When choosing wood for the soundboard, which is better Spruce or Cedar?

This is really a personal preference and the musician has normally already made their choice. These woods are different in tone, so my efforts are directed at bringing out their best characteristics.

Cedar matures quickly and stays very much “as is” throughout its life, whereas Spruce will change over a long period of time as it matures. I would define Cedar as “bright” and “punchy”, with a dark and colourful tone, while Spruce yields a generally more crisp tone. As there are several species of Spruce, it’s hard to define clearly as there are many nuances from the different species. Spruce will ultimately have many of the same characteristics as Cedar, but normally develops its own character. I work well with Engelmann Spruce for most Classic and Concert guitars, but have a preference for European Spruce if a good quality piece can be found. North American Spruce’s, if well selected and of high grade, are excellent and result in guitars with wonderful tone.

How do you brace your tops; do you use double tops?

I have not experimented with any other material than wood. Carbon fibre and honeycomb materials have not made their way into my top designs. I love to experiment, so I do lattice bracing and unusual top bracing designs. I consider this a structural support for a good quality top and not a way to obtain some specific tone. The weight or mass of the braces versus the top weight already determines which will have the most influence on the final tone. Although I like to tune my tops, they have their basic characteristic from the start, and no braces will make any significant difference. Lattice bracing is the most neutral form of reinforcement and the response of the top is least affected by it. If a traditional Spanish tone is the aim, I will use Fan bracing or any other bracing style that is dictated by the tradition of the instruments tone. I like to mix tradition with modern and have experienced good results with it.

What scale length is best for me?

I can build from 620mm to 740mm scale length. My preference is 640mm to 650mm for Classical or Jazz guitars and 660mm for Flamenco guitars. You can test your present guitar by using a Capo on the first fret of a standard 650mm scale and play it for some time. If that gives you more agility and your playing requires less effort, perhaps you should have a shorter scale. If not, it is best you stay with 650mm. I have built 640mm scale and they do not suffer in volume or tone. If necessary you can use higher tension strings to enhance volume. Another important consideration is string spacing at the nut and saddle. I can review your style of music and playing technique and recommend accordingly.

For neck construction and attachment, do you use the traditional Spanish slipper or a “V” joint?

The Spanish tradition of a one piece neck with slipper is based on the principle that it helps to carry the vibrations of the string to the body. This of course has limitations from the area of the twelfth fret and above. The concept has been challenged often, yet no consensus has yet been established. Of the Spanish builders, the famous Fleta brothers have always used a “V” joint similar to the violin tradition. It is my observation that aside the benefits of neck repair /action neck reset, the sound is even enhanced as the energy from the neck does not get dissipated through the body that easily. I like to think that the strings vibratory energy should be directed to the saddle/bridge and the neck should only provide support for the string and not absorb energy from it. Two-piece construction, where the neck and body are separate and attached by mechanical means, is a much more difficult construction, however it makes for a better, more reliable instrument that is easier to repair.

I also offer a fully adjustable neck which can enhance the versatility and playability of the guitar. With the ability to raise and lower the action, a single instrument could lend itself to music from Flamenco to traditional Classical.

Six, twelve or eighteen-hole Tie Block? What bridge material and construction – which is best?

I prefer the twelve or eighteen hold Tie Block construction because it allows for a better more positive pressure angle on the saddle. However, this also increases the perceived tension for the player to some extent. The traditional Tie Block with a string loop has a bit of a spring effect and appears to soften the touch for the player.

The bridge material itself is not the most significant aspect. Certainly it has to be strong enough to carry the load, but the weight of the bridge is the most important factor because it must provide good transmission of string vibration to the top. The size is also significant as the bridge works together with the bracing pattern below the top.

I have also designed and built a bridge which is used with all my dome-top jazz guitars (nylon and steel-string) that is based on a “complete contact” approach. The bone saddle has ramps that ride on wedge mechanisms with side adjustment that can raise and lower the action of each side independently. This overcomes the poor vibration transfer of traditional screw post designs by optimizing contact and transference of string vibration to the top.

Will a cutaway have an impact on the tone?

The air volume is reduced somewhat by the cutaway, but that can be compensated for by the depth of the sides. A cutaway, when integrated well in the design of the guitar, will even enhance its response since it is well known that the symmetry of the guitar top should be different so that its vibrations do not work one against the other.

Do you finish your own instruments or do you subcontract this work?

I finish all instruments myself; using water based lacquer and spraying approximately 10 to 12 coats. I also offer French Polishing, which is especially good for the top of the guitar because it is light and enhances the free vibration of the top. French Polishing also gives the instrument a warm appearance as it enhances the woods natural fibres. It has been a traditional finish for Spanish guitars for centuries, thus attesting to its fine qualities.

What options do you offer?

I am a custom guitar builder, so you dream it and I make it happen. I have a starting point for each instrument, but you should check my price list to select from a range of options that will enhance the tone, appearance and value of your guitar. Please have a look at the “Choosing A Custom Guitar” page.

How long does it take to complete a guitar?

I build one or two guitars at a time, so about 8-12 a year. I make the plans, draw them up, select materials, and keep in touch with my clients constantly; providing photos and comments along the way. This is all time-consuming, but from start to finish, it normally takes about 180 to 200 hours for each guitar. I try to work on a three month cycle, so when my schedule is uninterrupted, you can expect to have your guitar in three to four months.

Do you do repairs?

I will always repair my own instruments as long as I am alive. In addition, I will certainly consider restoration of old instruments, should they have particular historical or personal value for the owner, providing that the customer is not in a hurry. Unfortunately though, my schedule does not permit me to provide quick enough turn around time for general repairs.

Do you teach guitar building?

I have given one-on-one instruction in the past and intend to do it again. A student would spend 200 hours with me. I will supply material and tools and give guidance and technical instructions throughout the course. The student will have built an acoustic guitar of his/her choice by the end of the course. Please contact me for further inquiries.

How do I order a guitar?

To place an order, call, e-mail or write. I need to have your contact information, e-mail address, phone number, and full name. I will send you a detailed quote for your review. If acceptable you will sign it and return it with a $500.00 (CAD) deposit. This will secure your place on my schedule, and the amount will be deducted from the final balance due before shipping. For the complete details, please have a look at the “How to Order” page.