Alan Dunwell Guitars.

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Alan Dunwell. Guitar builder.

Luthier Interview

I initially met Alan at a guitar meet in the UK where he displayed some stunning guitars, with a clean aesthetic and a very lively tone- certainly one of the livelist guitars I ever played was a Dunwell!

TT – Alan, last I saw you was at the UK7 meet in Buxton, UK. How did you find the whole experience?

AD -I was both pleased and impressed with the gathering at UK7. Pleased because it was such a friendly and informal way to meet and put faces on the RMMGA handles that I’d chatted with in the news group. I really was ready for a vacation about then and the UK7 was just the medicine I needed. And how could one not be pleased with Hargate Hall, what a wonderful setting for a bunch of guitar nuts. I was impressed with the overall high quality of the players and the seriousness with which they all approach their craft. This was true of not only the professionals but of folks that simply play for their own pleasure.

The structure was a bit different than other stateside gatherings I’ve been to in that it is more organized and included more professionals doing sets, but it fit well and went off smoothly. I can’t imagine all the behind the scenes things that Peter, Chris, and Alan did to make this such a successful weekend. So in general how did I find the whole experience, absolutely top notch I’d

TT – How did the European guitars differ from yours terms of construction?Alan Dunwell. Guitar builder.

AD – Not a lot that I could see, in terms of overall construction but I didn’t go peeking around with a mirror either. I think that the European guitars tend to have a double dovetail joint for the neck as the default while mine is a bolt on mortice and tenon joint. I will do a dovetail but only if requested. The bolt on M&T is so strong, the joint provides the alignment and the bolts just anchor it, only the fretboard extension is glued. The other thing that I noticed is that it seems that the tops on the European instruments I was seeing are a bit thicker than what I use. I’d have to measure to be sure. They also seem to be more in favour of a low gloss or matte finish. Just different cosmetic preferences there I guess.

TT – Back to some basic questions, when did you start building?

AD – I began general woodworking when I was just a tad, we used to get tools as Christmas presents, I still have some of them. I began building for myself when I was in high school but those were pretty crude. Once I was out of the service and settled in Colorado I set up a shop in a back bedroom and started making some better guitars for myself and friends and doing more research into different ways of building.

TT – What led you to on to luthiery?

AD – The initial thought was that I could build one cheaper than I could buy one. Wrong! There were lots of cheap guitars around and my first attempts were costing around $400 at least by the time I was getting an instrument that I was satisfied to call a guitar. What I soon found out was that I could build a better guitar than the cheap ones and that expanded my thinking. I found that I greatly enjoyed the process and liked the ‘left brain’ side of it in trying to understand the acoustics and plate vibrations.

TT – And to become a full time luthier?Alan Dunwell. Guitar builder.

AD – Actually I’m not a full time builder, I currently work at it only about 1/3 time. I have a full time day job as well that I have been doing for years. I am the software manager for a raw physics research and development lab. It is a joint venture between the University of Colorado and NIST and I keep the software organized and working for the folks doing the actual science. Very fun job, always something new going on. I will probably be swapping the roles here in the near future though and go part time at the lab and maybe ramp up the guitar building a bit. We’ll see. I still prefer to build slowly and evaluate each instrument as I go, I’m not a volume kind of guy.


Since the interview in 2006, Alan is now using a straight blot-on neck and has developed the use of double tops- which are 2 thin top layers sandwiching a nomex honeycomb structure- a system he feels that the “advantages that are noticed are a clarity of the individual notes, much more sustain, better balance, and an improved projection in front of the instrument. Even small bodied instruments can fill a room with ease.”

I caught up with Alan more recently and he says: ‘ Also, I am now heavily involved in the double-top construction and I seem to be the answer man for everyone that is interested in building double tops, including some folks from Martin Guitar that called to chat. I am now working part time at “The Day Job” and have expanded my building to include more mandolins and now Irish bouzoukis.”

Endgraft. Alan Dunwell. Guitar builder.

Links: Dunwell Guitars

Acknowledgements: Alan Dunwell

Content ©2006 Terence Tan.
Pictures courtesy of Alan Dunwell- © Used with permission