Lukas Brunner Guitars | 2009 | Luthier Interview
TT: Hi Luke thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I understand you started out in lutherie young- how did that come about?
LB: I kind of grew up in the wood shop as I spent a lot of time in my fathers shop. He was a custom furniture builder and I also did a 4 year apprenticeship as a furniture builder from 16 to 20 years old. At the age of 14, I started to play guitar and at the same time I started doing my first repair jobs on guitars for my teacher who ran a store in town where I grew up. My interest in guitar building grew constantly and so I built my first acoustic guitar when I was 18, basically copying a Takamine I owned at that time and just giving it the my own touches. The next one I built was an Archtop Jazz guitar a couple of years later. The year after at the age of 21 I started my own business building custom furniture and making guitars part time.
TT: Have you had an apprenticeship or mentor?
LB: I didn’t have a particular mentor . I was in touch with a couple swiss builders very briefly and had some literature. I mostly just looked at other guitars and did some thinking… You also learn a lot by doing repairs. But you definitely learn the most by making your own experiences.
TT: You’re pretty famous for your travel guitars- could you let our readers know the concepts and designs behind it?
LB: The first own I built for our 6 months honeymoon trip on a tandem bicycle in 1997. I wanted to build some short enough to fit on the back of a bicycle but that still sounds and feels like a guitar, looks good and also is very compact. So I came up with the splited bridge design and the removable neck that sits in a flat pocket in the body to eliminate the high heel on the neck to make it easier to pack up as thin as possible. The first one had a bolt-on connection simular to the current OG basic models, all our all solid models feature a fancier “SNAP” connection since a few years now, where the neck just clicks in. Both designs are super strong and durable and provide a firm connection. A key part in the whole concept are the two matching metal plates on body and neck which bring the neck in perfect position and allow to insert the neck on the body under full string tension. This is another great bonus of the design, there is no detuning required before taking the neck off and when you put it back on, the guitar is pretty much in tune… Another nice detail is the zero fret with the string holder behind it. It keeps the strings getting tangled up when the neck is removed and brings them back into perfect position when the guitar is assembled. The Gotoh locking tuners help to keep the guitar nicely in tune and there is hardly any string winding on the tuner shafts. There’s a lot more to say, but it may be a lot easier to check it all out on the website…
TT: Do you think the removable neck affects the sound?
LB: There are a lot of theories about how important it is to have a big, firmly connecting area between body and neck and I instinctivly would think so too. But reality is that there is no noticable sound difference on my guitars if I have the connection firmly tightend or if I leave a gap where the neck is supposed to sit tightly in the body pocket. It doesn’t take a big connecting surface but what influences the sound is the weight and stiffness of the neck and the weight and size of the neck block on the body and the hardware installed in there. I never ever had the impression that my removable necks cut on the sound and I’m pretty sure nobody would think so when they play one.
TT: I also notice that you offer soundports- how would you describe their effect?
LB: I find soundports add more bass response as the guitar has more air to breathe and it also functions as a little monitor for the player. My experience also is though, that it can easily turn out too big and the sound can become a bit “blurry”. This is especially the case on very responsive guitars with an already high bass response. Pretty much all our guitars belong to that category due to our unique “flying top”. On our small body models a soundport can really add some volume extend the sound spectrum of the guitar, where on the our bigger body shapes it give the top too much freedom to vibrate and the instrument looses clarity, especially for strumming. For some fingerpicking styles it may still be beneficial even on big instruments. I personally prefer to keep the air a bit more compressed on our big guitars by not adding an additional soundhole any where. It just keeps the sound tighter and too “loose”.
TT: You also build your own custom guitars- how do you differ in design (other than the removable neck) from your travel guitars?
LB: The neck connection is obviously the biggest difference. On our fixed neck full-sized acoustics we have a traditional heel which is bolted on and a flying fretboard above the soundboard. The heel is invisibly reinforced against splitting and the necks have additionally to the 2-way centre trussrod two extra carbon fibre rods on both sides which run all the way from the nut to the end of the flying fretboard to give the floating part sufficient stiffness. This design allows more freedom for the top vibrate also on the upper part of the body, which comes especially into play with our “Flying Top” construction. This very unique “braceless” top construction enables the top to vibrate more freely at all frequencies as it is not split up into different vibration sections by glued braces, yet it offers perfect strength for the top by strategically well placed flying braces. For more details please visit our website at the link “Flying Top”. However, because of the different neck connection on the regular guitars, this flying bracing system inside looks a bit different than the one of the removable neck models.
TT: So the flying top isn’t a double top right?
LB: No, I wouldn’t call it a double top. Simply the traditional braces are replaced by a second layer of Spruce, which is thicker in the centre of the top and tapered towards the outside. It is a book matched piece with the grain running with about a 20° angle toward the centre line. The layer is glued onto the top in a arched mould giving the top a slight arch which is adding even more strength. The outside line of the layer follows the body shape with a 1-2″ distance. Top actual top itself is kept rather thin along the outside edge keeping the top as a whole unit very flexible. With the added oval rosewood bridgeplate we end up with quite a thick and very stiff top in the centre area providing outstanding sustain, yet it stays very flexible and responsive due to the thinner outside area. It kind of works a bit like a speaker membrane. The whole top is supported right near the soundhole towards the bridge by only one flying brace going across the body which is sitting on supporters on the sides. There is one small brace glued to the top reinforcing the soundhole area. This small brace is then sitting with its highest point in the centre on that flying brace just mentioned. Because the top is sitting only on one flexible point is stays very free to resonate. To keep the body from pulling in at the rear end two additional flying braces are running from the end block to the supporters on the sides stiffening up the sides very effectively. On our regular guitars which feature a flying fretboard and a regular neck heel, two more flying braces are running from the neck block to the same supporters on sides to hold direct the neck pressure out to the sides releasing the top from that pressure. On the removable neck guitars those upper flying braces are not needed because we’re using different bigger neck block and add a more traditional neck brace across the top above the soundhole with flying ends also supported on the sides.
TT: What’s your take on the adjustable vs. non adjustable truss rod?
LB: We’re only using 2-way truss rods today. It’s so nice to be able to do slight adjustments either way! I never noticed any sound affection at all using different rods. I like stiff necks though as they provide better sustain.
TT: Okay, here’s the part where I have to ask about tonewoods- do you have any favorites and why?
LB: I love woods! Woods are really fascinating, especially how they not only look so different, but also how they produce different sounds and can be so different to work with. It’s a tough question, because there’s always something I really like about about each wood I’ve been using so far. I pretty much always love Redwood tops, they have the clarity and brilliance of Spruce and the warmth and responsiveness of Cedar. I “almost always” like Rosewood bodies, just the depth and clearity of it. I love like to try new woods too though. I recently built a guitar with a Redwood top and a Brazilian Cherry body, beautiful looking, very load, clear and transparent sound. Or one of the best sounding OG fullsize models I ever built was probably one with a Bearclaw Sitka top and a Quilted Mahogany body… The woods used on the instrument are giving the colors to the tone, or a special flavor, very much like the spices on a meal. You can have the exact same food, but use different spices. Just like not everybody prefers the same spices, also the tone woods will always be a matter of taste in the end. The choice is always influenced by the playing style as well. It is to say too though, that the whole construction of a guitar is a lot more important to the sound than just using the “right woods”… In fact, on a good guitar all structional aspects should be adjusted to the woods used (stiffer Spruce top can be kept thinner than a softer Cedar top etc…)
TT: And how about Brazilian rosewood…
LB: I only built two Brazilian Rosewood guitars to be honest, one with Spruce top which I didn’t blow me away and one with a Sinker Redwood top and that one really is a fantastic guitar all around. Again, it’s not the just the right woods making a great guitar… I guess I’ve used many other woods I liked better sound wise, but Brazilian is not Brazilian either. Two guitars aren’t enough to get a good picture, it’s more like first impressions.
TT: Any exciting projects coming up you would like to share with us?
LB: I’ve built a lot of exciting custom models and new variations during this past year which I haven’t been able to show on the website yet… The whole site will be refreshed within the next weeks though and all the new exciting options and models will ben shown there. The OG Carbon has for sure been a great new option, also available now as wood/Carbon combination with a fantastic sound! Further more the OG harp is still fairly new and I’m currently building another custom version for Jason Carter with additional super trebles on the body…
Here a review of the OG Harp by Gregg Miner: http://www.harpguitars.net/luthiers/ohg/ohg.htm
In the meantime I’ve built a lot more different neck options for exchangeable necks on the OG’s. Right now I’m working on a custom multineck OG with four exchangeable necks, it’s a guitar, a 9 string Baritone, a 8 string Bouzouki and a 10 string Cittern neck for the one full-size body!
Another project has been the Svoboda Bass for Adrian Maruszczyk which is also available now.
Customers keep pushing my limits with their new ideas constantly and I love developing new feature and to open up new possibilities for the guitarist. There are few more special custom orders lined up for this year, but nothing too new or different yet from what we’ve done before.
New is, that we’re having a little CNC machine sitting in our shop and I’m now able to offer crazy custom inlays within reasonable cost. I have already done few projects and I’m very excited this new tool!
It won’t affect our way of building too much though, as we’re “jiged up” pretty good without the CNC. We will mainly use it for inlays and some detail work.
TT: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Lukas, before I let you go, would you have any advice for aspiring luthiers?
LB: Well, be unique, find your own ways for doing things and don’t just be another Martin duplicater…
©2009 Terence Tan.
Pictures & MP3s courtesy of Lukas Brunner © individuals 2009
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