A Crow on a Scarecrow, JGHG’s first archtop design, features a neck-block-mounted pickup and is paired with the company’s Middranger pedal—yet only half the instrument’s stunning elegance is visible to the casual observer. Inside it features the company’s equally remarkable “dinosaur” bracing.
JGHG’s Instagram says your guitars are built by four luthiers—yourself, Akiko, Eiko, and “a little luthier [named] HAL.” Tell us about that work dynamic.
From the very beginning, Akiko and I have worked together on all the guitars and effects. Basically, I draw the shape and come up with the overall design, and after that Akiko comes up with all the aesthetics—the inlays, the colors and finishes—while Eiko comes up with the strap designs. We work together throughout the whole project, but most of the looks of the guitars themselves are Akiko’s decision.
What’s HAL’s story?
He was born seven years ago. Akiko was very busy at work, so I made her a helper. We’d just started our Instagram account, and when she put his picture on there everybody started asking about him. So we made him our mascot. In Japanese, “hal” means “spring,” but his name was also inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey—because HAL [HAL 9000, the sentient-computer antagonist from the 1968 novel and film] only has one eye.
Your HAL seems a lot friendlier than Kubrick’s.
Your Instagram also describes JGHG as “Composing guitars, [and] growing veggies.” Are the veggies part of the business—say, for making dyes?
They’re just for our table, but garden work helps us relax and enjoy each other’s company more. We had been living in Tokyo for a long time when we finally moved to our current location in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, seven years ago. There’s a big garden, so we started growing veggies and we found it very exciting to be doing that in this new location outside of the busy city. Our style of building has changed very much.
In the Tokyo days, my work was 70 percent repair work for professional players, so we didn’t have much time to make guitars. We wanted to stop doing repair work and only build our guitars. We actually decided to move to Asahikawa 10 years before we did so, because it was very hard to find a place here, and because we didn’t have very much money. In order to make the transition, we had to change our lifestyle and be more frugal, as well as stock up on materials.
Not so much because it’s expensive or hard to find a place up here, but because I had a very specific vision for my workshop. It had to be the right place. I believe it’s very important to work in an environment that’s conducive to creativity. Creating guitars is very sensitive work, and it’s hard to do it right when you have a lot of people distracting you. Asahikawa is Akiko’s hometown, so I had visited here and liked it very much. It’s a beautiful countryside, and half of the year it’s covered in snow and is very quiet and calm. I felt like that calmness and solitude would help us focus. Plus, I could have more space to work out here. I don’t have a lot of equipment, but I wanted a high ceiling—not because I needed it for tall machinery or anything, but because most Japanese homes and buildings are small and compact, with lower ceilings. I wanted more space.
What background information should we know about the other members of your team?
Eiko is a singer-songwriter, and Akiko plays bass. The three of us play together pretty regularly. We used to play out once a month in Tokyo, but there aren’t so many places to play out here. We still record though.
Takutack is a side-less archtop whose soundboard is mounted internally, between the top and back. Its partner pedal is a preamp/mixer for the instrument’s neck-position magnetic pickup and internal contact pickups.
When did the ideas we see in your product line now first occur to you?
I’ve always tried to make our designs unique—but not too unique. It’s easy to find good-looking guitars but sometimes it’s hard to find really unique tones. I want to instill each guitar with a unique identity—not just in looks but in sound, too.
Among the many intriguing things on your instruments are your unusual pickup designs. How did you get into that?
I started making pickups in 1996, but it was difficult—it requires a very different type of knowledge than guitar making. But I wanted to use my own pickup designs in all our guitars. I started out making Stratocaster pickups, since that’s how I learned to make pickups—again, because of all the Strats I’d repaired over the years—and then I tried humbuckers. But I was also looking for “my” tone, so it evolved step by step. We think pickups are a very important part of guitar making, so we’re trying to find “our tone” in every instrument. Usually I wind two or three different sets of pickups for each guitar, and then select the one that complements the guitar the most. Sometimes they’re just different windings for different outputs, but sometimes I change the magnets and the heights. I’m always trying to find the right tone for that instrument.
How would you describe “your” tone?
I’m still looking for that! I want my guitars to inspire the player, and I want to hear new sounds from the musicians. The best I can say is that I’m trying to find inspiring tones.
When did you start doing your staggered-pickup designs?
I started thinking about the three-by-three design around 1998. I initially just wanted to reduce the noise from a single-coil, but I found that it was also a very unique tone—kind of in-between a single-coil and a humbucker. You can balance both the volume and the tone of the strings better. On Breath of Something Big, for example, all of the pole pieces are alnico 5 except the 2nd string, which is alnico 2—and that one pole piece is under the wood. I use alnico 4 magnets sometimes, too. All of those little nuances are there to help adjust the output balance. Sometimes—especially with an archtop or hollowbody guitar—there’s a big difference in loudness between plain strings and wound strings.
The pickups on Mayberlin are particularly intriguing—there appears to be 3/4 of a humbucker in the neck and bridge positions, plus half a single-coil built into the pickguard in the middle position.
It’s basically a three-single-coil guitar. The middle pickup can give it a more resonant or bright sound.