So here we are, another issue, another ridiculously awesome acoustic guitar. I’m telling you, folks, we are living in the golden age of the acoustic guitar, and I’m gonna keep reviewing ridiculously awesome guitars as long as people keep building them. The latest gorgeous thing I have managed to wrap my hot little hands around is a guitar made by David Flammang. I visited David’s shop in Greene, IA, several years ago, and became a Flammang fan, partly because his guitars are gorgeous, beautifully made and fantastic sounding, and partly because he’s an outstandingly sweet human being. Flammang built his first guitar in 1990, and twenty guitars later in 1997 started building full time. A couple years ago I got to play Catfish Keith’s Flammang, a deep-body, short-scale EL model with a flawless tobacco burst top, and it rocked my world.
I asked Flammang about his tone, and what drives him to make guitars. “In all my listening to acoustic music, I took note of incredible-sounding acoustic guitars and have set on a quest to find what causes their voice. I come from a woodworking background, and woodworkers, including guitar makers, are good at sharing.” He continues, “It seems to me that good tone is relative to its purpose. The difference between, say, the Martin voice and the Gibson voice is usually distinct, but without one or the other, we probably would only have about half of the great music that has been produced.” I was anxious to hear more of the Flammang voice.
Our review guitar is simply stunning, a Grand Auditorium model. The top wood is pale, beautifully grained Carpathian spruce with an adorable rosette of ebony with a delicate spiraling pattern almost dancing its way around the soundhole. I honestly gasped when I opened the case and saw it. The ebony fingerboard fingerboard is blissfully blank, and the demure lower case “f” on the ebony headstock face makes a statement much like a single diamond pendant does on a beautiful woman. The ebony tuning machine buttons add to the elegance of the understatement. A few nights ago, my writers group got to talking about Iowans eschewing ostentation and flashiness for almost Spartan simplicity. There’s nothing Spartan about this guitar, but Dave Flammang speaks understatement with a silver tongue.
When you turn it over and check out the back and sides, that’s when your hands start to quiver and you start to drool. It’s not just Brazilian rosewood, it’s drop-dead sexy Brazilian rosewood. The grain whirls like smoke, almost black in places over the immediately recognizable Brazilian brown. The sides complement the back perfectly, the ebony bindings complement the entire theme of understatement, and the finish is like silk under the fingers. The scent of the guitar is delicate; that hint of rose in the wood just about takes your breath away. The shape is lovely as well; the upper bout is 11" across, while the lower bout swells to 15" from a waist of 9.25".
Does She Go, Eh?
Oh, she goes. And goes and goes. The sustain is remarkable. We’re used to bass ringing on and on forever, but the treble sustains on this guitar almost as long, too. This is what guitars are supposed to sound like: rich and brilliant, full and warm with no nasal midrange, and no mushy, muddy bottom end. Just play an open chord, like an Em7, and let it go. If you dig in you get an angelic roar, incredible volume and magical tone. If you play soft, you get delicacy and gentleness, but the tone doesn’t wimp out and get thin or reedy sounding. Capo’d, the Flammang stays lively. There is the expected small loss of sustain and brilliance, but it’s basically just a slightly darker version of the same tone, and no less desirable or beautiful.
It plays beautifully, too. It’s nicely set up out of the box, but this guitar would take a custom set-up like a dream. I had no problems playing anything; it was completely comfortable for me. There’s no pickguard, so the intention is most likely for fingerstyle playing, and with the fretboard 1.75" wide at the nut, it is wonderful for that, but this is an outstanding flatpickin’ guitar, too, especially in open tunings that can really highlight the gorgeous and brilliant sustain. Recorded with a really good guitar mic (we chose an sE3 from sE Electronics), there is so much depth and detail that it sounds like you’re inside it. There are no crunchy or snotty overtones to fight, no unmanageable boominess to wrangle. You just record it and you’re done, which is outstanding, and exactly what you want in a studio guitar.
The Final Come-to-Mama Mojo
The Druids of ancient Ireland called themselves “carpenters of song.” Once in a while you find a guitar that lives up to that idea. This one does. It literally (yes, literally) took my breath away from the moment I opened the case. What’s not to love? Gorgeous woods and sweet understatement meet under six strings and sing like angels. Flammang says, “I’m looking for a complete, excitable voice that comes from wood. I want the person who plays my guitar to feel inspired to play that next note.” Nobody could have said it better. As of this writing, this guitar was available at Stars Guitars in Cedar Rapids, IA.
you’re looking for top-notch craftsmanship, gorgeous woods, beautiful tone and exquisite work.
you want something flashy instead of substantively simple.