself a compromise) on clear and powerful sounding guitars.

So what are the benefits?

  • You get to play equally out of tune in every key!
  • You stop noticing intonation.
  • You can forget about it, and remain with your music.

And that, as far as intonation and guitars goes, is about as good as it can get….

About the writer

Nigel Forster began guitar making in 1988 as an apprentice to well regarded English luthier Stefan Sobell. He worked for Sobell 1988-1990 and 1992-2003. He opened his own workshop in late 2004 making acoustic guitars, mandolin, cittern and celtic bouzouki and a revolutionary new design of archtop jazz guitars.

www.nkforsterguitars.com

For his acoustic guitars, and Celtic family instruments, Dream Guitars are Nigel’s exclusive USA dealers.

As well as making instruments, Nigel now spends part of each year away from the bench, on retreat, traveling, writing and volunteering. As a result the number of instruments he makes is now reduced compared to previous years.

Getting on the waiting list isn’t as easy as it used to be…

His first print book, a book about instrument design and a collaboration with photographer Dave Best is available:

http://www.ypdbooks.com/photography/366-between-the-ideal-and-the-possible-YPD00333.html

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