As a Professional Luthier I'm always looking to make new instruments, exploring new designs & experimenting with different Tonewoods. And this is usually encouraged by customers who want to create a unique & exciting musical instrument. And too often manufactured guitars, for example, present the buyer with single choice of traditional dark mahogany back & sides with plain spruce soundboard, & limited features. In contrast Luthiers like me can offer a choice of more striking Tonewoods, unique designs & individually tailored bespoke features. And a Commissioned Bespoke Instrument, as you like it, can take your passion for playing music to a much higher level, or reinvigorate a waning desire to play.
Of course, whatever is requested certain rules & aspects of traditional construction methods must be observed. A tight construction method is essential for the Tone of musical instruments, and the selected Tonewoods impacts the sound - softwoods generally generating a mellow tone & hardwoods a brighter tone.
A less common style of Mandolin, combining Swiss 'Moon' Spruce, Scottish Rippled Sycamore & Bosnian Flamed Maple. Also a very rigid neck from quarter sawn 'Construction' Maple.
A bit naughty for a luthier - the grain of this Sycamore for the ribs runs vertical, soundboard to back. Worth the risk? Behold the natural fire effect.
The soundboard is from tightly grained 'Moon' Spruce
. This is Tonewood derived from Trees that are only felled during certain phases of the Moon. Such wood is said to exhibit outstanding and unique characteristics. Scientific studies have actually been undertaken, & show that 'Moon' Instruments are less likely to go out of tune.
The resulting combination of the more stable 'Moon Spruce' soundboard, deep body & stiff neck produces a very powerful sounding instrument.
All Tonewoods have different sonic properties. And important for Tonewood is ample seasoning time. Generally wood harbours 50% water content, & this moisture content must be allowed to fall to around 12% before it is used as Tonewood in instruments. Otherwise the potential resonance of the instrument will be 'dampened'. And the problem is worsened once sealed by varnish or oil - certainly the great violin makers would have observed this golden rule.
Handmade instruments by a Luthier will feel & play completely different to manufactured models. This is the reason why to choose to have a bespoke instrument commissioned. And is probably the ideal gift - something unique and inspiring.
Although very popular nowerdays, Ukuleles can be disapointing in terms of quality - particularly 'non-resonating'. Like the ubiquitous pink variety from China, often bought as toys for children. Handmade ukes in contrast are unlikely to be disregarded or discarded (often as mere toys).
<- This ukulele commission is all from Cedrela Mahogany, with a Walnut back. Is in the design of early Martin Ukes - using copies of original Martin plans. ->
Detail: The fretboard in this Ukulele is from Exotic Tonewood - Figured Mexican Katalox. The rounded point is typical of early style Martin Ukes.
The Soundboard is from Cedrela Mahogany. Even when lightly finished, Cedrela Mahogany can be a striking almost luminous orange colour.
Contrary to popular belief, Ukuleles do not need to be made of Koa wood to get the best quality. It just happens that Ukuleles originated in Hawaii - where Koa trees grow in abundance. Cedrela Mahogany has similar tonal properties to American Black Walnut.
Cedrela is widely used in the making of Flamenco Guitars, as it tends to emphasize the midrange tones more than the basses, producing a "brighter" more percusive sound.
The small scale of Soprano Ukuleles means they will never produce a loud natural sound, capable of filling a large room. But the LR Baggs Five.O Uke Pickup System
to my mind totally resolves the volume issue, so you can better hear the sweet tone of nylon strings emanating from Cedrela Mahogany. Louder instruments can be made from higher density Tonewoods. See -> A Bright Uke
A fine example of a very unique Guitar Commission ->
Aside photo shows most of the parts & Tonewood before construction begins. Back & Sides very striking Blackheart Sassafras - only available by export from Tasmania / Australia. The streaks of colour are created by fungi staining the heartwood of the tree as it grows.
Construction begins by bending the sides. First the Tonewood is soaked in water, & then heat bent into shape & placed in a mould. Binding, Neck & End Blocks are glued into place - all from light weight Cedrela Mahogany.
The back is carefully braced at the position of the upper & lower bout, & a centre strip glued in place. This centre strip must have the grain following the width, to allow the back to flex into an arch when attached to the body.
For this guitar commission Engelmann Spruce was chosen for the Soundboard. It is said to produce a more distinct, mature tone with an enhanced midrange. And as it only grows at high altitude, above 900m, produces a very tight grain. Thus can yield a more responsive guitar.
Careful bracing is essential to derive these sonic properties of Englemann Spruce. First the struts are glued tightly & later scalloped. The bulk of the brace is left in the centre, & tapered to the edge. This provides maximum strength where it's needed - in the centre - while allowing the top to flex at the edges.
A modern feature to this guitar is the additional sound hole in the upper bout. This acts as a kind of 'stage monitor' allowing players to better hear themselves, as usually most of the sound is projected away from the guitar as its played.
The expanse of the back plate really shows the beauty of this unique Tonewood - Blackheart Sassafras. Guitars are large bulky instruments, with a lot of 'wallpaper' space. So what could be better than these natural streaks of vibrant colour shooting around the back & sides? Also the sound hole rosette is cut from this Blackheart Sassafras.
The owner of this commission actually selected most of the Tonewood themselves, including the Purple Heart Peghead Plate. Apart from actually making it, my main input for design considerations was the upper bout side sound hole & the simple 'Domino' style inlay of the MOP fret position marker dots.
So the moment of truth arrives - final completion in spring 2017. I know I shouldent be too hasty with setting it up, but I want to hear it. So the LR Baggs Pickup installation is postponed, prior to the final string change for the owner.
Starting prices for commissions, including options. Excluding cases & Shipping Costs.
Concert Acoustic Guitar - £1950
Archtop Mandolin - £1300
Soprano Ukulele - £345
Build times for different instruments vary, & there is usually a waiting list.
Currently there is a waiting list for commissions - about 2 weeks.
A privately commissioned acoustic guitar takes up to five weeks to finish.
Archtop scroll Mandolins take three to four weeks.
Soprano Ukuleles take one and a half to two weeks
20٪ Deposit Commencement Fee.
In order to maintain the highest quality, I only allow myself to work on a maximum of two new builds at any one time.
are also available on request - one-to-one, & in which you get to build your own instrument. Cost is £50 a day, including all materials. This roughly equates to the cost of a commissioned instrument.
Please note: Commissions as gifts for loved ones birthdays, anniversaries or other events take priority.>
Should you be inspired with any ideas you wish to share & discuss, or you just want to make a general enquiry, feel free to phone, email or leave a reply using the form below.