A major problem in guitar making is there is really nothing to be objective about in terms of sound quality, especially in terms of aging in vintage instruments. We cite the sound board as being the principal component in the production of sound. No two sound boards are the same. Even though some of us are lucky enough to work from large flitches of wood, we can only get 5 or 6 guitars out of them and there is no comparison – nothing to build upon.
I located a tree which had 6 usable feet of tone wood that I have converted into 106 tops that all come from within 3 to 6 feet of each other. All the wood is select, highly figured bear claw and perfectly quartered with an unusual reddish color. The wood is super stiff and remarkable, and has never been soaked in water – the ideal wood for this project. There is a documented chain of evidence to prove it all came from the same log lifted by helicopter from Prince of Wales Island.
I proposed that we distribute 80 guitar tops to various luthiers or guitar makers who agree to craft an instrument that would be brought to the Healdsburg, Montreal or Newport guitar shows in 2008-2010. At these major shows, each instrument will be photographed, sonically profiled and recorded, and a tracking chip or identification sticker permanently attached to it. In the future, the instruments can again be brought to any of these festivals to be re-examined and recorded, and we can start building and enriching this database that we have all wished for.
We have no single source of data to build upon. This collected data will inspire journal articles – a book and documentary have already been proposed. These instruments will be tested and examined by the public, played by other luthiers and examined by the critical press, and will begin new conversations with an actual powerful starting point of what are the appreciable elements of sound as it changes over time. Each luthier involved will have their own unique experiences to share and discuss with other luthiers who used the exact same top wood. We will be able to talk together coherently and put our finger on one definitive source of sound. Let’s prove it – if we’re wrong, then that’s good too. If it’s the braces, then that’s good to know (there is brace stock also available from the same tree). We will at least be able to ask better questions.
It’s the right idea at the right time. The goal of this project is to share information and be inspired – to give us luthiers an appreciation of what construction means in terms of sonic performance and to have a long term project and database that gives us a scientifically valid set of data points that shows how instruments change over time in the hands of performers.
Significant suppliers and luthiers have been consulted and all are enthusiastic about this project and its potential. I have approached people with highly scientific backgrounds – on board already are Kelly Worth (worked with Thomas Humphries), Ken Parker and Tom Ribbecke.
The golden age of lutherie is dependent upon on the interest of our patrons – our clients. In this declining economy we have the perfect opportunity to experiment and build a solid database for the instrument – it’s never been done. We don’t need a major patron. We are all sponsoring ourselves. Many old and new luthiers working together will draw more attention to all of us as individuals and gives us something to inspire each other to take chances. This is not a competition – there is a historically significant reason to do this. This type of project has never been done with any other instrument. It will be the first time someone has undertaken this type of project, and won’t be the last. And that’s why I am proposed this project and made available 80 sets of top wood.
These guitars will become instantly collectible because of their association and involvement in this project. This can change the type of conversations that we could have and that future generations will have long after the initial project artists are dead. The more quickly it happens, the more we have to talk about over the coming years. Share your creativity and talent with posterity. Let us establish our credibility forever.
I am giving the tops away to support this database – you, the individual luthier or guitar maker, will pay shipping and handling. In return, you will agree to bring the instrument you make to any of three major guitar shows or conventions. You build anything you want – the wood is available for classic guitars, extra wide guitars, ukeles, ?? First come first served.
For more information, contact Denis Merrill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253/973-8177.
Logo courtesy of Tim and Mary McKnight. Used from Permission.
Text Copyright 2010 Denis Merrill