A SHORT HISTORY
When I began building guitars I saw no point at all in reproducing anything you could already buy in a music shop. I wanted to build instruments that would sing to themselves in a corner, responding to the sounds around them even when they weren’t being played. I wanted people to pick them up and feel a thrill go up their spine when they first plucked the strings. Not much to ask.
Naturally, I needed to know why the best guitars were shaped and built the way they are. I knew that much of what you see in great acoustic instruments like Martin or Maton was done because time had shown that was the best way – but how much of it exactly? I wanted to know everything: why soundholes were the size they were; was the dreadnought shape the best or just one of those things that becomes a tradition cemented by a production line. Were there other ways of supporting string loadings? Would a top without any top bracing sound better than one with (no!)? And so on.
So I started from scratch, peering into every guitar I could get my hands on using a mirror on a stick. I read books, looked at websites, and kept my head down because I wanted to develop my own ideas in my own way as I learned the new level woodcraft I needed. What you see is where I have reached so far.
So the shape of my instruments is the result of how my ideas about the physics of sound production in a guitar have evolved.
HOW I THINK THE GUITAR TOP WORKS
The explanation for the shape is this:
1) all the action in the vibrating top happens in the broad, almost circular lower bout – the upper bout has a beefy top block and braces underneath, so does not contribute very much to the production or projection of the guitar’s sound;
2) the bridge, which is where the strings feed their impulse into the system, is placed near the centre of the active circular area to strongly drive the main top monopole (“breathing”) mode of vibration – the effect is like tapping a drum skin at its centre rather than towards its edge:
3) the soundhole is moved upward away from the active lower bout area, which fits well with the increased 15 fret neck length, that in turn increases the sustain of the instrument (the neck itself vibrates and feeds energy back into the strings).
Hence the rounded shape I have named “Yolande”, in honour of one of my grand-daughters. The scaled down Parlour sized version I call “Matilda”, after my other grand-daughter. Aside from the physics, I also find the shape much cuter than the ubiquitous dreadnought style (which was named after a battleship).
WHAT’S WITH THE GUMLEAF?
Each instrument has its own unique leaf carved out of blackwood as my maker’s mark. I fossick around under gum trees searching for the perfect leaf. You can specify your own leaf if you want to.
WHY SO PLAIN?
To be honest, inlay work doesn’t interest me, at least at this stage of my development as a builder. I like the wood to speak for itself, and I think it’s far more beautiful than anything I might be able to add to it.
WHY NO ADJUSTABLE TRUSS ROD?
My guitars have a 12 x 6mm steel bar set vertically into the neck with epoxy resin. The reason I do this rather than put in an adjustable truss rod is that I think there are big advantages in the sustain of the guitar with a heavy long neck. The bar starts well inside the headpiece itself and tapers up to its full depth by the time the neck starts. At the body end it continues through into the top block for a rigid joint.
Experience shows that over time there is little or no movement in the neck itself once it has settled in, and hence little need for adjustment for a good playing action. The necks are removable to allow for any change in the neck set angle that might crop up if the top should distort (not very likely with carbonfibre reinforcement of the top bracing system).
HOW IS IT WORKING OUT?
My opinion of my own work? Well, I have long since given up playing my Martin 000-18 in favour of my own guitars. I just don’t find the Martin satisfying any more. I also sold my Maton Southern Star, which I loved, and I haven’t missed it. I still play other people’s guitars when I get the chance, and I admire many of them, but so far I haven’t found anything that makes me want to put down my own.
Judging by responses when I display them, other people like them too.