finest acoustic guitars essay

Finest Acoustics

We are true fans of the great vintage guitars of the American guitar-making tradition. That is, the acoustic guitars from the major manufacturers dating back to the pre-war and war time eras, those that have defined the way modern guitars are supposed to sound and play. Years spent enjoying, studying and repairing vintage guitars have taught us the art of guitar-making, by helping us understand the founding principles of lutherie and how to apply them. A great sounding and playing guitar is the sum of many individual elements coming together nicely: design, materials, craftsmanship and building techniques.

Mastering all these elements requires a knowledge that must also encompass the historic and social context, where the Golden Era vintage guitars were made. This holistic understanding of the ‘Golden Era’ is manifested on our workbench today.

We build replicas of the American ‘Golden Era’ guitars by replicating everything that made such instruments the standard by which all others are judged.

WOOD | we use moon-logged, air dried Italian (red) spruce exclusively, both for tops and braces. We buy direct from the source. From the actual guy, who goes looking for the right tree in the forest. He’s extremely picky about his wood and harvests only when the tree meets his stringent requirements: grown at the right altitude, in the proper orientation, in the right growing conditions. He cuts according to the tradition – following the moon phases. Likewise, he splits and air dries his tops also according to moon phases. The wood that we source from him is without equal. We truly believe that this particular spruce, compared to the highest quality, moon-harvested, air-dried spruce that we are able to find elsewhere, makes for that extra 3% final difference in tone that makes all the difference. Before you ask: no, we won’t disclose where we source our spruce.

We use only the highest quality tonewoods for the guitars back, sides and neck. We offer a wide range of options: from Brazilian rosewood, to Honduran mahogany, to maple from the Balkans. Indian rosewood has somehow gotten a bad reputation among guitarists and collectors for being somewhat lesser in tonal quality than Brazilian rosewood. While it’s true that straight-grained (yes, the boring looking type), old-growth Brazilian rosewood has no rivals for that big tone that is full, boomy and dry at the same time, it’s also true that Indian rosewood got its bad reputation for the mediocre quality wood that is usually found on modern guitars sporting Indian rosewood back and sides. We understood that instantly the day we stumbled upon a very old stash of Indian rosewood that had been cut and stored away for decades. It’s what we use to build our ‘910 batch’ banner Gibson Southern Jumbo replicas and it sounds heavenly.

BUILDING MATERIALS | we follow the tradition closely. Modern materials have no place in the construction of acoustic guitars.

Using hot, hide glue for all wood joints is absolutely paramount. We know there’s many who say glue type doesn’t matter. Let them happily have their Titebond (or – yuck! – white glue) guitars. We’ll stick to hide glue, which produces a joint that is not only stronger, but also far superior for sound transmission. And its also totally reversible – just as a small bit of insurance for the future.

Finishing a guitar in pure, nitrocellulose lacquer takes about as much time as building it from scratch. Nonetheless, pure nitrocellulose lacquer is what we use exclusively. The process of applying nitrocellulose lacquer is long and laborious but the results in terms of tone and appearance are worth the effort. Nothing matches a thin, glossy nitrocellulose finish: it sounds amazing, look gorgeous and feel absolutely perfect. No need to have satin finished necks with nitrocellulose as it will never feel sticky – just pleasantly silky smooth.

Celluloid is the oldest type of plastic, but nothing can beat it when it comes to guitar pickguards and bindings. We hand cut our pickguards from pure celluloid sheets and apply them directly on the bare wood tops. Then, they will be finished over with nitro lacquer and the final result will look and feel just right. Not even close to a modern plastic pickguard stuck over catalyzed finish by means of 3M double stick tape. Not even close.

BUILDING TECHNIQUES | Understanding top and back curvature and humidity and how the two things interact is crucial. We build in yearly batches in order to concentrate the most climate-sensitive operations (bracing of tops and backs, body assembly) during the winter, when we have better control over relative humidity in the workshop. We like to work with less than 40% RH and we like to keep RH as stable as possible during the months when we perform body construction and assembly. We invested in climate control years ago and it was money well spent. For anybody into vintage Martins, we encourage you to investigate the differences in top and back arch between instruments built during the winter and those built during the summer. CF Martin & Co. was very rigorous with their serial numbering therefore with a bit of research it’s possible to tell whether a guitar was built during the summer or winter based on its serial number. You’ll find that winter guitars have maintained a better, more consistent top arch, are less prone to top and back cracks and often they’ll sound better.

Adjustable truss rods: we don’t like them and we don’t use them. We think most adjustable truss rod designs are such that the more the rod is tightened, the worse the guitar will sound. This has to do with neck wood compression and the way the guitar neck reflects back or dissipates the energy coming from the body. If a neck is well built and fretted correctly, it won’t need an adjustable truss rod to hold straight. We use non-adjustable rods, either the standard steel T-bar for our 30’s style Martin replicas or wooden rods, like Martin used prior to 1934 and during the war time and at Gibson during war time. We are big fans of the Gibson ‘maple V rod’ in particular, which is far better than the ebony strips used by Martin. It’s way more stable, plus the maple gives some of its special ‘spice’ to the tone: a subtle snap that we really like.

All our guitars feature a traditional dovetail neck-to-body joint (glued with hot hide glue, in case you were wondering). Again, if performed correctly it’s still by far the best way to put body and neck together and have them play as a whole. It’s lightweight and efficient and it can be disassembled safely and neatly wherever it’s held together by means of hide glue. Bolts have no place in acoustic guitars: no practical utility and no tonal function. Plus, they make for a heavy instrument. And we like light guitars, the lighter, the better.