The email exchange below offers a glimpse into the boutique builder’s reality.
A luthier’s world consists of wood, chisels, specialized glue, a
well-worn workbench, and other tools of the trade. But a
professional builder has to deal with other things, too. The email
exchange below offers a glimpse into the boutique builder’s reality.
This exchange between me and Bonni Lloyd, the director of sales
and marketing for Pantheon Guitars (the company that distributes
my instruments), is fictitious but taken from real correspondence.
“Stan” is a combination of several players we’ve known, and he’ll be
quite familiar to anyone who crafts guitars for a living.
I just got an email from a guy who fell in love with a Bourgeois dreadnought he played in a local dealer’s shop. Now he’s interested in ordering a custom guitar. Can you help me answer his questions? Here’s his letter.
Greetings! I recently played one of your Vintage Dreadnoughts—Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack top. Superb guitar! I’m thinking about ordering an OM. I’m really a fingerstyle player, so I’m wondering if this would sound better with a European spruce top. What differences can I expect between Adi and European tops (both having Brazilian back and sides)? And can an OM can have the “oomph” of the dreadnought I played at the shop? Regards, Stan B.
Below is my response. Can you add anything to it? —Bonni
First of all, Adirondack and European spruce are at opposite ends of the same rainbow. European spruce is a good choice for fingerstyle players, because it can achieve full harmonic complexity even when played lightly. Likewise, OMs are good for fingerstylists because of their superior note-to-note and string-to-string balance. As for an OM having the “oomph” of a dreadnought, it depends on the definition of “oomph.” Dreadnoughts have oomph. OMs have a different kind of oomph. If you want an OM that sounds as close as possible to the dreadnought you played at the store, my suggestion is to allow Dana to choose the woods with that in mind. —Bonni
Stan has a few more questions. Please read his letter below and comment. —Bonni
Thanks for answering my questions. I recently read what Dana wrote about tonewoods online. His article suggests that ebony has damping properties and slow velocity of sound. Can you compare and contrast the sound quality and volume of a steel-string built with ebony vs. Brazilian rosewood fretboards, ebony vs. Brazilian rosewood bridges, and maple vs. Brazilian rosewood fretboards? —Stan
Fretboards and bridges have a relatively minor effect on the tone of an individual guitar. Much more important are the guitar’s design, its top and back materials, and the experience of the luthier who builds it. —Dana
Didn’t you say in that article that Brazilian rosewood sounds better than ebony? And now it’s on the internet, so it has to be true! —Bonni
I concur with your advice that Stan should let me pick the woods that make the most sense for the type of sound he’s after. Picking wood isn’t always about theory. Sometimes I go with my gut, which is informed by years of looking at and tapping and flexing wood. And, yes, having the occasional privilege of hearing my guitars in the hands of truly great players. (Doc Watson never asked me to justify wood selection!) If I get a sound in my head, I can usually recognize the right wood for the job. —Dana
I told Stan that bridge, fretboard, and bridge plate selection are secondary, if not tertiary, considerations, and shouldn’t be selected until after other decisions are finalized. Alas, at this point, none are. Nevertheless, here’s another question from Stan I need your help with:
Has Dana ever considered making an OM with another inch of depth to bring out more volume and mid-end resonance? Or is there another model you folks produce that does this? —Stan
What do you think? —Bonni
Let’s get back to square one: Stan played one of our dreadnoughts and said it might be the finest guitar he’s ever played. Anytime someone finds a guitar fitting that description, I recommend buying it as quickly as possible! Does it make sense to custom order something entirely different and hope it comes out better than the best guitar you’ve ever played? We’re about to ship an OMC to the same dealer. Why doesn’t Stan A/B the OMC with the Brazilian D and give us his feedback? —Dana
Great advice—Stan checked out the OMC and bought it! Just a couple of issues, though. Please read the email below and advise how I should respond. —Bonni
I bought the OMC on Friday and spent all weekend playing it. It’s extremely well balanced and everything is present. It may be the best OM I’ve ever played. I noticed, however, that the back and sides are not fully quartersawn. Does this affect the sound? Also, is the Brazilian old growth or stump wood? I’ve heard there’s quite a difference. Lastly, there’s a bit of runout slightly noticeable at the top’s center seam. Would a top with less runout sound different? —Stan
Aren’t guitars supposed to be about the experience of playing, as opposed to the experience of thinking about them? —Dana
Dana Bourgeois has been designing and building guitars for 30 years, and has worked as a consultant for several leading American guitar manufacturers. In 1995, he established Bourgeois Guitars. Working with a handful of dedicated craftsmen in Lewiston, Maine, Dana currently builds about 400 guitars a year that bear his name.