Leo 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 will be moving to his own shop on October 1st in Oakland CA. At the same time, Leo is building for us an amazing OM featuring beautiful straight grain Brazilian Rosewood and a German Spruce Top.
Following are the full specs and some images to go along with the current progress.
This one is currently available for purchase here at Dream Guitars – Please call the shop for more information 828-658-9795:
- Soundboard, German Spruce
- Back and sides, Quarter sawn, straight grain Brazilian RW
- Cutaway, Florentine
- 14th-fret to the body
- Rosette, solid ring wood choice bordered in purfling
- Bridge, hand carved Brazilian RW
- Binding, Ebony with black/white purfling
- End graft, triangular style that matches binding
- Backstrip, matching with binding
- Top braces, Sitka spruce
- Back Braces, Mahogany
- Neck, one piece Honduran mahogany
- Headcap veneer, Brazilian RW
- Back of Headcap veneer, Ebony
- Tuning Machines, Gotoh 510 Series stealth in gold
- Fingerboard, ebony with ebony binding and maple purfling
- Fingerboard Radius, 20′′
- Position markers, white dots
- Case, Hoffee custom hardshell case
- Scale Length, 25” for OM
- Nut width, 1 3/4” Scalloped and compensated bone
- Saddle string spacing, 2 1/4” Compensated Bone
- Finish, nitrocellulose Lacquer
Update: Guitar in Finishing Process 12/1/15
August 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of Thomas Rodriguez Guitars and his making of classical guitars. To commemorate this huge milestone, Thomas started on a very special 20th anniversary guitar. All materials on this anniversary guitar are very old and extremely rare which Thomas has been collecting through his years of building and saving for a very special occasion, such as this. Following is the list of materials included in this build:
Top – 40 year old Sitka spruce purchased from the estate of an old guitar maker. Thomas hand picked it from 30 sets that were bought for its tap tone, stiffness and fine grain
Back & sides, peg head and bridge – 1800’s Brazilian rosewood from an old table top
Fingerboard – 40 year old Gaboon ebony, hand picked for it’s beauty from a large selection of ebony fingerboards from the same collection of wood that the top came from
Neck – 1800’s Honduras mahogany, salvaged from an old 4 post bed – very dark in color and a singing tap tone
Brace wood – Hand-split Sitka spruce from the back supports of a 90 year old Cable piano
Linings – Quarter-sawn willow from a 1925 Cable piano, the preferred choice of violin makers, 90 years old, from the same piano as the brace wood
Nut & Saddle – Approximately 20,000 year old mastodon ivory
Rosette & bindings – Maple, Brazilian rosewood, mahogany from a 1860’s square piano and red birch from an 1890’s piano
Tie block on the bridge — Ivory from a piano key from the 1860’s square piano
Inlays on the wings of the bridge — Mother of pearl cut from an early 1900’s lamp pendant
Position marker on the fingerboard — Mother of pearl from an 1850’s Martin bridge pin Thomas had from a restoration he performed
“One need only look at the quality of this wood, all of it having a history of it’s own, to imagine the character of sound that will emanate from this guitar. Celebrating 20 years of building is no small feat. Few makers ever reach that milestone and to do so you have to have an extreme love of the craft and desire to put music in the world. That’s what Thomas Rodriquez and this guitar represent. We are simply delighted to be a part of this, this is why we do what we do here at Dream Guitars.” – Paul Heumiller, Owner
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!
Ben Wilborn is one of the builders that we have recently added to the array of fine builders that we represent at Dream Guitars. We receive numerous requests from builders, new and established, to be part of Dream Guitars. It’s very humbling to be the ones that they wish to represent their work. In the case of Wilborn guitars, we invited him to send us an example of his work because tone is the first thing we always look for in a new luthier’s instruments. It only took about 20 seconds to figured out that Ben knows how to get tone out of his instruments. We were also smitten with the fit, finish and overall design of his guitars – very elegant, leaning towards traditional but definitely having his own style…and so began our association with Ben.
We at Dream Guitars are known for commissioning unique custom instruments for clientele as well and we were excited to see something even more artistic from Ben. As a result, Paul Heumiller, owner of Dream Guitars and Ben went to work to decide on specs for a custom Wilborn parlor guitar. “I love to work with builders on custom instruments. Having seen thousands of guitars helps me develop an intuition for both stylistic and practical features on the guitar. At the same time I love to leave room for a builder to express himself. So Ben and I collaborated on a number of design elements in this parlor guitar, but then I left him to do the rest. I can’t wait to see the final instrument as I know it will be both beautiful and expressive aesthetically and musically.” – Paul Heumiller.
This incoming Parlor will feature Brazilian Rosewood and Vintage Sitka Spruce cut in the 1960s, Leapordwood Bindings, Brazilian Rosewood Fretboard and Bridge and a short scale, 12 Fret Neck. Yummy!
Contact us to reserve this incoming Wilborn guitar or to inquire about the many custom builds we have in process at any given time. Capture your Dream Guitar.
One of the services that Dream Guitars offers is representation for entire or partial collections. We are very fortunate to have many of
the world’s top instrument collectors as our clients and at different times, and for various reasons, they may choose to sell some or all of their treasures. When they do, they call on us.
“The largest collection we’ve represented thus far was 65 classical guitars. Among them were many of the famous Spanish makers, a number of vintage pieces, and some very unique and rare instruments as well.” – Paul Heumiller, owner of Dream Guitars.
Often a collection has a general theme, like this collection of classical guitars, or perhaps vintage Gibson instruments, prewar Martin guitars, or a variety of independent modern luthiers. “Recently, we have been getting in a large collection of vintage Martin and Gibson instruments from a client that we have worked with for more than 10 years. It gives us a very rare opportunity to offer our client base some pieces that you never see in one shop at one time. It is very exciting for me and my team to get to see, play and offer these historic musical gems.” – Paul Heumiller.
We also have a number of clients who have included Dream Guitars in their estate planning. They give explicit instructions to their family members to contact us upon their passing so that we can assist with properly selling and handling the instruments they worked so hard to collect. “It is very humbling to have a client call you and ask you to assist his family. It has been extremely rewarding over the years to assist surviving family members to get through one of the hardest times of their lives. We get to ensure that they are treated fairly and properly compensated in a way that our client would have wanted. We take great pride in assisting folks in this way.” – Paul Heumiller.
For our clients, this large influx of of incredible instruments is educational, exciting and downright fun. We get so many calls and questions when we get in a collection of related instruments. Simply by reading about 20 similar guitars in one grouping, our clients can learn something completely new about the world they love. For instance a client who has never owned a vintage guitar can have a chance to read about many in one visit to our website. Conversely, a steel string player might get a chance to learn who the best nylon makers in the world might be.
“Offering large collections is pure joy. You can’t imagine how ‘kid-like’ we all get in the shop when 20 boxes arrive. It’s like Christmas for weeks.” – Paul Heumiller.
If you have a small or large guitar collection and are in need of help finding a home for some of your pieces, we would be honored to serve you and we will always do so with the upmost respect and gratitude.
Contact us today to discuss your collection 828-658-9795.
Written by Paul Heumiller, Dream Guitars
Click on any of the images throughout the article for a larger view
For those who have never been to the Woodstock Invitational Guitar Festival, it is something quite special. Seventy or so of the top Luthiers in the world are invited by Baker Rorick to come to the small town in the Hudson Valley for a weekend of pure joy for guitarists. This is a small show and it’s overcrowded, but that’s a good thing. It ensures that the show will stay of the highest quality. Baker has no plans to grow the show or move it to a larger location and I think that will keep it very special. It’s already host to more guitars than you can possibly see properly in two days.
For me this year’s show was extra special. It had a real feeling of brotherhood. Perhaps the last few years, very hard years in the guitar business by anyone’s account, have bonded us all. Many builders (and shop owners) have barely survived, others have been forced to go back to a ‘real job’, but most continue to hold onto the passion that drives them to build the finest instruments that we’ve ever seen. Immediately upon arrival I received hugs and handshakes from my friends, the builders who whittle wood to make music. Making the show even more memorable is the fact that Scott Bresnick, the man behind the machine that is Dream Guitars, met me at the show as well. Scott quietly does vast amounts of promotion for us and has been my sounding board since I started DG in New Jersey. So this year is, as I said, was just extra special.
Now for the good stuff, the guitars. Woodstock is like the buffet at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. More food than you can possibly eat, but you’re sure as hell going to try.
As someone who has played thousands of guitars and all of them the finest in the world, I’m struck with the amazing quality of the voices of the instruments here at the show. A large number of the guitars are nothing short of mesmerizing and inspiring. I don’t say that lightly as I am admittedly quite spoiled hanging out at Dream Guitars all day. At a show like this it’s hard to go 10 feet without running into someone else you know and stopping and saying “hi” and catching up. It makes the going slow but well worth while.
I started at the stage where my good friends John Buscarino, Chris & Jeremy Jenkins, Michael Bashkin and Bill Tippin all had their instruments displayed. John had his Autumn Leaves 35th anniversary guitar, complete with an amazing carved tree on the back of the instrument.
Stage left was Keystone guitars from Japan, one of the newest builders to join the Dream Guitars family. Keisuke Nishi built a wonderful modified dreadnought for the show which I promptly snatched up for our clients.
Down on the main floor were a number of builders including:
• Cris Mirabella
• Joe Veillette
• John Osthoff
• Bruce Petros
• Kent Everett
• Julian Gaffney
• David Berkowitz
• Bernie Lehman
• Randy Muth – another builder we invited to join DG at this event
• Ken Parker
• Jason Kostal – indeed Jason Kostal’s guitars are the highest form of artistry
• Tim Reede and Raymond Kraut, both joining the DG Family as well
• Ryan Thorell
• Paul Beard
• Linda Manzer
• Michael Baranik
• And many more.
A veritable cornucopia of fine guitars. Some that have remained etched in my memory are:
Cris Mirabella’s arch top in black with maple accents:
Randy Muth’s guitars all have an amazing and unique voice:
Julian Gaffney, currently apprenticing with Ervin Somogyi, built a stunning guitar that I played for some time and truly enjoyed:
There’s always a big amount of laughter as well, like when Tom Ribbecke decided to probe Kent Everett’s new Petite Model guitar:
But this is just one room at the show. I stepped out the door and into the stage/bar area where there is constantly amazing music being played. All day long there are demo concerts and feature concerts and talks by prominent builders such as Bill Collings, Tom Ribbecke, Michael Gurian, Ken Parker, John Monteleone and Roger Sadowski.
Ear candy everywhere. A short walk across the drive and you enter the secondary room which houses a lot of tonewoods, Luthery tools and a fine display of guitars including multiple Grit Laskin guitars featuring Grit’s fabulous inlay work and two rare Steve Klein Electrics from the Jeff Doctorow collection (see photo below). Jeff is a good friend and fellow Jersey Boy.
John Slobod and his Circa guitars were also here in this room and he and I got a chance to sneak to a back office for some serious tasting. He had two small body guitars with him and each a cannon in its own right. He does things with Maple that are amazing, a lush full voice that’s even prettier than the insanely figured set of wood he actually traveled to Germany for. A few friends joined us as well so I got to hear the guitars from out front and in the driver’s seat and they are masterful.
Another great thing about shows like Woodstock is that it gives me the chance to touch base with Luthiers about what they’re seeing in the business in general. Most everyone has felt an uptick in 2014 with sales increasing. That coincides with what we have seen in the shop as well. Particularly high-end guitar sales have greatly increased in 2014. From where we sit, 2015 looks to be a great year for guitar makers and of course that means for guitar players. With instruments like this being crafted by great people with passion, we should all have plenty of inspiration to make our music for the world.
Below are a list of makers whose guitars we brought back from the show. Contact us here at Dream Guitars for more information:
• Randy S. Muth
• Keystone Guitars
• David MacCubbin
• Raymond Kraut
• John Osthoff
• Bernie Lehmann
• Kevin Pederson
• Tim Reede
Following are a few of the cool & unusual sights from the show as well:
Pellerin Harp Guitar:
Jeff Doctorow’s Steve Klein Guitars:
Lehmann Tiger Maple Bridge:
Manzer Unfinished Guitar:
For more information on the Woodstock Invitational Guitar Festival, please visit their official website.
We here at Dream Guitars are thrilled to have multiple Wayne Henderson guitars in-stock at the moment! We are taking full advantage of this and recorded another one of our guitar roundup video collages of Al jamming away on all three of these amazing guitars. Hear and see three of Wayne Henderson’s guitars side-by-side, played by one of the best acoustic guitar players on the planet, Grammy Award winner Al Petteway!
Wayne Henderson and his guitars need little introduction these days. Having built for an army of the best players in the world, both in the southeast where we live and for big names like Eric Clapton, his guitars are now legendary. But why? Tone, that’s why. No maker reaches the highest levels without killer tone.
The three Henderson guitars featured in this collage are a:
• 1996 Henderson D-18 Mahogany/Spruce – This D-18 style Mahogany Dread was the prize for the 1996 Wayne Henderson Guitar Competition and it has been put to good use since. The well-played spruce top is giving it’s all now, and it is extremely loud and clear as a bell.
• 2010 Henderson D-18 Mahogany/Adirondack (Red) – (Sorry folks this one is already sold!!) This Henderson D-18 in Red Spruce and Mahogany is how a pre war style guitar should be done, and is a perfect example of why Henderson guitars are so sought after. This thing is a flatpicking cannon, it would be hard to find a better suited flatpicking guitar. When you pick this guitar up you instantly realize why Wayne is so well regarded in the guitar world.
• 2010/11 Henderson D-28 Brazilian/Adirondack (Red) – This D-28 in Red Spruce and Brazilian Rosewood is the bluegrassers dream, it has all the power to punch through an instrument heavy jam session, or take on the softer side and it fingerpicks beautifully. The voicing Wayne achieves, as always, is lovely. It is warm and has a great boom chuck.
Did you know that on top of being a master luthier, Wayne is also a heck of a player? Henderson’s top-notch finger-picking is a source of great pleasure and pride to his friends, family, and neighbors in Grayson County, Virginia. His guitar playing has also been enjoyed at Carnegie Hall, in three national tours of “Masters of the Steel-String Guitar”, and in seven nations in Asia.
This Henderson guitar roundup video collage is not the only one of its kind. We have also done collage videos of Ervin Somogyi, Kim Walker, and vintage Martin guitars. You can also view more of our videos on our Youtube channel by clicking here.
“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!”
“Ervin Somogyi has long been one of my favorite builders. He was one of the original luthiers to 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
UPDATE: Paul’s personal baritone guitar built by Ken Jones and Mountain Song Guitars has been completed and added to the Dream Guitars website!! Sorry folks, this particular one is not for sale but you can order your own Mountain Song baritone through Dream Guitars! Click here for more info on Paul’s baritone and Mountain Song or click on one of the images below to watch Al and Paul jamming away on this beauty!
COMPLETED MOUNTAIN SONG BARITONE
ORIGINAL BLOG DURING THE BUILD
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 Baritone 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.
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.”
“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.
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!!”
“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.
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!!
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#?
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…
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.
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.
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.
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:
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