Posts Tagged ‘Custom Guitar’

March 4th, 2017 – Nylon and Steel

Please press play to enjoy hearing the instrument as you read!


The majority of my updates in the last four years have revolved around ukuleles. When I built the first one for a dear friend, I would never have imagined that, when glancing at my build schedule, I would see it filled with five variants of the instrument! There have also been some wonderful guitars, but the common theme has been that these have all been nylon string instruments.

Nylon string instruments have been a long-standing passion of mine, partly due to the challenges related to the relative subtlety of sound and tone as well as the interplay of the woods with that subtlety. Today I’m very happy to reveal a finished steel string instrument. As many of you have likely seen on bulletin boards or articles, you can’t simply take a nylon string guitar and place steel strings on it, at

least not without it becoming a spring-loaded catapult. The entire instrument needs to be designed and built to accommodate the much higher tension of the strings.

Typically, the tenor ukulele’s strings impose 30 to 40lbs of tension on the instrument. A nylon string guitar is about 80 to 90lbs, but typically the larger size of the instrument, and its components, means that the design can scale without significant changes. For steel string guitars, however, we’re talking about 180lbs to 190lbs. This tension means a different requirement for design, materials and different dynamics and goals. For example, as you can see from the images, the top and bracing design differ from the lattice design seen in most of my nylon string instruments. Here I have adopted the efficient Martin “X” bracing concept and interpreted it for tonal quality. This means that the braces act as structural members, more so than in a nylon string instrument.

As some of you who have known me for many years know, I am not a novice to the world of steel string instruments. This was a wonderful challenge and opportunity to again approach the complexities specific to the steel string. The instrument is named after the musician’s wife, Megan. It is an OM with Ziricote back and sides and a Sitka Bearclaw top. It also features an armrest for hours of comfortable playing.

Enjoy the music, including this second song, and the pictures, this is a guitar I very much enjoyed building.

October 22, 2016 – El Rio Progresses

It seems that there is a notable Maccaferri revival! Here is another example, this time it is a tenor. Not a tenor ukulele like the Amigo, but a tenor guitar.

Selmer, the company who made these instruments decades ago, only assembled a couple dozen. It came to be after Eddie Freeman, an English jazz and flamenco musician. He originally played the tenor banjo and when the guitar gained popularity he requested this instrument as a bridge between the two worlds.

In this case this is a precise duplicate with two exceptions, the scale length is 23 inches (58.4cm) and I have applied my own “X” bracing.

This guitar features a Bear Claw Sitka Spruce top, Ziricote back and sides, a Mahogany neck and Swiss Schertler tuners. I have tested the acoustics in the “white” and these tests all point to an instrument with exceptional tonal qualities.

I should be able to complete it in the next three weeks, stay tuned for final images!


September 25 2016 – Listening to Prayer

As promised, here are pictures of Prayer, the innovative electro-acoustic custom guitar in its home in Japan. The musician, Toshi, is heavily involved in composition, concerts and music education and his passion for music shines through everything he has shared with me. I’m also grateful for this video he shared, which I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did. Here we see Toshi playing with a Japanese Bossa Nova guitarist Mr. Hokazono. The tune is a Japanese song, “The Memories”

April 29, 2015 – Tux 1.1 Spotted in the Wild

IMG_2483Tux 1.1, code named Evret, is now in the hands of its proud owner and already singing proudly.Below you will find two series of pictures, one of the instrument on the day it was delivered to Steve, the other of “Evret” in concert as well as at an event with Berta Rojas. It is such a joy to see a truly custom project take off with such a flying start.







March 23, 2015 – Introducing Tux 1.1

IMG_2409In September 2013, I shared details of Tux, a custom guitar for a very active member of the Toronto classical guitar community. About a year later, in late 2014, he came to my workshop to record the instrument. All along, I have been working on a second guitar with Steve, this one is named Tux 1.1.  This one has a red cedar top with bocote sides and back. Of note is its special custom headstock. This design is intended to keep the strings in line and at the same angle, in an effort to positively affect the tone. Planetary-geared tuners will complete setup. The neck is laminated mahogany and bocote.

More details closer to completion!


October 14, 2014 – A Sophisticated Design and Sound

IMG_2142I’m happy to share more progress of the innovative “Prayer” guitar. Now that you can see all of the details, I should explain a little more. This guitar is engineered and crafted to play like my other nylon string guitars. The woods are promising a rich tone and long sustain. However, the sound hole and the side sound port may be closed and a resonance cancelling device activated. When this occurs, it becomes much closer to a solid body guitar, relying on the pick up system. This has been a wonderfully challenging project, and am eager for the build to be completed so I can explore the tone variations it can produce depending on the state of the ports!


August 24, 2014 – The Story Behind a Meaningful Prayer

IMG_2017As you all saw last month, “Prayer” has aside sound port that may be closed as the musician desires to receive the precise effect desired. In addition, the main sound hole is also equipped with a mechanism to close to further direct the sound and control the resonance. These sophistications may make you wonder who would be playing this advanced instrument. Well, wonder no more. Here is the story from the musician himself, Mr. Shimizu from Japan:

At first

I have forgotten when I first saw the LFdM website, but I remember it was when I was searching for the nylon stringed guitars in the internet. I have played some types of nylon stringed guitars like a regular classical guitar, Godin, Wechter and Paradis. And I have also tried to modify regular guitars to the nylon stringed, with 17 inch jazz guitar or Gibson 335 style guitar. They have been all my journey to find my best nylon stringed guitar. They all have great points, but also have unsatisfactory points for me. And modifying instruments by myself definitely had limits and it was so hard to overcome. So when I saw Luis’s website for the first time, I felt a great possibility; he could make a perfect guitar for me. There were some reasons why I felt so. At first, he makes a plan in detail when he makes instruments. All of you already must have seen his plans in his picture gallery. They made me imagine how precise his works were, and it was not hard to think he was always well-prepared. And the next, he makes many types of nylon stringed instruments, flat top guitars with many body sizes, arched top guitars and ukuleles. It was clear that he was well-trained, had many experiences and was so creative. I began to start checking his website frequently, reading his comments about his works and his own ideas. Some time later, I decided to make contact with him. That was when the relationship between Luis and I started.

About the concept of the guitar “Prayer”

During my trial to find my best nylon stringed guitar, I have got some conclusion for what my ideal nylon stringed guitar needs. Long sustain notes with rich sound quality and less attack sound. Well balanced between each strings’ volume. Bright, dense, and fast responsive sound. Easy to play; relatively narrow neck but not so narrow, easy access to the high positions. These points may not be included in one instrument, some of them are the character of the acoustic guitars, and others are of the solid body guitars. So I thought if one guitar could have all of these sound characters, it might be a fusion of the acoustic and solid body. And in fact I want to use Prayer as both of acoustic and electric. That is to say, it IS my ideal guitar.

About the woods

We all know that there are the standards of the combination of woods for many kinds of guitars or instruments, and they can produce the great standard and traditional sound. And we also know the wood material affects the guitar sound so much. So I decided to choose some rare materials for my interest and experiment, and hopefully to have unique and great tone.

For the sound board, I prefer spruce for the brighter and rich sound. But the mild and gentle tone of the cedar is beautiful too. So I asked Luis if there was other wood choices which had both sound characters of spruce and cedar. He recommended me red wood because it had brighter sound than cedar, and it had very unique sound character. I had never tried red wood before and his idea was so interesting for me, so I decided to take it. This is my new challenge.

For the body and side wood, Luis recommended Malaysian black wood. It is very hard wood like rosewood, and has a great looking of deep black color with white center line. I have never tried this black wood neither, but fortunately I could watch the YouTube movie of one of his crossover guitar played by a talented young classical guitarist (check this movie; So it was not hard to decide choosing the wood material for Prayer.

For the fingerboard, I like ebony so much for its sharp attack sound and fast response. This time Luis found a special wood board with unique grain. I am looking forward to look at it so much.

For the neck, the standard for the nylon stringed guitar must be mahogany, but I chose maple for its hardness and strength. I have never played a maple neck nylon stringed guitar, so this wood choice is one of my experiments too. I expect the sound will be clear, distinct and thick. Also longer sustain may be produced. Attack sound may be stronger somewhat, but it is the result of the combination of whole body (especially the sound board), so I will know it after the completion.

About the design

I cannot mention the design without considering the utility and functionality. I appreciate Luis for his great innovative ideas which have both of the beauty of the instruments, and the functionality from a point of view of players. This is one of the great reason why I love his instruments so much!

The “S cutaway” is one of the most attractive point for me. Song melodies, depends on each songs and their keys, mostly have wide note range to some extent. And for improvisations it is better if you can use more range of the fingerboard. For regular nylon stringed guitars like classical guitars, it is very hard to play high positions. There are some single cutaway guitars, but the joint is shallow and it may sacrifice the sound quality. Also we have solid body nylon stringed guitars. They have their own characters and playability. They are nice to be used in live performance situations, but it does not have “Real” sound. Luis’s“S cutaway” clears these problems. The joint is wide and strong enough to produce the firm transmission of the vibration of the strings. And of course it becomes very easy to access to the high frets. They are the reason why I would like to try the “S” cutaway, and I expect much.

Besides that I asked him to add a new idea for this. His regular crossover guitars’ design is based on the regular classical guitars, it means the joint is 12th frets, so I asked him to make it to 14th frets joint base. The neck position is moved to your left (head) side a little. It may make a big difference to play high positions, and for “Prayer” I believe it is better and more suitable to play melodies.

About the Laskin Armrest. Once I asked Luis to put it to the Prayer. It was also attractive for me for its functionality. I have never tried the armrest so I wanted to try. But this time, I gave up to have it because of the look of the top of the guitar. I do not want to lose the completeness of the grain of the redwood top. But I still feel the possibility of the Laskin Armrest for the playability of the guitar, especially with the deep body sized. I would like to try it someday later.

I am so curious about his “adjustable neck angle” system. As you know, guitars are easily affected by the weather and humidity. Usually it becomes just the matter of the tuning and solved after you tune. But sometimes it can not be solved because the neck condition changed a lot; the warp. His “adjustable neck angle” system will solve this problem, and even we can make any neck angle to have preferable string profiles. To sound the acoustic guitars loud, we need firm right hand picking, in both of flat picking and finger picking. It means the strings need to have the firm tensions, and proper profiles. From my experiences as a mainly melody player, higher the profiles become, louder and better the strings ring. So if you can adjust the neck angle and the string profiles by yourself, you can have your best sound quality every time. This idea is completely from player’s eyes, and Luis is the man who understands what we need.

 Other specifications

About the neck length. I chose 650mm. The reason is the longer scale has more string tensions, and I prefer the strong sound quality produced by the strong string tensions.

About the width of the nut. I chose 48mm. The reason is; 52mm like regular classical guitars is too wide for me, and 45mm which some solid body nylon stringed guitars have is too narrow. Nylon strings themselves have some width, so if the string spacings are too narrow, you may touch and ring the next string unconsciously. 48mm is good for the melody playing, and also good for the chord playing too. It is well balanced width, I think.

About head weight. The string vibrations become firmer if the both sides of the strings are fixed strongly. So heavier the head become, firmer the strings vibrate. I like this point because we can expect the distinct sound of the strings. But at the same time, it may cause the “head down” phenomenon. This time I chose maple for the neck material so the weight of the neck may be relatively heavy. The weight of the head can not be gained so much, but I would like to ask Luis to do some with the balance of the whole instrument.

I wrote what I have thought about “Prayer” from the points of construction of the instruments and from the view point of a player. As a player, we can fit ourselves to the instrument to some extent, or we can modify the instrument to get the ideal sound for us. But there is a limit to do that. Sometimes we can go beyond with hard efforts, but sometimes can not. So players need to have the instrument built for each players’ demands and preferences.

Also players should have the understanding for the structure of the instruments, at the same time luthiers for the feeling of the players have. I think only the deep collaboration of both of them can make the ideal instrument, and Luis is the man for me. I wish this “Prayer” project can make something new for the nylon stringed guitars, with the dream of the player, and with the passion and great creativity of the luthier.

July 19, 2014 – Creating Sound Options

IMG_1974Today I’m able to provide you with a glimpse of the sophisticated engineering behind Prayer.


Sound ports are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. Those who often play alone or in small groups enjoy being able experienced an enhanced sound. Additionally, those who are involved in more advanced playing and recording see strong benefits. There are times, however, where some would prefer a solid side, and ensure that the music emanates in all its glory through the sound hole.


Why not have the best of both worlds? In these pictures you can see the prototyping of a sound port with a closing door. I’m testing and re-testing to ensure that everything is precisely as it should be, then holding and trying to make sure it feels right. It has been said that technology applied properly disappears, and here is an instance of that.


July 10, 2014 – Introducing Prayer

IMG_2016I’m happy to report that I have a few projects on the go. My workshop is buzzing with activity. As many have come to expect, the ukulele build list is quite packed.

Currently, however, everything has been swept aside for something that will raise a few eyebrows. It’s a special guitar project for an established musician in Japan, Toshi Shimizu. Right not there’s not too much I can share, but will show you the progress on the bracing for the top. This will give you an image of its shape. Keep checking back to see what this instrument will feature. Mr. Shimizu has named this instrument “Prayer”. All I can say is that my engineering background is allowing me to incorporate wonderful features which I’m currently prototyping and testing.

September 26, 2013 – Tux Getting All Dressed Up

DSC_9701Tux is now nearing completion. As I was closing the sound box, an upgrade occurred for the bindings from Ebony to Brazilian Rosewood. In addition, after discussions with the patron, a sound port was added to help with the acoustics.

Following these steps, the client came to review the instrument, especially the neck and the bridge which has a Bocote insert.

Enjoy these pictures, and I look forward to sharing images and specifications of the final instrument with you soon!