Gurian Guitars- Identification & Registry of known guitars
Michael Gurian and Gurian Guitars: a brief timeline….
-1965: Starts building lutes and classical guitars. He learns from luthiers Gene Clark, David Rubio, and Manuel Velazquez and becames a talented lutenist, lute maker, and builder of the Armenian oud.
-1968: Featured in New York Magazine listings as running a guitar making course.
-Early 1960’s: Early shops on Carmine Street in New York City, where he builts classic guitars and lutes for many of the top recitalists of the era. “In my shop on Carmine Street in New York I built 175 classical guitars just like that, and 75 lutes as well. Did very well by it, without any of the fancy machines and equipment. I got to a point where I never made mistakes on the instruments, and I truly believed I could build the instruments blind. It became automatic, and then so boring that I just didn’t want to do it anymore. The conceptualization and the sound were all that still interested me at that point.” American Lutherie 1995
-1965-1969: Greenwich Village, NY Shop
-1969-1971: 37A Bedford Street, New York City Shop… although commonly referred to as Bedford Street, the machinery was at Bedford St the guitars were built at 66 Carmine St. Steven Warshaw notes that the shop at 66 was very small.**.
-1972-1973: Grand Street, New York City Workshop
-1973:1979: Hinsdale, New Hampshire Factory
-1979 3 Feb : Fire due to boiler explosion destroys factory, equipment and many guitars.
-1980-1981: West Swanzey, New Hampshire Factory opens 1 month later (!).
-1982-date: Gurian Instruments established as supplier of tools, parts and marquetry to luthiers. Some guitars completed as late as 1986.
Interesting tidbits on the Greenwich Village and Bedford Street Shops:
-Oblique reference from luthier Steven Warshaw: “Tom Hom apprenticed with “Jose” Rubio, as David was calling himself at the time, at the tiny shop-apartment at 66 Carmine Street in Greenwich Village. A great shame, there was a lot of history in that place. He also got a certain amount of tutelage from Eugene Clark. After Rubio took off for England, Michael Gurian took over the same shop and worked there until he started his factory on Grand Street in 1970. The shop was then taken over by Lucien Barnes. That was where Tom was working when I met him, with Lucien and independently. Eventually he decided he couldn’t deal with such cramped surroundings, so he moved to a storefront at 37 Bedford Street, adjacent to Umanov’s original store.”
-Matt Umanov was repairing in the 37A Bedford St location until 35 Bedford became availble in October ’69….
-The building process was much like any guitar factor, but scaled down and compact; one person for example might do multiple jobs.
-“Michael did all the resawing on a big bandsaw, which wasn’t isolated in a separate room. He used to wear a paper bag on his head when he did this to keep the dust out of his long hair. Sometimes it created major respiratory havoc for everybody. He once resawed some Indian rosewood of which the dust was such an irritant that everybody immediately began coughing and hacking their lungs out, even me though I was in a separate small room (I forget what it was for) with the door closed. A shaper was used for the preliminary shaping of the necks, which were then finish-carved by hand—I’m pretty sure by Barney. Far as I know, the NH necks were set straight off an improved shaper jig, which may explain why they’re heavier. My first assignment there was sanding lacquer. Same for Tom. So I guess this was the job for low man on the totem pole. It’s messy and boring. However, Michael was savvy enough to have a National straight-stroke air sander for this. Unlike electrically powered sanders, a National can be used with water, and does a 1/8” straight stroke instead of rotary. It’s also very heavy by comparison which reduces fatigue on the user. Just put it on there and let it do the work. It’s perfect for sanding lacquer. David did the spraying. Otherwise, who did what I’ve forgotten. The cross-pinned mortise and tenon was designed for the simplest of reasons—the only people in NYC who knew how to fit dovetails at the time were Jimmy D’Aquisto and me. My job at Martin was fitting necks. One of the principal reasons Matt hired me was because I could do neck resets. From Walter’s point of view, which he still maintains, it’s a better joint in that no glue is used. But as Bill points out, it isn’t easy. Neither is fitting a dovetail, but that doesn’t require special tools, just skill.”**
Michael Millard- 1970-1974 | Froggy Bottom Guitars
Walter Lipton- Grand Street Era | Walter Lipton Guitars**
Bill Cumpiano- 1972-1974 | Cumpiano instruments & Author
Scott Hausmann- ?1975-? | Whetstone School of Lutherie
Joe Veillette- 1971 building course | Veillette Guitars
Thomas Humphrey- 1970-1 | Humphrey Guitars**
David Santo- 1970’s | David Santo Guitars (David was Shop Foreman at Grand Street)**
Daniel Harnden- Grand Street Era**
Stephen Cichetti- Grand Street Era | Accomplished blues guitarist**
Steven Warshaw- Grand Street Era | “Michael taught a course in classical guitar building at the Craft Students’ League in NYC either in late 1970 or early 1971, can’t recall which. I took this course and this is where he recruited me to work at the Grand St factory.”
Kathryn Hyde- Grand Street Era**
Eddie Diehl- Grand Street Era | Known for his fretwork**
Barney Barger- Grand Street Era
Tom Humphrey- Grand Street Era** (the reknown classical luthier)
Bill Cumpiano said “Gurian built his reputation among studio guitarists who liked fast, narrow necks and the punch of a long scale length (his was the longest in the business). Some of the celebrities who play Gurians are Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Paul Simon, who still treasures a custom wide-neck Size 3 Gurian made for him in the early ’70s.”
This is certain true; many players are possessive of their Gurian instruments; the necks were fast and mimic’d electrics, the sound balanced, and the construction tight. We like to think of them as the Taylor of the day, although strangely enough, Bob Taylor was certainly a contemporary of Michael Gurian, having setup shop in Lemon Grove, CA during the same eras.
“Michael’s bracing on steelstrings deviated from the usual Martin pattern, most significantly in that the lower diagonal tone bars run the opposite way, originating at the bass side of the X brace instead of the treble. He also used three small fan braces below the bridge plate, possibly to provide an alternate method of giving more stiffness to the treble side (which is why the Martin pattern is what it is, you want the treble side to be stiffer than the bass side).”**
Our observations are that the majority of Gurians have:
-Narrower neck of 1 11/16″ or 1 5/8″. Although narrow by today’s standards, it is worth bearing in mind 1 11/16″ was standard in that era.
-Wide necks of 1 3/4″ or 1 7/8″ are relative uncommon but more likely in the earlier series
-Aged well. Majority remain problem free with cracks being relatively uncommon; a testament to their superior
-Neck sets generally easy on later models with the tenon joint; Michael Gurian was amongst the first to recognise the need for future resets so the procedure is on the whole pain free. However, earlier models with the Spanish Heel are much trickier.
European spruce tops from Metropolitan Music at their old Park Ave South location were used in the Grand Street Era.
Repair and Maintenance:
Although Gurian guitars are well designed and robustly constructed, they will still require maintenance or repair over the years.
Gurian Truss Rods:
According to Michael Gurian, truss rods were used with 2 different sized fits for hex wrenches. One is definitely 1/8″.
Truss rod nuts were not welded but instead is threaded. Hence, turning the hex wrench counterclockwise will result in the nut coming off.
From Wiliam Cumpiano in his article Easier. Better. William’s barrel-bolt neck joint.:
“Over the years, I’ve received quite a bit of mail from amateur builders struggling with the pinned mortise and tenon neck-joint system detailed therein. Its major drawback: the pinholes in the neck tenon must be offset by a minute amount to snug the neck down and into the soundbox. So how much is “minute,” exactly?
I learned the system in the Gurian workshops during the early seventies. The system was reportedly adapted by Michael Gurian and Walter Lipton from post-and-beam barn construction. In this ancient joint, oak pins are hammered through holes in the mortise into holes holes drilled in the tenon, holes drilled slightly offset, thus drawing the two tightly and permanently together. On the barn, both mortise and tenon were massive, and the pin was knocked in with a hammer.
The joint’s guitar counterpart requires much greater finesse and precision. An offset of one to two sixty-fourths of an inch is correct: much more and the pin simply refuses to enter the tenon or, if it does, mayhem can ensue: the neck shaft can be drawn forcibly away from the fingerboard. This rarely happened at the Gurian shop: we all learned how to install it without problems. But, alas, hindsight has shown that it is not a good neck joint to learn to do from a book or expect to get it right the first time every time.
Steven Warshaw** “Neck resets on Gurians require special hand-fashioned tools to get the tapered pins in and out. After the reset, the holes in the tenon must be plugged and new holes drilled. ”
Repair folks of repute:
I am sure we have missed out names here. In case you are a repair person familiar with Gurians, please do contact us and we’ll put you on the list.
Similarly, we make no warranty or representation of the abilities those named below. Although I am sure, by reputation alone, none from this pokey website would be needed.
– Tucker Barrett
– William Cumpiano or Harry Becker
– Michael Millard
– Frank Ford
Michael Gurian’s lasting influence:
Michael Gurian certainly made some innovations to the contruction of the steel string guitar; set up in a production style factory, tenon neck joint. However, in my eyes, his main legacy is the philosophy of controlling the supply chain; from marquetry to timber, as well as an unerring eye for detail and a determination to build the best guitars possible.
Looking for similar small workshop guitars from the Gurian Eras? Here are some luthiers entering into production during the 70/80’s:
Augustino LoPrinzi in Plainsboro, NJ
Michael Gurian in Hinsdale, NH
Bob Taylor in Lemon Grove, CA
John and Don Gallagher in Wartrace, TN
Stuart Mossman in Winfield KS
Jean L’arrivee in Canada- Jean visited the Grand Street factory on several occasions,
… of course we all know that outfit from Lemon Grove, CA.
Model and Serial Number
The key to identifying a Gurian Guitar is to obtain the model and serial number. Both are easily seen through the soundhole on the neckblock, just like a Martin. The model will be above the serial number and will take the form of a combination of letters and numbers. The serial will take the form of a letter from A to D followed by a 4 digit number. So in the example below, the Model is J-R and the Serial number is C1179.
Sizes, styles and options
From a 1975 catalogue:
|Total Length: inches
Upper bout: 11 1/2″
Lower bout: 14 5/8″
Maximum depth: 4″Cutaway Total Length: 40.7 inches
Body length: 19.7
Upper bout: 11.9
Lower bout: 15.3
Maximum depth: 4.0
|S2M (Mahogany back and sides) $420
This is the smallest model and the least expensive of the Gurian line. It is a superb professional instrument of light mellow sound. It uses the finest machine heads available at any price.S2R (Indian rosewood back and sides) $550 A mellow sound with the sweetness of S2M 6ut slightly more precise. Darker in colour and more figured than S2M. Features take some superb chrome machine heads.S2R3H (Indian rosewood back and sides with 3-piece back and herringbone binding) $650
Identical to S2R, but with 3-piece back, full herringbone decoration of the bindings, and superb machine heads, heavily plated in real gold. This magnificently beautiful guitar is the ultimate in small guitars.Cutaway This latest instrument in the Gurian family is both acoustic and electric. In balance and tone, it is unsurpassed by any other instrument. For the electric musician, the Cutaway is a new experience. It is the fantastic but slightly altered sound of the Size 3 Undistorted plus the power of amplification. To achieve a truly flat-top sound, amplified, has been an unrealized dream since Charley Christian first attached a crude pickup to his arch-top. The Cutaway, with its specially designed and amplified transducer, achieves this dream. No words can adequately describe the purity of tone and balance found from the low E to the highest fret on the first string (which due to the cutaway, is fully accessible). With the Cutaway, a new page is begun in the history of the development of the guitar. The sound of the Size 3 Gurian, either acoustic or amplified, with superb electronics, combined with the increased range and speed of a cutaway guitar.
|Total Length: 40.7 inches
Body length: 19.7
Upper bout: 11.9
Lower bout: 15.3
Maximum depth: 4.0
|S3M (Mahogany back and sides) $470
A middle-sized instrument with great power, brilliance and sustain. An excellent instrument for solo or accompaniment (finest chrome machine heads).S3R (Indian rosewood back and sides) $590
Darker and more figured wood with a sound slightly solider and more precise than S3M (same fine chrome machine heads). The Size 3 guitar has become a standard for recording work.S3R3H (Indian rosewood with 3-piece back and herringbone binding) $700
Like S3R, but more beautifully decorated and inlaid, with 3-piece back, herringbone binding, goldplated machine heads.
|Total length: 40.7 inches
Body length: 19.9
Upper bout: 12.1
Lower bout: 15.6
Maximum depth: 4.9
|JM (Mahogany back and sides) $500
The largest Gurian, with the heaviest bass response and thickest, fullest sound. Favoured by accompanists or soloists who need to fill a large room with a bossy sound. Like all Gurian guitars, it’s an instrument worthy of the professional musician.JMR/ JR (Indian rosewood back and sides) $630
Darker and more figured, with a slightly heavier, more precise sound than JM. (Finest chrome machine heads.)J3R3H (Indian rosewood with 3-piece back and herringbone binding) $750
like JR, but decorated and beautifully inlaid with 3-piece back, herringbone binding, and goldplated machine heads.
|Total length: 39.5 inches
Body length: 19.6
Upper bout: 11.9
Lower bout: 15.2
Maximum depth: 4.0
|CLM (Classical guitar with mahogany back and sides) $425
CLR (Classical, Indian rosewood back and sides) $545
CLB (Classical, Brazilian rosewood back and sides) $675
FLC (Flamenco guitar with yellow cedar back and sides, friction pegs) $515
|Top woods:||Back and sides woods:||Bindings:||Fingerboards:||Machine heads:||Pickups:|
|Sitka Spruce||Honduras Mahogany||Maple||Ebony||Schaller||FRAP GF100 3- dimensional transducer available for Cutaways. The Fraps were installed in 1980s and 81 according to the 1981 catalog. Back in 1981 they cost $960 for the CM, $1295 for the CMPH and $1460 for the CRH models.|
|European Spruce||Indian Rosewood|
The letter is often referred to as the series which announces which era and location the guitar was built. The number represents the individual identification allocated to the instrument from that era. Bearing in mind all numbers started at 1100, a guitar with the serial number A1173 is a different and earlier instrument to say one with B1173.
We have been told by numerous owners and dealers that the serial numbers started from 1100. Although we have yet to confirm this with Michael, our records suggest this is the case.
|S1||“A” Series||“B” Series||“C” Series||“D” Series|
|Others unknown||“A” Series 1100||Last Known # 1514||Last Known # 4156||Last Known # 2518 2542|
|Totals 24 known||Last Known # 1471||B Total: 414||Lost in Fire 231/232 (depending on the source)||D Total 1442|
|A Total 371||C Total 3056||Production en+ds, winter 1981|
Total known production 5307 – lost to fire 231/232=5075/76
Series and registry of known Gurian guitars:
|Series||Series 1||A Series||B Series||C Series||D Series|
|Dates||1965 to 1969||1969 to 1971||1972 to 1973||1973-1979||1980 and 1981|
|Location||Greenwich Village, New York City||Bedford Street, New York City||Grand Street, New York City||Hinsdale, New Hampshire
pre-Civil War factory on Ashueleot River.
|West Swanzey, New Hampshire (“post fire” Gurians Hinsdale factory burned 1979)|
|Models reported||Size 1
|Distinctive features||2 guitars reported from this era have no recorded serial numbers.||Jumbo was exceptionally deep bodied–5″ at the tailblock.
Many A-series Brazilian Rosewood models were made.
The necks were integral with the sides (Spanish construction).
The truss rod was a single embedded rod.
Top purfling was full (double) herringbone.
|Separate neck held to body with wooden taper pins.
G decal appears on headstock.
Top purfling was “white line” half-herringbone.
Mahogany and East Indian soundboxes, with only some Brazilian Rosewood/German Spruce models were made.
|Double (“over and under”) truss rod wrapped in aluminum tape introduced.
Three cutaway guitars were made.
Curly Maple available.
Mahogany and Indian Rosewood common, but very few Brazilian Rosewood guitars made.
|Two of fanciest models (Brazilian Rosewood J3R3H–Jumbo three-piece back rosewood/herringbone with Englemann spruce tops) were made, one was stolen.
One prototype Gurian 12-string made.
|Known craftsmen:||Ed Colman||Michael Millard- 1970*||Michael Millard- 1970*
Bill Cumpiano- 1972*
|Michael Millard- left March 1974*
Bill Cumpiano- left March 1974*
|Additional notes||Grand Street shop had 8-10 workers*
The G headstock decal was not used on the early Grand St guitars**.
|Michael Gurian dealt directly with logger to source timber he process at the sawmill in New Hampshire. #
Workforce in excess of 20*
Photos: Rudi from The Fellowship of Acoustics, Hologeek
Many Thanks to Bob Thomas, Art Edelstein and Tom Penrose for their invaluable information and work
*Guitar Makers: The Endurance of Artisanal Values in North America | Kathryn Marie Dudley
#Richard Brune “Huttig Obiturary” Guild of American Luthiers (1992)
** Private correspondence with Steven Warshaw
Any infringement of copyright or errors is entirely unintentional- although we try very hard not to make them. Any guitars represented remain property of their current owners. Any issues should be address to: email@example.com. We will attempt to resolve these issues quickly.