Our Experiences and Take-Aways from 2016’s Santa Barbara Acoustic Instruments Celebration & Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase
People often ask us how we find all the splendid guitars that we offer. Of course we have numerous methods for finding these fine instruments, but one of our most exciting avenues is attending guitar shows. Each year there are a few great shows that feature custom guitars by independent luthiers, often working in one-man workshops and with an unparalleled attention to detail. Dream Guitars owner Paul Heumiller recently came back from two such shows, the 2016 Santa Barbara Acoustic Instruments Celebration and the 2016 Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. Heumiller: “At these shows many of the top luthiers in the world display several of their most recent developments, which gives us the rare opportunity to play a few different models of each maker. Being able to play more than one at a time is key for us at Dream Guitars, because it gives us a chance to honestly evaluate newer makers and evaluate their builds for consistency and quality of tone. It’s also important to meet up with established makers that we already work with in order to pick out our new favorite instruments to bring back for our clients.”
These shows invite between 80 and 120 guitar makers and are open to the public, which is another reason that we like to attend. Heumiller again: “It’s a joy to finally meet clients that I’ve been working with on the phone and over email for years. The shows are a great opportunity to see the faces and shake the hands of clients with whom I’ve worked for the past 20 years. It’s a part of the business I truly love, since guitar people are all great folks and we all have so much in common. I’ve made several dear friends while running between the shows over the years.”
As we mentioned earlier, the shows are one of the key ways that we discover new talent. This year was an exceptionally rich one for identifying younger makers that had something worthy of the Dream Guitars name. At most shows we expect to perhaps find one new builder that impresses us, maybe two, but this year we found no fewer than six! Heumiller again: “I think the fact that there are so many stellar young builders has a lot to do with the sharing of information these days. Young makers have so much access to good information that if they have talent they can much more quickly reach a high level of quality both in terms of construction and tone.”
At the Santa Barbara show we invited Hollywood, California-based luthier Isaac Jang to join us. “I’ve been watching been him for some time now, and at Santa Barbara his OM just blew me away; the timing was right to start a relationship. Jang’s work has impressed me for years, and during that time I gave him advice and my honest opinion of his work. This year he did something about it, so we decided to purchase the Brazilian Rosewood-and-German-Spruce OM that he’d brought.”–Heumiller. We were also delighted to learn more about Jang’s past, namely that at age 17 he asked Kathy Wingert for an apprenticeship. Kathy wisely told him that he had to graduate from a lutherie school, get a job working in guitar repair, and then come see her. Isaac did all of that by age 19 and returned to Kathy’s door. He apprenticed with Kathy for a number of years, and it shows. Isaac is now a teacher at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.
While we were there we also made good on our long-standing respect for Michel Pellerin of Canada by offering to represent his work–and we brought back a beautiful Sunburst Jumbo he had recently finished. In addition, we met the truly inspiring creations of Benoît Lavoie. None other than Pierre Bensusan bought Lavoie’s guitar which we planned to get after the show! We are delighted at Benoît’s success; just goes to show we have good taste if Bensusan beat us to the chase, and we’ll wait until the next one is finished.
We also got to see the new work of Noemi Schembri from Italy. The tone of her guitars mesmerized us at Santa Barbara, and by the time we saw her again in Woodstock we simply could not resist any longer: we brought back an Madagascar Rosewood SJ and a Koa Baritone.
In Woodstock we were introduced to the inspirational work of Canadian builder Loïc Bortot (of Bouchereau Guitars fame). After playing a few of his instruments, it was clear why he graduated first in his class at Quebec City’s National Lutherie School, and is now a teacher there. From that week we brought back his wonderful slotted head Mistral model. Speaking of teachers, we were also able to connect with Sam Guidry, a teacher alongside Bryan Galloup at the American School of Lutherie, and get one of his Maple OMs for the shop. Paul: “Bryan told me I had to look at Sam’s guitars, and I’m really glad I did. I’ve long respected Bryan, so when he tells me about someone new, I listen. At Woodstock I got to spend a lot of time with Sam after events; he’s a great fellow to be around, and he’s incredibly passionate about his craft. As soon as I played this Maple guitar I fell in love. It’s voiced for a big, round attack with superb clarity across the registers–which is why I’m stoked to get in the shop!”
Paul: “The other aspect of the shows that is pure joy for me is seeing my old friends that I’ve known for many, many years. Many of them I met as young upstart builders when I first opened Dream Guitars’ doors, and they’re still building guitars today. The many dinners and glasses of wine from bygone years allow us to really get to know each other as human beings that share a common passion in the art of the guitar.” This time around it was wonderful to make a new friend in Richard Hoover, the founder of Santa Cruz Guitars, and Joe Glaser a repairman beyond compare. Paul: “I was delighted when Richard Hoover asked me to introduce him to a few talented young makers. He was beaming over the fine work of Isaac Jang and Leo Buendia like a high schooler opening his guitar case for the first time. Clearly the passion is still inside of Richard, and he so gracefully complimented his younger peers on their fine work. He told me later that ‘just when he thought we’d gotten this guitar making thing down these new guys come along and make it harder again with their new ideas!'”
The one common thread that binds these young makers together and excites us so much is their open mind, open heart approach to the craft. They don’t just want to build good copies of guitars, they want to push the envelope in all the right ways and create innovative musical tools to inspire musicians in ways not yet known to us. Paul: “This is something you can’t just feel by just looking at their guitars necessarily, but trust me: as I dined with these folks and taste tested dozens of their guitars I could feel the boundaries they were pushing and hear the voices they were pioneering.” These new builders are seekers chasing down their crazy dreams–while they fulfill the dreams of players the world over. We are beyond excited to consider what will become of the guitar world in the years to come. This is the golden age of guitars, and it’s not stopping any time soon. Let’s hang on and enjoy the ride!
Dream Guitars has the ability to reach out and pluck those dream guitars from out of the air, where mere mortals are unable to find recordings of these beasts, let alone actual guitars. Paul’s kept himself at the center of the world of high-end guitars for 17 years now, patiently building his knowledge base and making connections between players, builders, and collectors, diligently placing new voices into practiced hands, providing discerning clientele to inspire luthiers, and reuniting collectors with the instruments of their childhoods, or their parents’ childhoods. As a result, Dream Guitars has become one of the focal points for preserving the world of fine lutherie and maintaining the market for anyone with a voice or a guitar model at stake.
Accordingly, Dream Guitars is exactly the place you want to come to if the instrument you’re looking for is off the beaten path (just look at the country roads that lead to our showroom), masterfully constructed and exceedingly rare. When one of our clients came to us with his collection of Holy Grail guitars, Paul was more than ready to help out. One quick flight to New York and a careful car trip back, and Dream Guitars has now gotten a hold of three irresistably collection-worthy instruments: a 1935 Larson Brothers Prairie State 15″, a 1938 Larson Euphonon Dreadnought, and the grand master of all–an all-original 1930 Martin 000-45! This last one is particularly difficult to find: there were only 21 made in 1930. Add to that the voice, with all its 86 years’ of music, and the completely original state of its parts (right down to the cast iron key for the case), and the chances of finding a guitar like this in the wild are nigh impossible.
Valued at $135,000, this Martin is an incredible find, and Paul was able to line up a buyer within a matter of days. Soon the chalice will be passed and this Holy Grail guitar will be en route to its new owner. In quick order, the Larson Prairie State also sold as well, and both guitars are going to trusted clients who respect the historicity of these instruments. This is what it’s all about for us: connecting players and collectors across state lines (and national borders) to foster a healthy market for the exchange of these irreplaceable instruments.
Before we let this one go, however, Paul wanted to compare it with some of the contemporary voices that we have in the shop, so we set up a little taste test between the 1930 Martin 000-45 and a McConnell 16 Inch, Matsuda M1, a Traugott R, and a Wingert 00. Here’s Paul:
“The taste test was really fun. Dream Guitars is well known for representing many modern makers who are moving toward something different than traditional, vintage voicing, who instead search for new, individual forms of expression and musicality by chasing the fascinating new ideas in their heads. It’s wonderful to have a chance to play many of these prewar Martin guitars because they are quite different from these contemporary builds. On the one hand, it’s nearly impossible to replicate what happens to a guitar after 80 or 100 years of being in the world. The finish gases off or is worn off, and the wood dries out while millions of notes vibrate through its fibers. This chronological process yields a distinct kind of energy and body–something that contemporary builders of traditional styles are seeking to recreate. A similar, but distinct quality of energy can also be found in the very finest modern guitars, even after just one year of being played in and opening up.
The advances in bracing and voicing for the modern guitar, I believe, allow us to get closer to a sound that’s comparable to these prewar instruments, but much earlier in the guitar’s life. I attribute quite a lot of these advances to one simple thing: how much time each builder spends on one guitar. If they take their painstaking time to consider whether or not to pass the top through the thickness sander one more time, or to take one more pass with a chisel at the scallop of a brace. Constantly tapping the wood and striving for their own unique tone. To me that’s why you can pick up a recent McConnell, Traugott, Tippin, or Somogyi, to name a few, and feel the same sort of inspiration you feel from one of these outstanding vintage Martin guitars. It’s not the same voice, but the combination of so many advances in construction and voicing definitely allow these new instruments to compete on the same field as Holy Grail guitars. I truly believe we are in the Golden Age with dozens of makers building their own versions of luthier history.”
With vintage instruments, there’s simply no telling what patches and pokery you’re going to find under the hood. Good news! Dream Guitars is well-acquainted with those surprises, and we know just what to do when they crop up. Recently, a client and collector came to DG with several obscenely rare Martins, among them a 1930 OM-45 that he was concerned was too quiet. Once Paul Heumiller got his hands on the guitar, his ear told him something was definitely awry. Having played many of the “Holy Grail” Martins for the 20s and 30s, he’d expected to hear a energetic voice with vigorous projection, but this guitar sounded timid, with a bad case of congestion.
Paul immediately suspected that the bridge plate had been modified, and after plumbing the depths of the OM-45 with a flashlight and a mirror, his suspicions were confirmed: glued where the original bridge plate should have been was a massive (over 3″ wide) modified bridge plate! It was probably installed in an effort to combat the tendency of the top to belly up as the string forces enact continual upward stress for years, over-doming the top around the bridge. On the one hand, the girthy bridge plate worked perfectly: this more-than-80-year-old guitar had very little belly to its top, unheard of at its age. On the other hand, the voice was something between a Chevrolet sputtering tailpipe fumes and a cat mewling in the rain, the top’s vibrations were so severely dampened.
We assured our client that this was a problem that we could handle. Enter: Ken Jones, veteran of instrument restoration, who approached the repair with zeal as he prepared to remove the bridge. However, the situation was about to get more interesting, once the bridge was released. Underneath, where there should have only been a pale, unfinished Spruce top, there was a nasty black patch of Spruce and scaly epoxy. After repeated attempts to steam this patch free proved ineffectual (due to the epoxy’s high heat resistance), Elliot W. took chisel in hand and meticulously pared away the noxious epoxy with “surgical precision and the serenity of spirit that work of this caliber demands,” says Jones, finally releasing the Spruce patch.
What’s next on the agenda? Ken: “Cleaning up the inside of the top, making a smaller, thinner bridge plate, and using our belly-reducer cauls to further sweet-talk the top back into shape. I have no doubt this will improve the voice of this guitar. This is a really cool, fun, and interesting repair that reminds me why I got into repair work in the first place–keeping these old dogs going because they just sound better and better with age!” In addition to releasing the bridge, releasing the pickguard helped reduce the amount of belly dramatically, making us very confident that this top will settle down and behave beautifully, once we’re finished here.
Stay tuned as we continue to make good on the original bad repair of this 1930 OM-45! If reading about the magic of instrument restoration strikes your fancy, just you wait: we’ve got more exciting repairs on our bench, and we’re itching to bring you along for a play-by-play.
Update: July 25, 2016
The last time we checked in, this 86-year-old Martin had been divested of a poorly-executed repair that was compromising its top, with the last of the lingering epoxy scraped clear and the massive bridge plate and patch removed.
Much has happened since then! After brainstorming and consulting with other maestros of the repair world, Ken Jones and our team have landed on an elegant solution to simultaneously reinforce the top, fill the rectangular hole between the bridge and the bridge plate, and create a consistent platform to reglue the original ebony belly bridge: combine the patch under the top with the plug into one patch-plug.
Next, the thickness of the top (.112″) was routed away everywhere on the patch, except for where the patch will fill the hole in the top.
Before we could even consider starting on this exciting new leg of the repair, we first needed to patch the sections of the X braces where the previous colossal bridge plate was notched into them. If we hadn’t addressed those gaps, the top would have been at significant risk for further deformation. That finished, we then moved on to the spruce blank itself, shaped to fit between the newly-repaired X braces. The top of this Martin OM-45 is .112″, so the spruce blank was sanded to .168″, or one and a half the thickness of the top, so that, once installed, the plug would sit slightly proud of the surrounding top. After transferring the shape of the rectangular hole in the top between the bridge and bridge plate to the blank, we then carefully routed the surrounding material until the “plug” part of the patch was .168″, and the surrounding spruce was .056.
Then, the location of the bridge plate was marked out on the underside of the patch, and the patch was then sanded from that point of contact to paper-thinness at its edge to minimize mass and allow the original top to vibrate as freely as possible without jeopardizing its structural integrity.
After looking at these photos, you might be asking yourself, “Why is that thing so wide?” The patch-plug has a large surface area in order to increase the amount of gluing area for the patch-plug, meaning that the patch-plug is glued to the underside of the top in addition to being glued to the end-grain of the sides of the rectangular hole left by the previous repair. By itself, an end-grain glue joint is inherently weak. However, with the additional gluing force of the lower section of the patch against the underside of the spruce top, we’re confident that this new patch-plug won’t pull up, which was the problem with the epoxied patch from an earlier repair which we had chiseled out. The large surface area of the patch-plug also provides a little more reinforcement to combat the bellying that was present when the OM-45 first appeared on our bench.
The patch-plug was then carefully scored partway along spring growth grain lines (which are softer) and broken into three pieces that equally divided the plug in order to fit into the soundhole, with blue tape on the back to act as hinges.
The moment of truth came when we first folded the patch-plug and eased it into the soundhole before pressing it into place between the X braces. Turns out: a perfect fit.
Once we knew the dimensions of the patch-plug were exactly what we wanted, we then made several cauls for the top and bottom, and aged the new spruce patch-plug with Potassium Permanganate in order to make it blend in better with the surrounding 86-year-old spruce.
Now, a test fit is all fine and dandy, but it’s another matter entirely when the moment of the actual glue-up arrives. This time, everything must to be perfect. In keeping with tradition, we used hide glue and several cam clamps and deep-throated C clamps with the cork-lined cauls to cement the patch-plug with the original top. Hot hide glue is absolutely essential for a repair of this nature, where even clamping pressure is key, and hide glue’s ability to pull the wood tighter and tighter together as it cures helps ensure that the joint is airtight and even. Moreover, hide glue is tonally superior to rubbery aliphatic resin-based glues–but this comes at a price: a very short working time. Thus, appreciate how cool-headed and savvy is our repair staff: we were able to evenly spread glue on the patch, fold the patch, get it inside the guitar through the soundhole, unfold it, put it into place, then precisely arrange three cauls and five clamps inside a tiny soundhole, working by feel, before the hide glue could gel!
From the initial dry fit to the actual glue-up, this patch-plug was a star patient, and we’re quite happy to report that everything fits snugly, and the plug sits just slightly proud of the surrounding spruce.
Next on the docket? Sanding the plug flush to the top, then levelling the entire surface under the bridge. This last step is crucial and delicate: without a consistent gluing surface to attach to, the bridge will invariably pull up again.
As the work progresses and we get closer to refitting the bridge and restringing this Holy Grail Martin to its former glory, we’ll post more photos with each swipe of the sandpaper. We’re getting very close to hearing what it sounds like to right the wrong of that gruesome earlier repair! Dream Guitars’ owner Paul Heumiller’s ears will be the true test, once he compares the choked chords of the first time he strummed this OM-45 to its newly-restored self.
Early in 2015 I had the pleasure of playing my first Preston Thompson guitar. I was mesmerized by the warm and full voice that came out of the small 000 sized body. I remember Al Petteway and I talking about how magical the voice was. The build quality was also perfect in every detail.
I reached out to Preston and asked him to make us a Dream Series instrument. This is something we have only done with approximately eight to ten builders over the years. I very much look forward to seeing and hearing the first of many Thompson guitars. I’m certain our clientele will absolutely love them.
Following are a handful of specs featured on this incoming Dream Series guitar:
Back and Sides: Brazilian Rosewood
Binding: Brazilian w/BW purf
Top Purfling: Herringbone
Rosette: Abalone 3-Ring
Back Strip: 45 Style
Tail Wedge: Brazilian w/BW Purf
Neck: Honduran Mahogany
Headstock Binding: Brazilian w/BW Purf
Neck Binding: Brazilian
Nut width: 1 3/4”
String Spacing: 2 5/16”
Heel Cap: Brazilian
This one is currently available for purchase here at Dream Guitars – Please call the shop for more information 828-658-9795. Following are a few additional early images of this beauty coming together as well:
For more information on this incoming Preston Thompson 000-14BA Custom please call the shop 828-658-9795.
Here are a few new pictures of this beauty as it comes along:
Here’s a great video of the Brazilian binding coming together on this incoming Thompson – Enjoy!
Kim Walker Waiting List Closed Again
A luthier’s ability to succeed depends on a host of factors, not the least of which is their reputation, which can be a precarious thing. They need good tools, the best wood, a perfectionist’s disposition and a jeweler’s eye for detail. They need to be self-motivated, marathon woodworkers—and they need to be able to deliver on their promises. A luthier with a reputation for incomplete builds and exorbitant delays will not be long for the world of fine instruments. If, however, you have a reputation as ironclad and golden as Kim Walker’s, then you might just find yourself with eight years’ worth of builds on the calendar, and what do you do then? Close the book, and get down to business, which is precisely what Walker’s just done—again.
How has Walker achieved such a legendary status? Through years of honing his ears and his hands with an unwavering dedication to lutherie. Starting with George Gruhn and his repair shop, then graduating to Guild’s R&D department and custom shop, before launching his own Walker Guitars label in 1994, Walker has been at the forefront of both vintage restoration and contemporary innovation for his entire career. As such, Walker is one of a very select group of luthiers who successfully straddle the line between traditional and contemporary guitar building, the result of which enables his instruments to appeal to all audiences, from pre-war Martin collectors to the devotees of bleeding-edge luthiers like Steve Klein and Ervin Somogyi. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Walker has felt the need to close his waiting list again, in order to buckle down and dedicate his complete and undivided attention to the guitars already on his bench. Because Kim insists on working alone, he is able to ensure that every aspect of these guitars is 100% an expression of himself and his art. His way isn’t a school’s, or a builder’s with apprentices: this is one man with two hands, premium wood, and a studio space in which to create.
Given his sterling reputation and master skills, it’s hard to put a price on an instrument of this calibre, and as the opportunities to own one of Kim Walker’s guitars become fewer, the respective worth of any one of his instruments is correspondingly increased. The resale value of a Walker often exceeds the original cost of the instrument (a fact Walker himself notes on his website) because demand is so high: no one wants to get rid of theirs, once they’ve managed to beg, borrow, and steal to get it in their hands in the first place. In the world of high-end guitars, a Walker is worth its weight in gold, and nearly as rare. Will Walker open up his waiting list again? That’s certainly the hope, but who knows just how many years in the future he’s already booked himself: it could be a lifetime in the waiting.
We’ve all heard the phrase “The Golden Age,” which is defined as “the period when a specified art, skill, or activity is at its peak.”[i] Lately the term has been used to describe this epoch in the history of guitar-building (lutherie). From the unique vantage point at Dream Guitars (www.dreamguitars.com), they couldn’t agree more: today we are definitely in the middle of the Golden Age of Lutherie, and Dream Guitars stands at the center of this renaissance.
“I have had the chance to play spectacular examples of instruments from the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century. Many consider these early guitars to represent the “Holy Grail” of guitars, but I truly feel that the explosion of the independent guitar-maker has challenged this conception. There’s no doubt that some of the pre-war guitars are among the best instruments on the planet today, but now there are dozens of contemporary makers whose instruments rival, and sometimes even surpass, these ‘Holy Grail’ guitars–and their talents continue to improve on the best ideas of yesterday.” – Paul Heumiller, Dream Guitars owner
“We are very proud of our role in these great days of the guitar. From the very beginning, it was a sincere goal of mine to help luthiers market their craft. In the early days as I visited shops and got to know these great people, their passion and artistry captivated me and I wanted to be a part of their success.”- Paul
Dream Guitars has built a platform for luthiers to successfully market their work, which is backed by Dream Guitars’ reputation for expertise and honesty–allowing a maker’s instruments to be seen and heard by people all over the world. “We have been able to help many luthiers to not only find homes for their instruments, but also to increase their prices to provide fair compensation for the years invested in their craft.” -Paul
Like everything in the modern world, easy access to information, including books, videos, symposiums, guitar shows, and training courses has expedited the growth of talent in the guitar-making world. But there’s something more than simply the proliferation of information at play here: something special has happened in the acoustic guitar world in particular. Paul: “Many of the older guitar builders talk of a time not so long ago when everyone guarded their secrets, but they all agree that somewhere along the line everything shifted. In the last 25 years or so, guitar-makers have opened up to each other–and that sharing is, in my opinion, the impetus for our current Golden Age.”
Paul continues, “I get to spend a lot of time with guitar makers at the various showcases around the world, as well as visiting them in their shops. Time and time again, I hear stories of how one builder has advised or inspired another. They speak of each other in reverent tones, each one wanting to raise the bar, but do so with the utmost respect for their contemporaries. They all want to see the craft itself improve, and that’s what’s truly special about what’s going on now in 21st-century guitar building.”
Another obvious trend is this year a number of new guitar-makers are on the scene. There are now hundreds of independent guitar-makers hanging their shingles outside of shops which range from the corner of a basement to 5000 ft.² master shops. As a result, some say the market is flooded with too many new makers. At Dream Guitars, they see both sides. Dream Guitars is constantly approached by new makers wishing to promote their instruments with them. Most of the time, Dream Guitars demos and critiques their instruments and advises possible improvements where they simply haven’t mastered the craft yet. Occasionally a builder shows tremendous promise and Dream Guitars offers to work with them and continue to offer valuable insights along the way so they can blossom. Paul: “One thing I see a lot are makers whose first few guitars look beautiful, but they haven’t yet found their voice. By that I mean they’re building a guitar that is perfectly beautiful and functional but sounds no better than an inexpensive guitar off the rack at any big-box store. They’re missing what I call the ‘White Magic:’ that builder’s unique voice which makes a guitar inspirational. Master Luthier Ervin Somogyi once told me, “The first fifty guitars you’re just gluing wood together.” There’s something to be said for that: it’s the years of experimentation and feedback from great players that keep a builder striving and searching for that intangible something that makes one guitar better than the others.”
This is evinced by the handful of makers whose order books are strained by ten plus year waiting lists, or whose guitars finally fetch a price that’s commensurate with the years of work they’ve put into their craft. These are the instruments that collectors covet and professional players are inspired by. These are the ones that define the Golden Age of Lutherie–the guitars that they will be talking about for the next hundred years.
Dream Guitars was perhaps the first website on the Internet to record every instrument that they offered online. They have now amassed a library of over 5,000 recordings of the finest hand-built instruments in the world. They have also created a Listening Studio which allows anyone to search their library of recordings by a myriad of guitar specifications, and use the recording to educate themselves about various makers, woods and general guitar differences. Dream Guitars has also created video interviews of many of today’s makers, either in their shops or at trade shows. All of this footage is available for free on their website.
Dream Guitars owner Paul Heumiller is one of the premier experts on acoustic instruments. While not an active luthier, Paul has studied guitar-making with Kent Everett of Atlanta, Georgia, and has performed shop repairs at Dream Guitars since the beginning of the company over 18 years ago. Heumiller has also been the only shop owner to be on the board of A.S.I.A., the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans. Paul is also a professional musician who has spent many years performing and teaching Fingerstyle guitar. He has been quoted in numerous publications and books. Recently, in 2015, Acoustic Guitar Magazine printed a two-page article, “Dream Weavers,” on Heumiller.
We had the privilege of catching up with renown Canadian luthier, Al Beardsell and asking him a few questions on his building, interests and background. Following were his responses to our questions for him:
Q. What inspired you to begin building guitars?
A. My Dad, his workshop, my brother, Bill Lewis Music, Larrivee and Gurian guitars – probably in that order. My Dad was an amateur furniture maker, so I learned from him that if you want something done a certain way, do it yourself. My brother, who was a serial obsessive, made some guitars in high school, got bored and moved on to beer-making (he’s still a master brewer to this day). I swiped all of his guitar-making books, “borrowed” all his tools and wood, and got started. This brings us to Bill Lewis Music in Vancouver. In the 70’s, Bill had a music store that also supplied instrument building materials, plans and tools. They also carried handmade guitars by Larrivee and Gurian, which I guess was a defining idea for me that you could actually make these things. This totally blew my mind – something so beautiful to look at and sound so beautiful. I was totally hooked.
Q. What builder(s) do you admire?
A. This is a long list but if I had to shorten it, a few standouts would be Pons, Lacote, Martin, Loar, Mario Macaferri/Selmer, Leo Fender, The Larriveans (Laskin, Manzer , DeJonge, Wren, etal), Collings. Builders who take an existing tradition and recontextualize it into something classic yet contemporary.
Q. How would you describe the voicing in your guitars? How did you find your voice?
A. Hmm, well the voicing is dependent on the needs of the player – a tighter sound, more open or separated notes, maybe more sustain for fingerstyle, maybe a darker sound – all these things are taken into consideration. It’s just years of trial and testing to arrive at where to make stiffer and where to remove stiffness, which woods to use, etc.
Q. Can you explain your approach to sound ports? Why do you use two?
A. My approach has always been to offer the player something they may not have heard before – like what the guitar actually sounds like. The sound hole does a few jobs like allowing free air movement in and out of the box, tuning the air mode fundamental by size of aperture, and coupling the reflective and sympathetic sounds of the back with the top. There may be more to it, but these are the parts that I’m mainly interested in. Originally, in order to make the opening large enough to have a similar area as a 4″ soundhole, I split the sideport into two. This had an interesting effect of broadening the areas of the box being monitored and simply enlarging the sound projected. Also, moving the soundhole off the top does reconfigure the structural stiffness of the top. The soundhole does create a loosening of the top that must be counterbalanced by grafts and braces. By reducing this loosening, we can make the top thinner and therefore lighter. The main goal of the sideports in my mind is the acoustic connection made with the player even in amplified situations. Many times I’ve played acoustic shows where all I hear is amplified monitors. This tends to give the player a compressed dynamic range and they will pay accordingly – at top volume always. Having some sense of the instrument’s natural dynamic range will mean the audience will benefit from the player. The size has been reduced over the years to drop the air mode and develop more bass.
Q. What do you enjoy doing outside of building?
A. Curling, yoga, fencing, playing rock, being a dad
Q. What inspires you today?
A. I’ve been very inspired by the local music scene in Winnipeg. A year and a half ago, I opened a new shop (the former Garnet Amp factory) that is open to the public. We do repairs and pickup winding, restorations and, of course, guitar-making. It’s a very different connection to the people who actually make music than the rarified environment of the luthiery shop.
Q. Where do you think your building style will take you in the next 5 years?
A. I’m looking at using more computer-aided design and control technology. I’m making more archtop electric guitars and pickups, and manouche guitars especially – my first love really.
Q. Which up and coming luthier impresses you the most?
A. There are a few in Winnipeg like Jordan McConnell, but he’s been around a while so he’s no pup! I’m always amazed by the amount of new talent, all doing very high quality work. My assistant Lucas Roger is going to kick ass any day now.
As mentioned in a previous post, Leonardo Buendia, one of Ervin Somogyi’s current apprentices and an amazing up and coming builder, is wrapping up his 3 year apprenticeship with Ervin and is moving to his own shop in Oakland, California.
We caught up with Leo and asked him a few questions regarding his new shop.
1) Where will the shop be located? Why did you pick there?
Leo: My new workshop is located in East Oakland. I was offered the space by Lewis Santer, whom I’ve known for 3 years and who for a long time shared this same space with Michi Matsuda. Lewis has been in this shop for 10 years and it’s well-equipped and already set up in a very smart way. It’s a pleasure to be able to work with Lewis, who was also Ervin Somogyi’s shop manager for many years. The transition is going smoothly – I’m getting back into my rhythm quickly.
2) How are you configuring your shop? Why will it be configured this way?
Leo: Since everything was already set up for the construction and repair of guitars, I’ve only had to put together two benches–one in the dry room and one in the common space. In the dry room I’m going to keep all of the wood I will be using for the guitars commissioned for these next few years. The dry room is also where I will be doing all of the gluing. I will be using the bench in the common space for shaping, scraping, sanding, etc.
3) Any sources of inspiration that you can point to in your new shop?
Leo: Ervin Somogyi’s shop, of course, is a big inspiration for how I would like my shop to look. I love the use of different workstations and I’m emulating that. It allows my work to be very efficient. I also took away from my experience at Ervin’s that it’s extremely helpful to have plenty of backstock of blocks, braces, fingerboards, pre-bent sides, pre-bent binding, etc.
4) Any neat facts about your building process in your new shop that you’d like to share?
Leo: In the near future I will be working on designing a different kind of headstock. So far I’ve been molding the heads in the style of a classical/Spanish guitar. In Argentina we play Spanish guitars, so I’ve always liked the headstocks I learned to make with Ervin, which are reminiscent of these. Now that I will have more time for experimentation and designing, I am going to make headstocks with a more modern style, while still avoiding the symmetrical and conventional. This new design is more like that of my fanned fret guitar. Another change that’s coming is that in about 6 months I will begin with a new model, the OO. The big sound that it makes is very surprising given its small body. In fact, it’s the guitar I plan to make for myself.
Dream Guitars at the 2015 Memphis Acoustic Guitar Festival
The 2015 Memphis Acoustic Guitar Festival was great fun. I always look forward to the custom guitar shows as it affords me a chance to catch up with the many luthiers I am honored to call friends and see what wonderful creations they are developing as time goes on. This year I traveled to the show with Scott Bresnick, who works with me here at Dream Guitars. What follows is an understanding of what goes on at the shows, the story of a few guitars that truly impressed us, and some insight into the people who build these great guitars.
A custom guitar show is special in that you have the opportunity to play two, three or perhaps four guitars from each of the builders in attendance. Many of these guitars are custom-made for sale at this event. Others are already sold but they afford you a chance to hear multiple models and wood combinations at one time. That is what makes this type of show so special. Aside from visiting a shop like ours, it’s very hard to find all of these makers in one place. The 2015 Memphis Acoustic Guitar Festival consisted of one large hall that housed all of the luthiers and their instruments. Just outside this hall were other rooms for demoing guitars and additional smaller rooms with concert stages for demo concerts, workshops and listening concerts. There were also a handful of vendors, tone wood suppliers and manufacturers of guitar related accessories.
We arrived just in time on the first day to catch our own Al Petteway in concert. He played a rousing set of new material featuring many of the songs on the “Dream Guitars Vol. II: Hand-Picked” CD. This is a wonderful new album that features Al playing his and my favorite guitars that we pulled right off the walls at Dream Guitars. We also have a tab book for the entire CD and are producing video lessons for every song as well.
We have been working with many of the luthiers that attended the show for years. They’re always coming up with new designs, bracing changes and appointments, so it is always exciting to see their latest work. You can see a full list of the builders that attended the festival here. One such Builder is Thomas Rein, who recently revamped his bracing to incorporate a U-shaped brace on the lower bout. This guitar was my very favorite at the show. The tone was so round and lush while articulate and soul shaking. You can see this Thomas Rein guitar on our website complete with a video by Al here. We also interviewed Tom about his process and discovery of his new tone.
It’s no surprise that most of our other favorites at the show were the builders we already work with such as Bill Tippin, Bruce Petros, Brian Applegate and many others. I’ve been discovering and selecting builders at shows like this for many years. We are always on the lookout for a builder that is new to us and one that we believe our clients will find inspirational. This year I met Brad Daniels of Oxwood Guitars, Isaac Jang, Joel Michaud and several other rising builders that truly impressed us. We have invited each of these builders to make guitars for DG, so keep an eye (and ear) out for more on these folks.
There are also other builders that we meet at these types of shows and decide are not for Dream Guitars. We try to stay very true to what our clients expect, which is the best of the best. So for some luthiers at these shows, we provide constructive and honest feedback in hopes they can improve in time. An unseen part of what we do at Dream Guitars is to advise newer luthiers and tell them what areas of construction and tone they need to keep working on. We stay in touch and if they reach the level of expertise we require, we then begin to represent them. We truly enjoy supporting builders of every level and helping the overall craft.
Many of the attendees at the show are longtime clients and friends of the shop. We would stop in the hall and compare notes about what builders we’re enjoying at the show and the overall experience. One of my longtime clients commented that he loves coming to our shop because it is truly quiet, as we give each client a private appointment time. While the shows have quiet rooms, they are not that quiet. Often you are playing with two or three others in one open room and hotel conference rooms do not sound very good.
Scott and I brought along a video camera and throughout the weekend interviewed a number of the builders at the show. Our intention was to ask them questions to provide you with some insight into who these men and women are, and of course there is some guitar design discussion as well. We are after all guitar nuts, just like all of you. All of these videos can be found below and are also be available on our YouTube channel and featured on our website. We hope you find these entertaining and informative:
Martin began making the 45 Style way back in 1904. The main feature of this trim style is abalone inlay along the top, back, sides, around edge of fingerboard, around the soundhole, neck heel, and tail wedge. Over the years the 45 models have been coveted by Martin fans the world over.
Today, many modern makers still emulate the famed 45 trim package. We happened to have a few in the shop recently and thought it would be fun to show you the wonderful variety of guitars that can be found with this popular adornment. A picture is worth a thousand words so here are a few shots of our three in-stock beauties: a 1991 Martin D-45, a 2008 Wayne Henderson D-45 and a 2014 Huss & Dalton Custom TD-R.
As you can see in the pictures below, while they all have abalone borders in the same places, the color and quality of the Abalone varies quite a bit. Like all building materials there are ‘grades’ of abalone shell. Nowadays builders also vary the width of the trim to add their individuality to a time tested inlay pattern.
Most players agree that the 45 style trim is quite beautiful and we sure are glad that it continues to thrive at Martin and in the hands of the many fine custom Luthiers in our world today.
Click on any of the images below for larger view.
Left to Right: 2014 Huss & Dalton Custom TD-R, 2008 Wayne Henderson D-45, 1991 Martin D-45
The first two from the left below – The Henderson (Center Below) and the Huss & Dalton (Left) are Brazilian Rosewood. The last one on the right is the Indian Rosewood Martin. You can see how much variance there is in Brazilian, many colors, figure patterns, etc.
The Henderson(Center Below) below features quality Abalone with a variety of hues in it, blue, gold and white.
Nice quality Paua Abalone here on the Huss & Dalton below. Lots of Blue in this shell.
A key element of the 45 Style trim is that the Abalone is featured on the top, back & Sides. Pretty fancy!