Read the January issue for FREE!
more... GearBuilder ProfilePhoenix

From High-Tech to High-End: The Story of the Phoenix Guitar Company


The current project pages, with the in-progress pictures, are a nice addition to the website. Does it help connect with the customers?

I think that’s true, and it’s something that both of us were into before we started this – we enjoyed seeing how people do different things, and so we thought that other people might enjoy seeing that on our website. Although we’ve had the same current projects up for a while – we’ve just been so busy with the classes!

A student-made guitar with cocobolo sides and back and Sitka spruce top. George is quick to point out that this isn''t just the best one - they''re all this good. He jokes: "It must be the great instruction."
When did you start to incorporate classes?

Well actually, I took a class first. I had built a few guitars – I built my first one in 1989 – and in 1992 I went to a class in Peter''s Valley, New Jersey that was actually being taught by Dick Boak and Bill Cumpiano, who are two pretty good names in the business. At this class I fell in love with the whole idea… I really enjoyed it. They invited me back to help teach the class for a couple of years after that. And this all was a part-time thing for a long time; in late-2000 I decided to hold my own classes, just a couple of students out of my garage. I taught the class for four or five years just to people I knew. Diana took the class in 2001 and started helping me immediately after – we have a lot of fun with it.

The students’ guitars looked really impressive on the website.

The students’ guitars are really great.

How large are the classes, generally?

The weekend warrior class, which is normally taught every Saturday, has six students.

And then you do individual ones?

Yes, we do one-on-one and, at the most, one-on-two during the week. We’ve got a one-on-one archtop class going right now; Diane’s about to start a one-on-two class with a couple of steel strings.

A lot of the people who take our classes aren’t players. One gentleman who’s just about to take the class for the second time, built his first guitar for his youngest son, and he’s taking the class again to build a guitar for another one of his four sons, but he doesn’t play himself.

In a class like the archtop class, do the students get to choose what size they want to make?

Well, they will be able to soon, we think. For the student archtops we don’t carve the tops, we use the Fritz Kollitz company out of Germany, which offers molded tops and backs. They’re solid wood, but they’re molded, so we use them for the student classes.

It’s probably a bit easier for the students.

Yeah, it’s a lot less weight and less chance of screwing up the guitar. It’s actually what we typically do on our 17” archtop, unless someone requests a specific wood and we have to carve it. We’ve been really impressed with the way these have sounded acoustically – a very powerful sound, the tops are very strong. If somebody wants a carved top, we’ll give them a carved top, of course, but in the classes, people want to walk out with a great guitar. If someone doesn’t have that kind of experience to carve a top, it’s something that’s more likely to be a problem. But we talked with Oliver Kollitz at the last NAMM show, and he said that they offer 14-16” tops, and we’re going to sample these; if we find that they fit within our design, then we’ll be able to offer a bigger variety of archtop sizes.

So what are you working on now? The 15?

I’m working on what we’re going to call the Phoenix 15. It’s the 15” version of the Baby Phoenix. We know a number of professional players who get together every so often and we talk to them about the guitars. One of them said that the 14 was a bit small, and with his arthritis, the 17 was too big – he wanted to know if we did a 15. And the two of us had a light bulb go off simultaneously.

Is it the same guitar, just in different sizes?

Pretty much, but they all have slightly different touches. The Baby Phoenix has flame f-holes, and the Phoenix 15 will have a standard bound f-hole. But, you know, we can do any of these features on any of the models.

Do you guys have the classical model now, or are you still working on that?

We finished the first one. We have a really good relationship with the professor of classical guitar at Arizona State, and he came over to evaluate the guitar and he really liked it. That one has a cedar top and Indian rosewood for the sides and back. Diane is working on another one now that’s going to be Englemann spruce top and Zircote for the sides and back.

From left to right:
Grand Concert Cutaway: 16 inch lower bout, has myrtle sides and back, Indian rosewood bindings, Englemann spruce top, maple neck, and optional sound port
Steel String OM Cutaway: 15 inch lower bout, mahogany sides and back, Indian rosewood bindings, Sitka spruce top, and a pyramid bridge
Nylon String OM Cutaway: Koa sides and back with koa bindings, optional sound port, cedar top, and a pyramid bridge
Classical: Asymmetrical bracing pattern, optional sound port, Indian rosewood sides and back with Indian rosewood bindings, and western red cedar top
Comments powered by Disqus