Stay in Tune vol #96
By luthier Patrick Podpadec
The summer is alive! Things are happening everywhere you look. Festivals, parties .Venues having music two to 5 times a week. It's in full swing. Just the way I like it.
I've been trying to gear up for a long awaited trip to Ireland. The excitement is almost unbearable. My wife has many relatives over there to visit with and my teenage son will have a blast. (so will I ). Trying to organize my work schedule has is become a little hectic though. There is a lot of things to get done before I leave.
I am planning a visit to the shop of Mr. George Lowden. He is a well respected luthier from the north of Ireland . He has many famous artists that play his guitars. I hope to spend a day with him so that I can see his guitar facility up close. I'm sure that it will give me a huge blast of inspiration that I can bring back home with me.
The shop work continues to be busy and it feels to me as though the economy might finally be improving in most cases . At least around this area. There is a slow , but steady stream of instruments that have been coming in for repair. I have been getting more interest in musicians asking about having a instrument built for them. The fun part about building custom instruments is that there is no blueprints to work off of or something that you can look at and copy. Most of the time you are shooting from the hip with ideas. Some of them stick and some of them don't. Certain requests may require more bracing , or some designs will have to be modified to make the instrument feel comfortable to play. Instruments that are awkward to handle or too heavy or too big can make the customer not love his instrument as much as some other one that they own. I hate it when I hear. “I love the sound but I don't like the way the neck feels”. This is a problem that can be fixed at the time of building the guitar. Each player has there own preferences of how they want their instrument to feel and play. It's my job to make that happen for them.
The “new age” guitarist is here and has many new requests that they would like to see on there instruments. The demands of the newer styles of music has already influenced many new design changes ,such as “fanned frets”, scalloped frets, bracing patterns, the use of composite materials, etc.
To a point I am bound by the nature of the wood and by some laws of physics , but other than that it's a wide open field to discover many new and interesting possibilities.
Some of them want more strings, some of them want to tryout longer scale lengths . They may want add sympathetic strings ( like sitar) or add special electronics. I have recently seen players using the top of the guitar as a percussion instrument by tapping the top while strumming to create a melody. This style influenced a very talented luthier named Fred Carlson to create a beautiful instrument called the ”Taproot”. It's an 18 string Sympatar. That has a bunch of cool features . (check it out on you tube www.youtube.com/watch?v=yo3cDTJIxiw ) One feature has 8 different piezo switches that activate a drum module or any other midi device that you plug into it. It is very cool! It also has a “Juwari” bridge that when the strings lightly pass over it creates a buzzing effect similar to the sounds of a Sitar. With the on set of all the new electronics that are now available for stringed instruments the possibilities are almost endless. In a way , that gives the player many new sounds, some good , some bad. I feel that many of the electronics are over used . Sometimes they can mask over either the players musical ability or even the instruments capabilities. As a luthier, it is important to remember that the qualities that you expect from the wood or the construction and design are not manipulated by electronics. I l feel that the tone, sustain, the volume,etc. to be all natural from the woods that have been selected. That to me is how you can truly justify the sound of a well made instrument. By adding certain electronics you are just adding false realities to the guitar. That is fine as long as the power stays on. But as soon as there is a power failure due to the venue or even your own 9 volt battery, everything goes to crap. I do understand that most instruments have to have some sort of amplification (P.A.) to be heard at many venues,and certain styles of music need certain electronic effects to pull off the sound that they are looking for, but I'm mostly speaking of the natural sound that is created from an acoustic instrument.
I hope that I'm not offending any of the 10 million electric guitar players out there who for years have been playing heavy rock music with the gain knob on the amp up to 10 and adding in all of the distortion, reverb, chorus , and every other effects available. It just doesn't sound “natural” or “organic” to me. Not that everything has to sound natural . Maybe I should just stop now before I get myself into trouble with this conversation. I realize that music is judged on a very individual basis and I have no intention to ever change that! I'm just speaking from a 70's folk kind of music style that I have come to love over the years. I know it's not everybody's cup of tea.
I didn't mean to get so off track, I just want to stress the importance of the sound that “acoustic” instruments are meant to have ( in my opinion). When I'm building stringed instruments I am doing everything that I can do to make them sound good without the electronic effects, I feel they will just sound better when the right ones are used.
Well till next time, Please Stay in Tune!
Patrick from Liam Guitars / Wood-n-Strings