Kent Everett. Everett Guitars. | 2009 | Luthier Interview
Kent Everett is a veteran Luthier who has been working with guitars since 1977. From repairs to semi-production work to high end guitars, Kent has constantly developed and worked with various models, materials and philosophies. His guitars are characterized by an elegant, sculptural aesthetics and a balanced, ringing tone. We caught up with Kent recently to speak about his past experiences and his current builds.
TT: Thanks for speaking to us, Kent! I know you’ve been building for a long time now, I was wondering if you could relate your journey in lutherie?
KE: Well, as you said it has been a long time. So here is 33 years in a few sentences:
The first step that I took was the same step that I see so many new builders on. The step of strong desire.
That lasted about 3 years as I did carpentry work , cooked pizzas, worked in a cabinet shop, etc to make enough money to buy parts to build my guitars.
Then I finally found a job working in a guitar repair shop. At first I was still working 2 jobs at a time. That made for long days! But I saw the quality of the work they were doing , and I was determined to be a part of it. The good news was the guys in the guitar shop were super talented. The bad part was they were very strict and very demanding. I went home many days with my “tail between my legs”. But what a wonderful learning experience and right from the very beginning I was working on high end guitars.
After 5 years of that, I then I had the desire coupled with some serious training. I already had a strong work ethic. (I never have worked less than 50 hours a week. Usually much more.)
Then after a decade of that, I ended up owning the shop. At which point I gradually moved to building full time. About 1990, this evolved into a micro-production. I started building 4 per month, then 5 , then 6 (which was completely insane for one guy – inlay, finish- the whole enchilada), then back to 5 per month which I maintained for many years.
Then in the late 1990s, due to market adjustment and health / aging realizations, I responded to an offer to build a line of guitars in Japan. So I put in 3 years building those guitars while still making 40 per year by myself in my shop.
9/11 put an end to the guitar importing business as being reasonable for a little fish like me …long story…
So now I find myself building 8 to 10 high end guitars per year. I build one at a time , for specific clients, and I am devoting more time to teaching luthiery.
TT: How was the arrangement with the Japanese folks? I remember it was a shared building arrangement?
KE: They actually contacted me about it. Later I learned that made a big difference in the relationship. The fact that I was contacted instead of being the one initiating the business. I had a few guitars in the hands of Japanese collectors, so they had heard of me. They sent a folder with a bunch of info and models. But I wrote a nice letter and said, “No thank you.”
Then about 2 months later, I started thinking, “Why not?”.
We got into it more than I think they were expecting.
I changed the bracing, the materials, appearance, etc quite a bit from their spec models.
They later said, “We have learned a lot for Everett-san.”
I designed this guitar so that I could do the final top tuning through the sound hole and by shaping the bridge.
Sometimes the guitars would be just fine right out of the box. But sometimes I would have to fight with the guitar for hours through that 4″ hole to get the guitar to have the voice it needed to have. I think both sides of the Pacific learned a good deal from this. And what a guitar! $1500 and a real instrument that had personality and voice. Wow! Even today I have been kicking around ideas of working with an established factory to develop a new mid priced model. A factory can do much more than I can do as a solo builder. And I can do much more as an individual than a factory can do. So that combination is very intriguing to me.
TT: Must have been hard to tune through the soundhole….
KE: Well with my name on the peg head, it had to have a certain voice associated with my guitars. It was a pain.
TT: I’m assuming it was through brace shaping that you attained the voicing? But how about the bridge?
KE: The bridge is your final opportunity to tune the top. Think of It as a top brace placed on the outside of the top. :-). So its profile (ie shape) can effect the tone. A stiff top would enjoy a lighter bridge while a bouncy top could benefit from a stiffer one.
TT: So you stopped your collaboration a couple of years ago and focused on building your own?
KE: The collaboration was only a part time thing that did not pan out for the long run. My main gig has always been my own guitars. Even during the Laurel Series days, I was still building 40 guitars a year. But ,”yes ” is the short answer. Now I am only building about 10 guitars a year. That allows me to have more contact with the customer and to get them involved with the building process. They get to choose the exact pieces of wood for their guitars. I listen carefully to their tonal desires, etc… In short I get to be the kind of guitar builder that both of us enjoy.
TT: And these guitars you’re now building- I’m hearing great things about your new models- like the metrocaster
KE: Thanks… I find myself in a wonderful position to push the luthiery envelop – in my own way. The Metrocaster is a hybrid style guitar. The idea was to build an acoustic/electric, with the emphasis on the acoustic end. The Valentinos mix my wife’s and my love of art with sculpture and guitar building. All fo these ideas get cross-trained over to the regular guitars that I offer (the Alienzo and the Catalina). When I come up with a cool design idea for the Metro or Alienzo, I do not hesitate to use it on the other guitars. What fun!
TT: And how does the Metrocaster straddle the acoustic and the electric world? Maybe you could give us a run down of the model?
KE: It started out as a guitar for me. To help the ageing guitar player play longer. So I made the body thinner with a large armbevel. Then I made it a 25″scale to get the left hand closer to the players body. Then I voiced the top as if it were a full bodied guitar and made a large sound port with the thought that 90% of the time one spends practicing with the guitar in the lap. So I wanted this guitar to sound great at 0 – 3 feet , fit the body well, and be easier to play. As a result, my dealer in Texas – Danny Brevard – thought it would make a fantastic acoustic electric. He plays one himself and says it is the best plugged in guitar that he has ever played. (He has played a lot of guitars.) Since then he has been selling them as acoustic/electrics, and they have been getting kown as acoustic electrics. But the initial idea was full acoustic. It is a unique guitar, something new for the market. A picture is worth a thousand words ; www.everettguitars.com/metrocaster.html The unique neck joint idea comes from an old Macaferi plastic guitar that I have. It has this type of neck joint, and I looked at it for years thinking it could be cool for one of my guitars.
TT: I noticed that you also have a lot of innovative aesthetics and features like the stairstep headstock…
KE: Thanks for noticing. I like to add the sculpture element to my work when I see the opportunity. In terms of the stepped classical peghead, that is to add a little extra tension to the g-string. It can tend to feel a bit floppy next to the d-string.
TT: Maybe you would to share with us some of your build and bracing philosophies?
KE: Built for structural integrity and braced for an open full voice. Other than that we would need a few days.
There is the fine line between being built too lightly so that the guitar’s voice “craps out” in a few years. And being built too heavy, so that it is not open sounding. The wood is on average 3/32″ thick and has to support 175 lbs of tension 24/7. Then it has to be prepared to be able to survive reasonable temperature and humidity changes. This gives you a hint at why building guitars is so interesting.
I actually have just completed a 2 disk dvd set on the guitar’s voice and my approach to achieving it. It was filmed over a two day class that I gave to advanced guitars builders on voicing your guitar. Then it took almost a year to complete, with editing and follow up info and filming… So there is only so much I can say in a few sentences.
TT: And then there are warranty issues too….
KE: It is important to build a stable and a responsive guitar. One might think that the lighter the guitar ,the better it sounds.
But that is not always the case. As the guitar becomes lighter and less stable, it looses it’s clarity and tonal life expectancy too.
So, yes there is a fine line that the builder learns with experience.
TT: Ah. With your experience in building guitars I was wondering which tonewoods you prefer?
KE: German (Italian, Sitka , Red, or Engleman) Spruce and Brazilian Rosewood – of course :-).
TT: Would you mind sharing with us the characteristics of the various tonewoods you achieve in your guitars?
KE: There is a lot more to tone than just the woods. But my relationship tonally to the various types of wood is pretty much the same as everyone else.
Sitka -crisp clean voice / Engleman – warmer edge / German – clarity with warmth / Cedar – dark and lush, …
But what you do with the colors on the palate, now that is the value of control and experience.
How the builder learns to work with the wood and different wood impedance combinations,… now you are talking.
Bob Taylor exemplified this nicely with his palate guitar. He took a wooden palate from his factory and built a guitar out of it, nail holes and all. He was trying to show it was the skill that really made the guitar, not just expensive wood. You know, it did not sound bad!
TT: So is it easier to aim for a certain sound and choose the woods to suit rather than trying to predict the tone from mixing and matching tonewoods?
KE: Bingo. The short answer to your question is Brazilian and German. But that is a horrendous waste of good wood if the builder does not understand top and back radius and how they effect the tone. How body size, bracing variations, proper voicing of the materials, …effect the tone and how it all works together. Why throw away limited precious materials. There is just a lot more to it than buying wood.
Even aiming for a specific sound can be a fool’s game. I teach to aim for tonal quality. Then after learning to squeeze musicality out of: the wood, the body size, the particular bracing pattern, … then you really have something, and dialing in the tone is not so elusive.
TT: So actually if I would order a guitar, it would be better to ask for a wood combo and get the luthier to optimize that tone?
KE: I think of it a little differently. It would be best to find the luthier, then talk about how to build the guitar. If you find the right guitar builder with experience in the type of guitar you want and skill to back it up, then the battle is won. You will end up with the guitar you are hoping for.
TT: And how do you feel about the soundport/ multiscale neck and bevel features? Do they really improve the playing experience significantly?
KE: Sure the soundport points the guitar’s voice at the player and can actually help a mediocre guitar improve in tone. Although I only put them in about 30% of my guitars. I do like the sound for the guy having the guitar on his knee. The multi scale I have not incorporated. I do offer 3 different scales for an Everett, but the fan frets etc, I have not used.
The arm bevel actually came from a need that one of Grit Laskin’s customers had. Grit had a classical player who had some arm problems. He asked for the body bevel on a custom order. Of course it originated with the Fender Strat, but Grit was the first to do it on a n acoustic guitar (as far as I know.) Then in 1992, I had an order from the Indigo Girls and wanted to use the arm bevel. I phoned Grit to ask his permission and ended up using my version of the bevel on a steel string. So Grit did it first; I may have been the first to do a smooth bevel on a steel string. But the idea is all Grit Laskin’s. Funny how people claim inventions and ideas that they really did not have. I think it reflects in their work. Crummy guitar with a bunch of good ideas badly executed,… oh well.
TT: Maybe we should speak about your lutherie classes a bit more….
KE: Right now I am looking for a good location to offer the week long class that I used to give. With 6 days in the shop, we can build up a momentum that the student will remember. My current shop is too small to have the 3 to 4 students that I need to do the classes. My wife and I are shopping a new home north of Atlanta about an hour – in the mountains. So I hope by latter next year to have a great location to be able to offer the classes. During eh class the studnets watch me build a guitar from materials to string tension. Of course it takes me about 2 weeks to prep for the class and have all the parts lined up ready to go. It is a great class, and I have had several students take the class more than once. As they get better they are able to learn more. I do not pull any punches. So the beginner can get an idea of what is envolved in building a guitar and the intermediate or advanced student learns voicing,, work flow, … more of the details of luthiery. Good information is simply good information…. no matter where you are on the learning curve
TT: Do most of your students come from a crafts background?
KE: Most of them come from a curiosity background or from a guitar building background.
I really get the two extremes.
But to answer your question, not really. They come from all “walks of life”. The thing in common is the love of the guitar. So it is usually a really fun class of students. A good bunch of folk. The ages vary too. 25- 70. Most students are professionals of some kind: doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, … and everyone wants to learn about the guitar.
Also I have had quite a few professional guitar builders come. They want to learn my techniques and process. Many have gone on to be good guitar builders. I always enjoy that level of instruction. But like I have said, good info is simply good info. Where ever the student is on the learning curve determines what they take home. And because of that I have had lots of repeat studnets. That is probably the biggest compliment I can get , when they come back for a second or third time.
TT: Well, thank you for speaking to us, Kent. Before you go, would you have words of wisdom for folks looking to custom order their first handmade guitar?
KE: Happy to try and help out. Advice? Well there are so many builders out there, both professional and part time, I think the buyer could really enjoy learning about and trying different guitars. To do that, one needs to keep trade in value in mind, so that the buyer doesnot loose too much money in trying teh next instrument. Also a lot of young or new builders would be interested in a barter to help get their instruemtns ‘out there’, so that could be a good venue too. There is a rich crop of guitars to choose from. What fun!
BUT when someone is spending over $5000 on a guitar, the story changes.
At that point it becomes an investment. So it is important to buy from an established builder who has weathered some difficult times and whose instrument value has gone up and continues to go up.
So my 3 tier advice for guying a high end guitar buyer is:
1) Buy from a builder who has been in business fulltime building at least 10 years. That person has proven that they are in it long term and can keep building guitars even when times get difficult.
2) From a builder who has built at least 100 guitars. At that point the luthier has better control of the tools and has developed (or near ) his own voice, style , skill level, etc. At around 100 guitars the experimenting starts to taper off, and the builder starts to build their own guitars with their own voices. It is a valuable turning point in a career.
3) and last from a builder who is also a player. That really is the only way that a person can fully understand the end product, … the subtleties.
With those 3 simple points, the huge number of new luthiers gets trimmed down quite a bit. And I think your money would be better protected as well as you would end up with a killer guitar.
Thanks for asking.
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