Giveaways January 2015

January 15
more... Builder ProfileArchtopAugust 2011Ken Parker

Builder Profile: Ken Parker Archtops

A A
Builder Profile: Ken Parker Archtops

Achieving “Knighthood”
In 1976, a young Parker tried to get an apprenticeship in Jimmy D’Aquisto’s shop. He took the first archtop he’d made to show D’Aquisto that he was serious. He was turned down, but D’Aquisto clearly saw something magical in the instrument Parker had made. “He said, ‘This is the best first guitar I ever saw,’ and on my way out the door he said, ‘You’re crazy if you stop building guitars.’ I walked out of there going, ‘I guess I’m a guitar maker.’ He knighted me—he knighted me in his shop in 1976.”

Thus began the obsession. “This is what I think about before I go to bed, what I think about in the shower. I’ve worked on thousands and thousands of guitars. I’ve seen all the good stuff and all the funny stuff, and I’m trying to make my contribution to the field and make a better guitar.”

One of Parker’s innovations is his bridge. “The majority of the response from any acoustic guitar comes from the top—not only the two pieces of wood that normally make the top, but also the braces and the bridge. For reasons I don’t understand, most people don’t think of the bridge as a transverse brace. But that is exactly what it is. On the classical and flattop, it’s bonded to the top, and on an archtop it’s forced down against the top. It’s well known that the material in the bridge, the size and weight of the bridge, and the configuration of the bridge impact the sound of the instrument. And not only is the bridge a transverse brace, it’s also a transducer that changes vibrational energy into sound energy by delivering the vibrations to the top. It’s a key part of the signal path from the strings to the top. So why are we taking this holy piece of material, cutting it in half, and putting a couple of hokey pieces of 6-32 brass rods and adjusters in there? It never made any sense to me.”

Parker makes most of his bridges out of ebony. They start out at 120 grams, but he hollows them until to 21–24 grams. “It would blow off a bench in a little breeze. It is no thicker than an eighth of an inch, and many places are much thinner than that. That’s partly what contributes to the low end of the dynamic range. You haven’t got a lot of mass to accelerate, so you tickle the string and it’s very happy to light up and make a sound.”

Since these miniscule bridges cannot be adjusted to change the action, Parker decided to make action height adjustable by the player, on the fly. The neck literally floats over the guitar’s top—the only thing touching the body, aside from the bridge and tailpiece, is a carbon-fiber neck pin that extends into a thin-walled receptacle of aluminum tubing bonded inside the neck block. On the back of the guitar is a small, round grommet through which a hex wrench can be used to move the neck up for ridiculously low action or down to, say, play slide.

A A