What attracted you to the Sonic Sitka Project?
So much of what we do is solitary, and it was fun to consider doing a project that, while done alone in my shop, would be part of a group effort. I’m pretty picky about my woods, especially top woods, I tend to stick to five suppliers and get to know my own collection very well. It was a challenge to use a top I would not have chosen and to see what the outcome would be.
Has this project changed/challenged your approach to guitar building?
I opted to do what I do in much the same way I always do it. For me, to do something completely different would have been to miss the chance to gather information about my own building. Collectively we will learn about this particular chunk of wood in some ways, but the variables in design and build leave me wondering what it will all mean. It will be fun to watch it unfold.
Should people care about this project?
They will. At least in the immediate. It will be fun for builders and our fans to compare the decisions each builder made. There will be show stoppers galore, and there will be fine sounding instruments that have an ongoing connection to community. I think people care about that. In the long term, I suppose it will matter if the testing can tell us things we didn’t know.
What are you learning from your participation in the Sonic Sitka Project?
I have only almost finished the guitar, so I don’t have anything to add yet.
What do you hope to learn from looking at the data collected over the next couple of years?
I am interested in seeing what can be gleaned from all the guitars with all the variables. I’m interested in seeing with my eyes the changes I usually hear after a guitar has been alive a while.
Do you anticipate collaborating more with other project participants on new designs or refinements?
I hadn’t really considered that! I’m not an innovator by any stretch. Other than Jimmi’s inlay work (http://jimmiwingertinlay.com), I work alone. I just work to voice nice woods in very traditional designs. It could be a kick to knock at some walls with another builder.
How important do you think using “alternative” or “sustainable” woods is going to be within the next ten years?
I hope this doesn’t come off as a double standard: I think sustainable wood use is very important for factories or production shops. Assembly processes require dumping product that is faulty, and there isn’t time to salvage mistakes or flaws in the wood.
Custom makers are notoriously stingy with their materials, and the highest and best use of our valuable wood resources would be in handmade instruments. All builders need to be thoughtful about creating demand for materials that should be conserved. All supplies should be responsibly and ethically collected. The ability to salvage wood for use in instruments is a real advantage for small builders.
How do you see guitar building evolving in the 21st century?
I don’t know that I do. I’m sure there will be instruments to come that are played in the fashion of guitar, but that has more to do with player evolution. I like the sound of acoustic guitars. I don’t believe they need to be louder, they are well balanced with a human voice. I don’t believe they necessarily need to be better intonated, we are all accustomed to tempered tunings. Maybe somewhere in the 21st century someone will develop a G string that works for classical guitar!
Do you believe that we are holding back the evolution of music?
Guitar has a place in almost every style of music, but there will always be evolution of musical styles with or without guitars. I can imagine a time when the kids will consider the guitar an old fashioned sound, it wouldn’t be the first time in history a perfectly nice instrument fell out of fashion. When was the last time you heard a flute on a popular recording? But the guitar is so much more than any of the instruments that have fallen in and out of favor.
Should we be deconstructing old instruments for their valuable hardwoods and build new instruments that are completely original?
As a habit and without good reason? Heavens no. Should we be slaves to failed designs? Probably not. A builder with a good sense of history and decent chops will be able to make good decisions about this.
Should player’s techniques and needs be the driving force behind design and innovation?
I can’t think of a better reason for design and innovation!
Do you think that luthiers need to keep making guitars based on well-established designs or should they expand the sonic possibilities of the instrument?
Should? Tell a luthier what they should do and you are very likely to get a room full of examples of why that’s bunk! Luthiers should follow their hearts and the sound in their own heads.
Should players’ technique and needs be driving design and innovation or should luthiers simply strive for innovation?
See answer to previous question and add that most builders I know love to solve a player’s problems.
Pictures ©2009 Kathy Wingert
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