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What makes your pickups
One of the unique aspects of my pickups is the multiple gauges of wire in each pickup using my own recipe. Each gauge of wire has its own intrinsic tone and I call my pickups “custom blended.” I also voice each pickup for its placement. Pickups closer to the neck require less resistance as there is so much string excursion. Pickups closer to the bridge require more resistance since there is so much less string movement in that position.
What do you consider to be one
of the coolest or most important
advances you’ve made with
Citron Guitars and Basses?
The greatest and coolest thing I’ve done has been the development of my hollow instruments. They are unique in construction, electronics, and most importantly, in their tone. They are huge sounding, spatial, deep, and possess incredible sustain.
Like the AE5, the body of the AE4 Swallow bass is hogged out from 3" thick Honduras mahogany and utilizes x-bracing for its spruce top.
Can you walk us through the
evolution of your hollowbody
instruments? What was your “I
gotta do this” moment, and how
long did it take to get there?
My inspiration actually had a lot to do with the Unplugged show on MTV and having a number of different instruments in my hands. I had this idea that I was going to have a hollow bass, and initially, I thought I was going to bend the sides on it and have to make it headless so it wouldn’t be neck heavy. As it turned out, I ended up deciding to hog out a piece of mahogany for the bodies instead, but the first three or four were headless. I then came up with an intonation adjustable wooden bridge using saddles with brass shims. With it, you could move the saddles but it would still actually react sonically like a wooden bridge with bone saddle. But this didn’t allow me to use any traditional piezo elements, so I was using an undertop transducer. It sounded okay, but it fedback a lot. Additionally, by building the headless instruments, I realized I was limited with the hardware, string spacings, and nut width. The body was actually heavy enough that I didn’t need it to be headless, so I moved to putting the head back on the instrument.
So here I am, going back to a traditional piezo. I called up an old friend who’s a wellknown specialist in the field and told him I wanted to build an intonation-adjustable wooden bridge with piezos in it. He told me: “It can’t be done and no one cares.” [Laughs.] He knows a lot about this stuff but I wasn’t willing to just put a single 1/8" bone saddle in the bridge. I made the saddle 5/16" and made the whole bridge able to move with the piezo in it. That was the least I could do as far as I was concerned, and I left it at that for a while.
Since this model’s inception, I had been thinking this bass was going to be great for Steve Swallow. Steve tried the one with the 5/16" bone saddle, loved the sound of it, said he had to have it, and that he’s always wanted a wooden bridge with piezo. But he also said that an intonation-adjustable bridge would be a great plus if I could do it, because he’s such a nut about intonation. For some reason or other, that was all the impetus I needed to get this new bridge together. And it was then I realized how close I was to making it work. The idea came to me that if I considered my 5/16" saddle a sub-saddle, I could put moving parts (bone saddles) on top of it with piezo underneath. This led to my first intonation-adjustable bridge and it had a single piezo under the leading edge of what I call the sub-saddle (made from ebony). I put slots in it and made bone saddles with little pins in them so the saddle could slide.
There have been improvements since then—the subsaddle is now 3/4" deep and the saddle pins have been replaced with brass tabs. Also, the underside of the sub-saddle is segmented so each string acts as if it has its own individual support. This provides less likelihood of problems with warpage of the sub-saddle, which would cause uneven string pressure.
LEFT: 5-string bass pickups- the coils have been wound, and the pickups put together with their magnets, just before being placed in fully shielded covers and potted in epoxy. CENTER: Pickup coil being wound. Photo by Janet Perr RIGHT: The interior of an AE5 Swallow bass.
Is there a particular current or
recent trend in lutherie that
you see going away in 15-20
years and is there one particular
current or recent trend in
lutherie that you see having a
major effect on guitar makers
in 15-20 years?
The unsustainability of many of the beautiful hardwoods is an ongoing problem in the guitar business. I use Honduras mahogany for my hollow instruments, and also for the necks of other models. Honduras mahogany is the material that has been used primarily and traditionally for acoustic guitar bodies and necks. It’s very stable, machines easily, and has a wonderful tone that’s sweet, warm, crisp, and delicious. It has become harder and harder to obtain, and the quality I see has been going down. The trees that are being harvested are much younger, and who knows how long the supply will last. I think guitar makers are going to have to start using other woods. I have been resisting the change, but I expect it is inevitable.
In your 40 years of building,
what is one of the most
important advances you’ve
seen in lutherie or guitar
I think one of the most important advances in guitar manufacturing is the widespread use of CNC machines. These machines make reproduction very accurate and time efficient. Also, polyester finishes are great because they are extremely durable, as opposed to nitrocellulose lacquer and acrylic urethanes.
Do you utilize CNC?
A number of boutique luthiers
are hesitant about using CNC,
feeling that it may take away
from the handcrafted aspect of
a build. Is that your reasoning
I’m open to having someone else do particular things for me on CNC and I don’t see any shortcoming in that. The problem for me is that I’m a small builder. For instance, I’m building a batch of five basses right now— two of them are 34" scale, one is a 35" scale, one is a 36" scale, and the other is a prototype for Steve Swallow. They’re all different, both internally and externally. How would I pay for the tooling when the whole mechanism of CNC is geared towards production? That’s the only thing that’s held me back as far as that’s concerned.
LEFT: A top being glued on to an AE series bass. RIGHT: Harvey sanding one-piece Honduran mahogany AE5 Swallow necks. Photo by Janet Perr
There is one part of my hollowbody that is incredibly painstaking and there’s no advantage to how I do it. It’s just the only way I can, shy of using CNC. Imagine a hollowbody instrument that’s been hogged out a 3" piece of mahogany that has a waist cut. Trying to make that material on the inside parallel is a handcarving job for me. It’s time consuming, it’s not fun, and it’s not necessarily better. It’s just the way I have to do it [laughs]. That’s okay, I can do it, but CNC would be great for something like this.
What’s the ratio of guitars
to basses that you build? Is
it market driven or do you
build what’s inspiring you at
Except for a prototype that I’m currently building for Steve Swallow, everything is order driven. As far as the ratio, it’s almost all basses right now. What I’m most known for are my hollow basses and they require a lot of time to build. Steve Swallow is out there playing them, and while his audience may be small, they are loyal. People have been wanting those instruments—either what he plays, or what he plays modified to be a hybrid between his bass and my regular A-series basses.
How many instruments do
you produce in a year and
how can people find out more
My website has beautiful, detailed photos of all of my models, as well as a price list, photos of the shop, upcoming events, and videos. Many of the guitars and basses I build are customized to the preferences of each musician. I will often change the string spacing at the bridge, the neck dimensions, and tweak the electronics, among other things to suit my customer’s needs. I generally build between 12 and 20 instruments per year with the Swallow bass being my most popular model.
An AE5 Swallow bass after it has been shaped on the pin router. “This one features Steve Swallow’s very narrow neck—it might be the last body I made for Steve,” says Citron. Photo by Janet Perr
Given your expertise with hollowbody
instruments, have you
ever had the desire to build a
traditional acoustic guitar?
Yes, yes I do [laughs]. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. But as you get older, I think life gets busier somehow and the opportunities for messing around get harder to squeeze in. What I need to do is learn more before I do it. Unlike many other builders, all this stuff has never really been about the craft of building for me. The craft is my vehicle to hear what I imagine. For some reason, I don’t really have the desire to build a Martin guitar. That said, my favorites are the Martin D-35s from the ’60s, the dreadnought Guilds of that period, and the huge Gibsons. But I feel that before I build an acoustic guitar, I want to really understand what made those guitars sound the way they do.