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:
Standard Amazon shipping rates apply and appear at the end of the checkout process.
What’s up with the crooked frets? Yes the slanted frets on my guitars are awesome conversation starters. But that’s not what it’s all about.
According to Wikipedia, Ralph Novak, guitar builder and designer, patented the Fanned Fret at the end of the 80’s. While the patent has expired, he still holds the trademark of the term “Fanned-Fret”. Fanned Frets create a different shape to the guitar. The slanted frets lengthen the bass strings and shorten the treble strings. This is further achieved by positioning the bridge at an angle opposite to the nut.*
Fanned Fret guitars are multi-scale instruments designed with a real purpose.
To understand the concept, we need only look at non-fretted stringed instruments. Consider the piano and the harp dulcimer and you immediately notice the bass strings are always longer than the treble strings. The reason for this is to create proper tension with a longer, thicker string to produce full low notes. Conversely the treble strings need to be shorter so they can be tightened to produce the higher pitch. There is a beautiful resonance you get from a longer bass string. When you tune down to D or C or even further, a longer bass string makes all the difference in the quality of the bass notes. The treble string remains normal length or slightly shorter depending on what you need and can offer a great feel that allows for easy playing high notes, bending strings, etc. The combined string lengths or scales, can provide the perfect amount of bass, sweet trebles and playability that you want for your personal style.
Another benefit is slightly improved intonation. You can understand this if you look at a True Temper Fretted guitar like the Bamburg JSB currently on our website, a Micro-Fret guitar, or a Sitar. You will see that accurate placement for every note on every string would require many tiny frets. The Fanned Fret and its longer length bass strings help intonation across the entire fingerboard.
One other powerful benefit is simply the tension of each string in relation to one another. On a standard guitar as you play from the bass strings down to the treble strings, the treble strings are often more tense and noticeably tighter feeling. Fanned Fret guitars help even out the tactile feel and to me are smoother feeling when playing across the strings.
“There is also something about the splay of the fret that feels extremely comfortable, it seems to suit my hand beautifully, more naturally than straight frets.” Paul Heumiller
One other note I’d like to make is that there is very little difference in the overall feel of playing a fanned Fret guitar. I have handed them to many players in our shop without them knowing I was handing them a fanned Fret guitar and often they don’t even notice until they take a hard look at the fingerboard. On a technical note, you can choose where to place the one perpendicular fret and that decision will effect the feel at the first position and elsewhere. Common choices are the 7th, 9th or 12th frets. After owning several fanned fret guitars I’ve settled on the 7th fret for my playing. It keeps the first position very easy to play. “We once had a Jeff Traugott guitar where all the frets were slanted backward toward the headstock 10 degrees. This one purely ergonomic and can be comfortable to some players as well. Though you don’t get the multi-scale benefits.” – Paul Heumiller
Now let’s look at some common Fanned Fret scale combinations and the uses for each. Let me start by saying there are no hard and fast rules. I encourage experimentation and fearlessness in this regard. The least amount of fan that we typically see is a half an inch combining the two common Martin scales 24.9 inches on the treble to 25.4 inches on the bass. This is a great design for someone playing in standard and drop D and even DADGAD but not really going to lower tunings. You’ll feel very little difference at all but you will get improved intonation and clarity and the short trebles are a joy to bend. Other scales we often use for DADGAD players is 25 inch treble scale and 26 inch bass scale, Paul’s Somogyi employed this combination. This works great for DADGAD and even some C tunings. The one inch fan is still very manageable and very versatile. Both of these scales above can be used with standard gauge strings – light gauge works fine as well.
For my personal McConnell guitar we elected to use 25.5 inches on the treble side and 26.25 on the bass side. Jordan McConnell and I decided on this scale combination as I primarily play this guitar in low tunings C9, Gsus4, and DADGAD down a whole step to C. Paul says “I left the trebles long because we wanted them to bite. But I can also put it in standard pitch and it works great. I use 12.5 to 55 gauge strings – just personal preference here.” On the longer side of Fanned Fret would be 25.6 on this treble side to 27 inches or so on the bass side. This big of a spread you’ll feel a bit more but it can go very low – all the way down to A or B, crossing into baritone territory. “I once owned a Traugott with this spread and it was killer!. Bill Tippin is currently building me a short Fanned Fret guitar, this one will be 24.75 – 25.5, I plan to play it mostly in Drop D and Standard and wanted really bendy trebles!” – Paul Heumiller
There’s really no limit to what you can do with the Fanned Fret to accommodate your music and your style of play. At Dream Guitars we are Champions of the Fanned Fret concept and almost always have one or two in stock. We work with many builders who offer Fanned Fret options and owner Paul Heumiller is currently working on a new Fanned Fret Baritone design with Ken Jones that will be available in Spring of 2014.
Give us a call to discuss your needs and see if a Fanned Fret guitar is right for you. We would love to help you design your perfect Fanned Fret guitar.
“We all know that 12 fret guitars tend to have a different tonal profile than 14 fret guitars. Often they are often a little more complex and seem to just breath a little easier in the low end. This is largely due to the bridge position being shift down to a more central position in the lower bout. With a fanned fret guitar, the bass end of the bridge is in a ’12 fret’ position and the treble end is is in a ’14 fret’ position. This makes it easier for the bass strings to move the top and produce a nice full bass response. Meanwhile, at the other end of the bridge, the treble strings are still in a 14 fret position. The top is ‘tighter’ there and better able to produce good strong trebles. So… it seems to me that a fanned fret guitar, by virtue of the angled bridge, gives us the tonal best of both the 12 fret and 14 fret design.” – Mark Blanchard – Blanchard Guitars
The beginning of 2014 brings to us an amazing 2013 Mountain Song Odalisque Claro Walnut/Carpathian Acoustic Guitar, built by our very own Ken Jones. Ken is our primary luthier here at Dream Guitars for repair work. Ken, a proud member of the Guild of American Luthiers, also builds stringed instruments including custom, hand-built acoustic guitars and mandolins under the name Mountain Song Guitars nearby in Candler NC. Recently we invited him to start building his amazing Mountain Song Guitars for us as well and this one certainly does not disappoint!!
The Odalisque is Ken’s original body shape and makes for a perfect midsize guitar that is about controlled power. For this guitar, Ken selected some beautiful highly figured Flamed Walnut and Carpathian Spruce. This guitar also features a Venetian Cutaway, a Custom Interlocking Ebony and Ziricote rosette, and comes with an Ameritage Hardshell case. “This is the best sounding Walnut guitar I’ve ever played . The bass projects perfectly, with a bit of OM style snap, the midrange is warm and lush and the trebles are sweet and blossom beautifully. Ken added wonderful touches including Armrest and Ribrest Bevel, Red Perfling lines around the entire guitar and an elegant Ziricote Fingerboard , Rosette and Bridge. Welcome Ken Jones to Dream Guitars!” – Paul Heumiller
“Ken Jones’ Mountain Song Guitars Odalisque is one of the best fingerstyle guitars I’ve ever played. It has beautiful woods and a perfect neck shape and size. The tone is balanced and clear with lots of sweetness in the high end and a nice controlled bass. I would buy it right now if I could. I love it.” – Al Petteway
Another note on Ken – He also offers individualized guitar building instruction ranging from one day workshops targeting specific aspects of the construction process, to long term courses covering the entire guitar-building process from wood selection all the way through to final setup.
“For me the best compliment I can give Ken Jones is that I have one of his Baritone Fan Fret guitars on order for 2014. I’ve been so impressed with the originality of his designs and most importantly the satisfying tone of his instruments that I just had to have one. Inspiration and passion are how I judge guitars and Mountain Song guitars have both in spades!” – Paul Heumiller
Hot news from Tippin Guitars: New model, the Forte,
and two new Al Petteway Signature Models coming down the pike
Dream Guitars is proud to bring you some exciting news from Tippin Guitars including a brand new model and incoming DG inventory!!
Bill Tippin’s New Forte Model
First off, Bill Tippin introduced his newest creation, the Tippin Forte, at the recent Healdsburg Guitar Festival in California. This is a new model from him and is one of his most creative projects to date.
The Forte, based on his Crescendo model, was inspired by Tippin’s own personal guitar preferences. He found a way to boost the richness of the Crescendo — he increased the width of lower bout while maintaining the balance — and it’s slightly wider (3/16th”) at its widest.
Our own Paul Heumiller and Al Petteway had the privilege of playing the new Forte while out in Healdsburg. “The new Forte model from Bill Tippin has everything I love about the Crescendo, balance, clarity, power and Bill’s trademark full trebles, but it adds a bit more fullness to the bass for the player that enjoys a bit more thump in the chest. Outstanding!” – Paul H.
The Original Tippin Crescendo Model
The Crescendo, which is considered to be the cornerstone of Tippin’s entire line of guitars, is large yet versatile. Imagine a 14-fret OMT with the rich tone normally found in an 00012-fret size. The Crescendo manages to combine the feel of a 14-fret OMT while preserving the rich tone of a 12-fret body model, replete with incredible tone, balance and projection.
And, by the way, our own Paul Heumiller is anxiously awaiting to take delivery of his personal, custom Crescendo. Paul’s model is made from Brazilian/Moon spruce with a cutaway, MOP sparkle trim. What makes this custom job so unique is that it includes a short-scale, Fan Fret design, which will perform well in Drop-D, DADGAD and standard tunings.
The Tippin Al Petteway Signature Model
Also, Bill has embarked on a new build of the Tippin Al Petteway Signature, also based on the Crescendo model. Check out this video demonstration of the Petteway Signature on our YouTube channel. This instrument is representative of Bill at the top of his game, and when you listen to our studio recording you’ll understand what we mean. Interested in purchasing the incoming Tippin Al Petteway Signature model? Contact us today to learn more about your reservation options.
We do also have a pre-owned Al Petteway Signature in stock as well if you would rather not wait for the incoming guitar. This 2008 Crescendo Al Petteway Signature was actually originally purchased by Al Petteway himself and was the first Signature model ever made! This beauty features brick red Brazilian Rosewood, Moon Harvested European Spruce, an armrest bevel, beveled cutaway, and new heel design. Click here to learn more.
Exclusive Opportunity! Reserve this Stunning, Custom
Grit Laskin Guitar, inspired by Dream Guitars, Today!
This is exciting stuff, folks. We all know that Grit Laskin is one of the finest luthiers around and is widely considered as a master of inlay work. Today, Dream Guitars announces that he is working on a custom guitar that we have made available for reservation with delivery expected in December.
Our own Paul Heumiller worked with Grit to develop the basic inlay ideas and Laskin took off running. As you can see in these pictures, the design is amazing, intricate and just short of groundbreaking.
Here is some of what Grit himself had to say about this piece:
One of the most beloved and influential guitarists was the legend who passed away just last year, Doc Watson. I began thinking about Doc, and about the natural world and the title from Shakespeare popped into my head: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which takes place in a forest. The more I read about Doc, the more his life inspired me: His musical beginnings, the events in his life that shaped him and the fact that what gave him the musical bug was the shape-note hymns sung by his mother. My brain locked onto that seminal influence and also latched onto the literal meaning of the word shape — this old-style singing shaped his life, yes, but the notes themselves also provided physical shapes in which I could place scenes and elements from his life. Bingo.
“I’m putting a large portrait of Doc picking a guitar on the headstock in the same realistic I used for John Lennon on the ‘Imagine’ guitar. Flowing down the fret board are the seven basic shapes of shape notes (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti) large enough to place within elements such as Doc’s earliest musical instruments, his early solo album, ‘Southbound,’ which first brought him to prominence. In fact, the working title of the piece is ‘Southbound.’
Talk about creative thinking.
If you’re jazzed about this guitar and Laskin’s work no one would blame you if you missed our announcement, so here it is again: This guitar is available and you can reserve it now by contacting the Dream Guitars shop near Asheville, NC, right away. If you miss this opportunity, or want to see more of Grit Laskin’s work, check out the gallery on his homepage.
Our new inventory for the fall has been ordered. This means we need to make room for these new instruments and move out a handful of current guitars in stock.
In light of this, today we are kicking off our “10 DG Deals of Summer” which are our best prices of the year on some of our most desired inventory!!
Each day between now and the end of the month, we will be announcing a rock bottom price deal on an instrument we have in stock.
And as fast these deals come, they go as quickly. All deals during the “10 DG Deals of Summer” expire 10 days after being posted here.
So without any further delay, let the deals begin!!
Check back to this blog daily between today and the end of the month for New Daily Deals
Ready to Order? Call Us Today 828-658-9795
Let Al Petteway teach you how to play “Tennessee Mountain Rag,” featured on the “Dream Guitars, Vol. 1” CD and in the book of tab
A while back, guitar great Al Petteway sat in front of the camera at our showroom in Weaverville, North Carolina, just outside of Asheville, and gave us all a lesson on how to play his own composition, “Tennessee Mountain Rag,” which is included on the “Dream Guitars, Volume 1, The Golden Age of Luthiers” CD and tablature book.
For the lesson, Al plays a Tippin Al Petteway Signature Model with Brazilian Rosewood and Moon Spruce, built by one of the great luthiers in the United States, Bill Tippin of Tippin Guitars.
“In this style of music, everything is out there to be had,” Al explains when discussing his writing method for this song, which taps into many other tunes and progressions in the genre, and the way he puts it all together to make it his own. This is songwriting, folks.
Al also details his chords as well as a cool “chicken picking” technique that he uses for a neat walk-down. He also details optional rhythm choices, which he points out are reminiscent of the style of Chet Atkins. He also shows you a neat lick he learned from listening to Atkins.
You can watch the video here on our Dream Guitars YouTube channel. The “Dream Guitars, Vol. 1” CD and complete book of tablature is available in our online store. All of this and more is available in the online shopping cart.
You should also visit his website at www.alandamy.com to learn more about Al Petteway, his wife, Amy.
The pleasure of owning your very own Dream guitar — Tippin, Traugott, Martin, Laskin, McConnell or any other instrument from our collection or from one of your lucky finds — can only be ensured with proper care and maintenance… and that starts with the right case. Get into one today!
Dream Guitars has a solid collection of outstanding guitar cases from trusted brands including Main Stage, Hoffee and others.
How about a little primer on exactly which guitar cases we have to offer, shall we?
First off are the magical Main Stage cases, which are comparable to Calton Cases, another popular brand. In fact, Main Stage was founded by two former employees of Calton and these guys remain true to the quality and care that helped make Calton a big name. Now they’re doing it on their own and the Main Stage brand has earned an excellent reputation for superbly made, professional grade hard-shell fiberglass touring cases for stringed instruments. Each case is handmade for your exact instrument, featuring custom fit, color and finish.
We order all of our Main Stage cases with Thinsulate thermal padding and granite finish. Custom Order prices may vary.
Another of our most popular cases is from Hoffee…. you won’t be disappointed.
Hoffee cases are priced right and the strong, lightweight, carbon fiber cases are custom Made in the USA. Hoffee is proud of its state-of-the-art mission, from the materials to the process itself. The carbon fiber shells are stronger and lighter than other wooden, ABS (plastic) or fiberglass cases.
Dream Guitars offers custom sizing and an array of colors, allowing 4-6 weeks for delivery. Check out our store — where we also have cases from Cedar Creek, Colorado and Ameritage for sale — and contact us for details. If you’re in the area, stop by the shop in Weaverville, NC, just outside of Asheville, and explore.
He took time out of his schedule to demo several National Resophonic guitars and perform the classic song, “Guitar Rag,” widely regarded as the first slide guitar song ever recorded (1923).
He also sat down in front of the camera to talk about his life in music; click here to check it out on our YouTube channel. Steve recalls his first records (a collection of Lead Belly 78 RPMs he got the age of 4), his first guitar (a 1963 Gibson J-50) and his early days in New York City studying under such greats as Freddie Lewis and Stan McGee. He also points out the importance of the lessons he learned listening to the unique techniques of Blind Willie Johnson and the alternate tunings of Muddy Waters and Bukka White, some of the unsung heroes of the bottleneck slide blues.
He wraps things up talking about American blues music, calling it “our great export… this is what we offer to the world. People love our music and love to listen to it.”
This video is brought to you by Dream Guitars, proud to be a National Resophonic dealer… and a good friend of Steve James! Contact us today to get your very own National steel! Visit www.stevejames.com for more about Steve!
Our own Paul Heumiller recently sat down in front of the cameras to talk about one of Dream Guitars’ favorite builders, Jordan McConnell of McConnell Guitars (and the Grammy-award winning band, The Duhks) for a video interview. You see, Paul is not only has a savvy eye when it comes to great luthiers and their instruments, but also sees things from the mindset of a player. In fact, he’s a proud owner of a McConnell and shares his feelings about that fine, custom made instrument with the viewer. Paul makes clear the guitar’s ability to bring out the music and sound he feels inside, a rare trait for any custom instrument.
McConnell builds rich-sounding and versatile instruments in both steel string and classical models at his shop in Winnipeg, Canada, on the fringes of the Canadian Prairies. McConnell became enamored with the construction of guitars at a young age and has studied with famed Spanish luthier, Jose Romanillos, gaining a valuable education in the work, the craftsmanship.
Among his customers: Tim Sparks, an award-winning fingerpicking player, jazz greats Larry Roy and Harley Card, Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers and Irish player John Doyle.
So, Paul sat down in our Weaverville, NC, studio, to talk about this fine luthier, who works with his father on the construction of the guitars. As a builder, Jordan McConnell has become a hot name and his work is in demand. While we do not have currently any in stock, Dream Guitars is accepting orders for his custom builds. Paul will personally work with you to ensure you get what your music deserves. Contact us to discuss the possibilities.
Considering a McConnell now? You may also want to check out this video of Jordan McConnell at the Dream Guitars headquarters a few years ago, offering an exclusive performance. We also have several other video samples of various McConnell guitars on our YouTube channel as well as the Listening Studio on our home page.
Special thanks to Dan Crapsi and Ginny Temple, who visited our shop and filmed this interview for their blog, thegoodguitar.com.