does the choice of soundboard species affect the
For classical guitars, I primarily use Swiss spruce or Western
red cedar. The differences are those of the artists taste
in tone and response and also depend on if the player has adjusted
his or her technique to cedar or spruce guitars.
The cedar has a slightly faster response; a note develops more
quickly. It also tends to sound a bit warmer; its been described
as darker. It also seems that a cedar top develops its voice
more quickly and over many years peaks sooner and falls into decline
sooner than a spruce top.
The Swiss spruce has greater clarity and projection; at the same
time it is capable of greater harmonic complexity. It takes a
little longer than cedar to reach its peak, stays there
longer and falls into decline later. This is over many years;
it normally would not be the reason for choosing one wood or the
I often use Italian spruce for the period instruments such as
the 11 string baroque guitar. It is less harmonically complex
and is more suitable for the voicing of such an instrument. The
differences between these two spruces are quite subtle. This having
been said, there are many factors that influence the tone. Bracing
patterns, shapes and dimensions, top thicknessing, the characteristics
of each soundboard all contribute greatly, critically, to each
guitars tone. The differences between these woods can be
subtle and are apt to be more apparent to the player than to the
Engelman spruce is also a good wood; the best pieces compare favorably
to the Swiss spruce.
steel strings, primarily Engelman spruce. A wonderfully complex
sounding wood, I find that through selection, thicknessing and
bracing I can coax a wide range of tonal qualities from it I have
used Western red cedar on occasion. It produces a full, round,
warm sound, a quick response and is a delightful change for finger
style guitarists. I would use Sitka spruce for some guitars that
are flat picked at high volumes. It is generally better suited
for this style.
finishes do you use?
classical guitars, I use French polish on the soundboard and a
thin nitrocellulose lacquer on the neck, back and sides. There
is enough evidence that French polish is better acoustically (on
the soundboard) to outweigh its disadvantages. It is more
fragile and not as water resistant but is also easily repaired.
The lacquer provides a thin, beautiful and durable finish for
the rest of the guitar. On steel strings I use the nitrocellulose
lacquer throughout. I also use a thin clear acetate pick guard,
nearly invisible, to protect the finish as needed. I have been
experimenting with water based finishes, keeping finished guitars
for years and evaluating the results. These are attractive finishes,
fine acoustically but long term durability has not been nearly
as good as the solvent based lacquer. There has been finish degradation
where the guitar comes into frequent contact with skin. The situation
is improving through cross linking additives and when the technology
comes far enough along, Ill use these finishes for the sake
of the environment and my own health.
what ways can you customize the guitar for each
every aspect of the guitar can be adjusted. We will first come
to an understanding of your tastes and requirements, tonally,
tactile and aesthetically and discuss pros and cons of guitars
you have owned. Through wood selection, adjustments in body depth,
thicknessing and bracing and scale length, I will endeavor to
create a guitar that possesses the sound and feel that you are
seeking. We will discuss choices in rosettes, bindings, wood figure
and, on steel strings, the limitless inlay possibilities. A slightly
smaller guitar with a shorter string length can sound wonderful.
The slight decrease in volume is not very noticeable, it will
function well in the concert hall and, in some people, will reduce
the possibility of hand and arm injuries.
type of strings do you use?
On classicals I prefer DAddario J45 or J46 sets (medium
and hard tension, respectively). If you prefer other types of
greater tension or the composites, tell me and I will adjust intonation
accordingly. For the steel strings I like DAddario J16 or
J17 sets, phosphor bronze lights or mediums. Again, if you prefer
other sets that are gauged much differently, tell me and Ill
adjust compensation for those sets.
kind of cases do you supply?
The standard case included with the guitar is a plush, arched
hardshell case made by Harptone. Also available, at additional
cost, are the flight cases, built for frequent airline checked
baggage duty (cringe!). Calton is my favorite. Cases by Mark Leaf
are also available.