Woodsound Studio - The Fine Art of Luthierie Since 1975 - The Classical Guitars
 


The Classical Guitars

Over the years I have had the opportunity to play the instruments of many of the great contemporary makers as well as those of the historical makers. I have found that “student” instruments often lack balance and have other deficits that contribute to the player’s inability to hear the definition and nuance of the individual strings, i.e., muddiness. This is often coupled with a heavy club-like neck. An unbalanced instrument directly affects how a student builds a uniform stroke. Dead or hot spots demand a control beyond the ability of the average player to overcome.

Students need to be able to hear the subtle nuance of timbre, color, and vibrato in their development stage, and a poor neck design means all fingering is more difficult and less clear. As a player ascends the ladder of learning to the performance level, need for quite a different instrument develops. The instrument needs to be “hotter” and increasingly more brilliant in the high register. This allows the audience to hear all the instrument’s nuance. At the same time this instrument will maintain projection, dynamic range, tone, and color, while the player still has control of the musical dynamics learned on an instrument that was more accessible to the player’s ear.

My goals in building a high-grade instrument were first oriented to the professional-level player and then to the upward-moving student, who requires many of the characteristics found in a professional instrument—easily accessible to the ear—but requiring a different voicing or brace pattern. From this beginning, the first problem of balance was attacked. Building on the framework of the great makers, i.e., Ramirez, Hauser, Fleta, and Simplicio, I started building and correcting archings, brace patterns and voicings while continuing to assemble in the finest non-tensioning building techniques.

While we continue to offer instruments built on the Torres, Hauser, and Ramirez patterns for the historical significance and unique sound these makers’ instruments produced, Woodsound Studio also offers three patterns built upon our insights. All of our models are built with the same brace patterns and Old World assembly processes. The distinctions are found in the choice of materials, trim, the amount of time spent on the voicings, and the type of neck construction.

Neck Design

The Master models and Model 1a have in common a neck that is very complicated to build, beautiful to look at, but most importantly, designed to increase power and sustain. First let me say all models have an asymmetrical neck design, that is to say, the bass side is thicker than the treble side. Due to the shape of the human hand, the thumb and index finger when playing a full barre chord are not parallel and need a slightly thicker and non-parallel surface to achieve correct leverage. Also, the small barre across two or three strings needs a treble-side neck edge design that is more sloped, in order to achieve a proper seal, hence an asymmetrical design.

The neck moves microscopically as a string is plucked, and the more one can damp the neck movement, the more output the top gains in movement. The next consideration in neck design then, is how to prevent the amount of string vibration lost in the movement of neck. (A simple test to prove this concept is to clamp a weight to your guitat neck and listen to the difference in tone and power.) The Master and Model 1a necks are reinforced with twin ebony laminates, set on a taper to stiffen the neck and prevent this loss. The Model 1 and Standard Model instruments have carbon fiber inserts that act as stiffeners and will be added to the Conservatory models on request for an additional fee.

This illustration shows a cross-section of the asymmetrical design of the neck, which allows for a better and easier small barre and better leverage for the full barre. This also illustrates the Model 1a neck with its two ebony verticals for strength and sustain.

Above, necks awaiting carving. The front two are for standard models, while the rest are for Model 1a and Master instruments. To the right are carved necks with fingerboards, ready to be installed on their bodies.

 

In addition, the Master, 1a, 1 and Standard models all have handmade rosettes, tie blocks, and/or other marquetry purflings or inlay strips.

Balance, balance, balance, I hate to play an instrument where I have to adjust my technique for balance rather than play the music. Lack of balance in instrument may be caused by many factors—materials, brace design and voicing, pull of string on the bridge. Too low a saddle can produce a sweet tone, but is often lacking in power. Too tall a saddle, and one gets a brittle sound. All this is controlled by the angle of neck set to body and the action height. Now, here is a critical component—on a fingerboard of uniform thickness, the action must be increased to allow for the softer bass strings to swing from equalibrium and not hit the fret. Increased saddle height on the bass side increases the volume of those strings, throwing the instrument out of balance. In order to eliminate this problem, I plane the fingerboard on the bass side, from nut to end, in a downward taper to set the action with the fingerboard rather thanwith the saddle. The even-height saddle, along with an angled saddle slot, in combination with intelligent brace voicings produces an instrument with superior balance and correct intonation.

Old growth Brazilian rosewood, imported in the 1930s, used for back and ribs on the Master Model.

The Master Models

These models use the most exquisite and exotic materials on earth. The supply of fine-quality tonewoods has diminished to the point that very few of these instruments can ever be produced. We have a small supply of 100-year-old Brazilian rosewood (Delbergia Nigra), the rarest of all rosewoods. Hence, we couple this with the very few pieces of European spruce that meet this exacting standard. Various model instruments built of these precious materials are priced individually, with a starting price range of $10,000 in a lacquer finish. For French polish on the top, the price starts at $10,750.

The Elite Master Grade is built with the finest of the woods we can find, voicing is done over a period of weeks, braces changed or moved until I am fully satisfied with the end result. The body is then French polished in its entirety to a mirror surface approxamately two thousands of an inch thick with a golden, buttery shellac and aged for up to three months before stringing. Price range is $15,000 to $20,000.

The Model 1a

The Model 1a Classic is the top of my Indian rosewood line of concert guitars and is available in either a German Silver Spruce or Western Red Ceder top. I produce this model in a number of different brace patterns to accommodate many players’ styles and needs. I break this down into two broad categories of instruments. Those built to be played on stage have a harder, more brittle tone, dynamic range, and loudness that is determined by projection. The second category is suited to smaller rooms and the player’s personal needs, i.e., warmer tone and greater color, clarity, dynamic range, and loudness that is determined by presence.

As a wood user and dealer to the trade, I search the world to find and buy the finest materials in existence. The Model 1a guitars are built of the most choice of these materials, featuring fully mitred purfling trim, rosewood bindings, handmade rosettes, many more hours spent in the brace pattern voicing, and, as the “a” designates, a neck design sporting a double ebony laminate. This serves both as a point of beauty and a stiffener, yielding greater power and sustain and a slimmer, more playable neck. The finish options are a completely lacquered finish or lacquered back, sides and neck, with a French-polished top, or as an entirely French-polished finish, or a varnish finish.
See options list for polish and varnish pricing. ($8500)

The Model 1

An excellent grade of cedar or European spruce, fine rosewood back and sides, voiced for a subtle blend of stage presence and player intimacy: clear, brilliant highs, full of overtone series dropping away as soon as the note is released, eliminating the muddiness associated with most instruments in this price range. The trim is all wood and fully mitered on both back and sides, creating a stunning individual paneled appearance. All appointments and brace pattern options are available except the 1a neck. ($7500)

The Standard Model

Fine quality cedar or European spruce top, rosewood or European flamed maple back and sides, gloss finish, wood trim, and more hours slated for the voicing process. ($6500)

The Conservatory Models

The Conservatory I - Solid black or claro walnut back and sides, cedar or German spruce top, ebony fingerboard, wood binding, and a gloss lacquer finish. This model is braced and voiced to be clear, brilliant, loud, and most of all, balanced, with a large degree of the soundwaves rolling off the top towards the player’s ears. ($4500)

The Conservatory II - As above, rosewood or maple body and a step up in the quality of spruce top, gloss finish. ($5500)

Black Walnut

Claro Walnut

Curly Maple

Indian Rosewood

Go to the Steel Strings page.


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