I was trained as an aeronautical engineer (B.Sc. & Aeronautical Engineering Professional Degree from MIT) and a physicist (Ph.D. in plasma physics from Cambridge University), spent most of my career as a technical manager, primarily in the semiconductor and aerospace industries, but wound up as founder of RainSong Graphite Guitars and inventor of the modern carbon-fiber/epoxy acoustic guitar. I played classical guitar — badly — and got very frustrated with keeping a fine wood guitar in one piece in Hawaii’s hot, humid climate.
Sort of to prove it couldn’t be done, I started a back-burner project to make a composite-materials guitar — not, at first, for tone, but for stability and water-proofness). Somewhat to my surprise, “graphite” (carbon fibers in an epoxy resin matrix) turned out to have really good acoustic properties, and after ten years of R&D and Manufacturing Engineering, I set up a small factory. The factory has now moved to the Seattle, WA, area, and I “retired” to Chairman in 1998.
Since retirement, I have continued building wood classical guitars, which I started doing in the late 1980s as part of the process of developing the RainSong.. RainSong, of course, makes steel-string guitars which contain no wood, while I specialize in classical guitars made from exotic woods — ironic for the man who invented graphite acoustic guitars! I’ve licensed back from RainSong my patented soundboard technology, a “braceless” design involving a VERY thin soundboard backed up by Nomex honeycomb and a HYPER-THIN backing plate (sanded down to the point that the wood is almost transparent!).
I think it sounds very good – loud, with good bass, very clear treble, and great balance and “attack”. I usually, but not always, use hardwoods like Koa, ‘Ohi’a or Brazilian Rosewood for necks, as they allow a much thinner and “faster” neck design. And I use a lute-like system of cutting string ramps through the peghead so that the headplate itself is free of any slots or tuners.
I make only classical guitars, and I use the finest tonewoods obtainable and the highest quality tuning machines, fittings and strings. My guitars are very traditional in shape – I use no angled necks, bumps on the soundboard, “alternate” soundholes, or even cut-aways. Rather, I prefer to focus my rather-radical approach to soundboard, neck and peghead design to making guitars with superb tone and superior playability.
I am fortunate to be able to make my guitars one-at-a-time. While I use the usual array of power tools – bandsaw, thickness sander, drill press, air compressor, routers, hand drills, sanders and buffers – the guitars are handcrafted to the highest standards of workmanship. While some of the woods in my cabinet were almost certainly not grown and harvested “sustainably”, I endeavor to the greatest extent possible to use woods and supplies which were obtained in an ecologically and socially positive manner.
Dr. John A. Decker, Jr.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
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