I love ladder braced guitars. I had an Gibson LG that really opened my mind to what’s going on inside the box. Fraulini guitars… same thing. Dale Fairbanks uses X braces, but they are unscalloped and they are my favorite sounding guitars.
To get a drastically sounding different guitar- and drastically inspiring guitar- you have to do something drastically different. And that’s something I get really excited about. I completely support guys tweaking the forward X brace with carbon fiber, tapping, finger braces etc. and see what happens. I think that is awesome. But what gets me really jazzed up is the stuff that is a whole new deal. I can only pick up so many dreadnaughts before I know what to expect. If you’re looking for a different sound, play something different.
Ladder bracing is the combination of ‘drastically different’ and completely traditional. I think guys like Ken Parker and Charles Fox are amazing and awesome. Brilliant. I’m completely obsessed with Ken Parker’s archtop ‘Lucky’. The hurdle (I speculate) they face is explaining to every person who is interested why they do what they do because it uses different neck support systems, carbon fiber here, carbon fiber lattice, etc etc. It’s a lot to take in and it’s so new.
Ladder bracing is new but its old. So old in fact that it’s older than X bracing. There’s a certain appeal to that. And with guitars like Colling’s Waterloo ‘everything that is old is new again.’
The woody thunk you get out of ladder braced guitar reminds me the guitar I’m playing is made from wood and I forget about whether the strings are phosphor bronze or 80/20- it’s just flat out woody body sound. I love it. It adds such a character to the sound, which is what we are kind of looking for right? What is ‘best’? Thats hard to describe…but intriguing? That’s a little easier to know when you hear it. It perks your ear and you dig around a bit. That’s why I love resonator guitars so much. Are they trebly? Sure, but they aren’t defined by that because they have the low end to match. I think thats why a lot of people really love resonator guitars as well. You hear a reso on a track and it pulls you in …. wait what is that? Is that a resonator? Umm…yes…wait… yeah it is. It pulls you in. It makes you listen deeper. And that’s exactly why we play.
Guitar festivals. I want to go. When I was a wee lad of 18 or so I found the Healdsburg Guitar Festival website and would use that as my research. I found links to websites for Jeff Traugott, Judy Threet, Linda Manzer, Ervin Somogyi etc…..etc…..etc…. I would be embarrassed to figure out how many hours I spent just looking at what I could find.
I got on the waitlist for the Woodstock Guitar Festival, and want to dab my toe in the water some more. Kind of a scary thing- so different, so intimidating. Room to grow.
Healdsburg Guitar Festival
Dallas Guitar Festival
Have any other ideas for me? firstname.lastname@example.org. Kick me off the diving board a bit would ya?
A bit of a philosophical tangent now. What is handmade? I think this a conversation I’ve always heard phrased in more questions than answers. I think that’s a great thing and I think it proves it’s own point- that ‘handmade’ is a continuum and not a definition.
On one end of the handmade guitar continuum you have guys who use only hand tools, some not even sandpaper. I believe I heard a rumor Michael Greenfield doesn’t even use any jigs. On the other end you have places like Washburn that are almost entirely cut out and finished by machines, assembled by hardworking men and women, with a “handmade” label inside.
If someone owns a CNC machine and uses it to rough in mandolin tops which are then finished to thickness and tuned by an experience eye and ear are they still handmade? If a neck is roughed in on a shaper bit and then carved by spokeshave and a rasp is it hand carved? Maybe it’s not a case by case scenario maybe its “you know it when you see it”.
We solder and flange and fit and sand and patina the bodies using our abilities. The tops are cut on a laser machine. The Fholes always have been, I used to cut the contour out on a Pexto circle shear.
Progress or regress? Does there have to be a balance between running a business (market speak for ‘providing for yourself, your family and your employees) and handcraft in its purest form? Who defines that balance.
I know this is a bit of a different question but it’s my blog and I can do what I want- I submit that what we are actually looking for is the story. Is this made by someone I know? I think the tops getting cut out by a giant laser is pretty cool. The shaper bit I had made is awesome. I put the neck on a jig, push it into this blade of death and it hogs out all the excess material so I can get right to carving a great feeling neck. Me, Matt, I do that. You know me, you’ve seen pictures of me. If you e-mail Mule I am the one who responds to you. These guitars are not commodities, they are an experience and a connection between me the person who made it and you the person who also loves the instruments. In that context is whether or not I use a top bearing router bit meaningful AT ALL. No, I should say it’s not. It’s almost silly. I think that shows it’s a bigger question. If you buy a Martin or Taylor or whatever, you have no connection to people who brought that guitar to your door step. There is the history behind it of course, and it is a GREAT guitar. But there was no connection to the people who made it. That’s what makes these resonator guitars different, and that’s non-debatable. There is no continuum.
You have to do what you have to do, and getting going with these resonator guitars was no different. I spent about a year and a half at the first ‘Shop”, two years in the basement and the last six months at shop number three. It’s been 13 years in the making though, and it’s been an awesome adventure.