I never planned to build a guitar this large, but 2020 was a pretty strange year all around, including in my wood shop. When the right person asked if I’d build a J45-like guitar (and convinced me that it would be a blast to play), I caved.
I’ve played and repaired many slope-shouldered dreadnoughts over the years, and based this new model on the best one I’ve ever played, a maple-bodied banner-era J45. It belongs to Jim Nelson, a terrific old-time fiddle accompanist from the St. Louis area. What makes that guitar so great is that it has a dry, fast sound with a touch of a devil-may-care edge to it, while avoiding the trap of tubbiness so common in this shape of guitar. It’s a terrific specimen of the git-r-done aesthetic of the war-era J45s.
The most sought-after examples of J45s were built during the war years (World War Two) with pretty much whatever materials were available, and on a budget for cash-strapped players. They built a reputation as a blue-collar guitar that was never intended to be too sophisticated or elegant, but was ready to play when you were. I respect the come-as-you-are aesthetic of these instruments, and tried to hew close to the original unfussy, make-it-work ethos, in part by using sustainable domestic woods. Continue reading “No 27 – Adirondack Spruce and Red Maple”→
This guitar was a real joy to design and build. My college academic advisor got in touch to request a guitar that would play jazz chords with clarity and aplomb and look imaginative yet crisp and classy. My advisor is a fine arts professor, a printmaker who had a tremendous impact on my development as a visual artist–I was thrilled to collaborate with him to design a guitar that looks as good as it sounds. We selected an Adirondack spruce top with sugar maple back and sides for fat, clear trebles paired with African blackwood appointments to increase the visual contrast. We chose a dyed color scheme that resonated with the deep purples of African blackwood. Finally, this guitar got a one-of-a-kind twelfth-fret inlay, designed by the customer, that is the perfect exclamation point.
I’m currently building a pair of commissioned guitars and having a great time because the two instruments have such different goals.
The first is a jazz machine: I’m shooting for the strong, independent voicings and fat, certain trebles I’ve seen in several of my previous builds. This one is a Grand Concert size 12-fret with a red spruce top over a double-wall sugar maple rim and back, one of my all-time favorite combinations.
The other is a street fighter, with plenty of confidence and swagger, lots of low-end thump and a devil-may-care attitude about clean trebles. It is inspired by the best J45 I have ever played, a maple-or-maybe-birch-backed “Banner era” belonging to one of the best old-time guitarists around. My build is a red spruce top over a red maple rim and back.
Like all interesting things, this repair started out simply enough. I saw my friend Bill down at the North Arkansas Fiddlers’ Convention, and he said, “The bridge is just starting to pull up on this old guitar,” as he handed me his 1944 D-18. I didn’t think regluing the bridge would be any big deal, then Bill said, “The bridge has been off before. And there’s a hole through the top underneath it that you could put your little finger in.” Continue reading “Interesting Repair: Putting a new top on a 1940s D-18”→
Here’s a sneak peek of a not-quite-finished guitar. Number 22 is a 12-fret grand concert guitar with a red spruce soundboard, sugar maple sides, back and neck, an African blackwood fingerboard and bridge, and gold Evo frets with matching, smooth-running Gotoh brushed gold X-finish high-ratio sealed tuning machines. It uses a 24.9″ scale and the nut is about 1-3/4″ wide. The neck profile was suggested to me by the commissioner, and it feels great! It’s got just a hint of a V to it and is very comfortable to play. This guitar uses doubled sides and an adjustable neck. It both feels and sounds great. This guitar will be for sale for $2750 once I’ve finished it. Contact me if you’re interested.
Here’s a quick sound sample recorded on a little Zoom audio recorder:
See photos of the build process in these galleries: