Woodsound Studio - The Steel Strings
 


The Steel String Guitars

In my career as a performer-repairer-restorer, I have played many steel string guitars and have found balance to be a critical problem that is all too prevalent. They often are lacking in the mid range and/or they have a boomy, overpowering bass, sometimes even a bass that thuds and has no sustain. I began to attack this problem with a classical construction mindset, i.e., with a more tuneable brace pattern and body styles that promote control of the soundwaves on the interior and frequency ranges off the exterior plate. One can increase or lessen the stiffness of a top with brace placement or the voicing of that brace. This allows the top to couple with the air to enhance or limit the frequency range and the volume of those frequencies— very much like blending grapes to produce a particular flavor in a fine wine. It is not enough to put the brace on a mark or to have great wood. It’s also necessary to have the understanding, time, and experience to voice that brace and blend that most elusive-of-all elements, tone.

Work board for dreadnaught top.

Work board in vacuum press.

Next, we need to consider the materials. They all have a different sound characteristic—from dull to brilliant, warm to metalic—and not all trees of the same species have the “ring.” How the wood is cut, treated, and cured can be critical to successfully producing good materials to work with, but choosing the wood, matching it to the model instrument to be made, and selecting the brace wood to match the top’s stiffness, spliting that expensive brace block to eliminate runout, that is the care and art to building what will become an heirloom instrument.

The design for the top is based on loud speaker designs, i.e., a domed top with a center driver, the bridge. The top, after joining with a spring joint which naturally forms a slight cup, is laid into a workboard mold that has the finished shape milled into the surface. The brace stock also has the exact curvature milled on the bottom surface to fit the top as it is lightly pressed into the form. All braces are form fit on the bottom, shaped on the show surface to eliminate weight, jointed into each other and are glued with hide glue in a vacuum press. This even pressure ensures no gaps or hot and cold spots in the clamping. The crushing and deformation of conventional clamps is eliminated. The design has a fan structure inside the traditional X that radiates the sound from the bridge and allows me the ability to voice the stiffness and weight throughout the top. The curvature of the back is a focused parabola, aiming the reflected air movement back into the X or sound hole for tremendous sustain.

The reason for using hide glue instead of aliphatic resin is the repairability of the glue joint should damage ever occur. Aliphatic resin, or plastic glue, cannot be reactivated once a glue joint is damaged, such as a brace popping off from a blow. Hide glue, or hot animal skin glue, when properly used, is stronger and has been proven by centuries of use. It has two major advantages: a broken glue joint can be reactivated with warm water and new glue, and glue joints are glass hard and do not “creep,” as do plastic glues.


The SP model with a cedar top on a Brazilian rosewood body.

The Model SP

Our smallest steel string model, the SP, has a slightly enlarged classical guitar body, with tighter waist and larger lower bout, 12 frets to the body, and a slotted headstock. It is X-braced for strength, with a single transverse bar and behind the bridge plate a series of fans that run into the transverse brace. The braces are joined into the X or transverse for added strength and stability and slipped under a lip of the Brazilian rosewood bridge plate. The SP is a true vocalist’s and fingerstylist’s delight. Its tone is balanced, warm, clear and loud, singing in all registers. Its body is easy to hold on either leg when seated and won’t hike your shoulder up in the air. This instrument is just a blast to play. Available with or without slotted headstock and a bendaway in certain woods.

The SP model showing a gorgeous Brazilian rosewood back and sides and rare rosewood neck.


The Model LP

The LP model with a German spruce top on a highly flamed koa body.

The LP bendaway model with a German spruce top on an Indian rosewood body.

The LP is a model I designed for the fingerpicker-flatpicker who requires a stronger bass, balanced mid-range, and a high, singing upper voice with great punch, sustain, carrying power, and a very fast delivery of note. The body is actually tapered in the opposite direction from what we consider normal, i.e., deeper in the lower bout, tapering to the upper bout. The LP is thinner in depth in the bass and slightly deeper in the upper bout. The body width is the same as a Dreadnaught’s 15.5 inches, giving it a flexability that the thinner depth kicks forward, for a very fast response time, punchy, but with bottom. The response is still balanced, and the German spruce top gives it the clear ringing trebles that with time and play develop warmth. This model can trade lead licks with the best of them and still sit down and play a ballad or finger-style blues, rag, or what have you. It is X-braced, with my domed top and fan structure, and works well in all types of wood, and particularly well with a bendaway.

View of the highly flamed koa body.

The LP bendaway back in Indian rosewood.


The Dreadnaughts

The Dreadnaughts are exceptional in the way they bring clarity and balance to what is essentially a rhythm instrument, a thinner bodied dreadnaught outline, a little tighter at the shoulders, enabling the guitarist to play much faster flatpicking lead lines. It is also a solid accompaniment instrument and does a great job of finger style with a heavier bottom that sings with no trace of thud. We also make the body in a standard depth, more bottom end designed for the player who predominently plays rhythm. Like all of our models, it has the domed top and a fan within the X to produce better balance and more power.

The Twelve-String Instruments

 

I also offer the LP and Dreadnaught models with a truly in-tune twelve-string configuration. I use a double-saddle system to achieve a perfect intonation for both sets of strings, one course passing over the second saddle for correct intonation for that course’s core diameter. The two independant saddle routes meet in the treble to achieve intontation for the unison courses.

 

All of the steel strings are built with a crown, X braced with fans, thicker in the center and thinned on the edges to produce the utmost in responsiveness, tonal control, and evenness of balance.

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