Showing posts with label luthier. Show all posts
Showing posts with label luthier. Show all posts

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Gibson 1930s L50 Archtop

My week became a lot more interesting when a work buddy brought in his 1930s Gibson L50 Archtop from his seemingly inexhaustible archive. He was good enough to put it on temporary loan so it can be Guitar Boomer’s Guitar of the Week.

Gibson manufactured the L50 (poor man’s version of the L5) from 1932 to 1971. From talking to my guitar buddy and researching on the Internet this example seems to be between 1934 and 1943 (the wartime models featured a wood crosspiece on the tailpiece to save metal). I’ve included a photo of a tailpiece and tuners that came with the guitar and are thought to be the originals. Note the raised diamond on the tailpiece, which started showing up in the mid thirties.

I’ve included photos of the front and back of the guitar as well as the original case, its current home. Note that the wood is not book matched on the back; further evidence of its role as an economy model. Also, this guitar was manufactured before truss rods became a standard feature.

This example is a few years old now and needs some restoration work. It still plays nicely though with great tone. The luthier arts have been around for centuries so it should be no surprise they had things figured out long before the 30s.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Guitar Gear: Going Acoustic

I finally fell off the gear abstinence wagon and bought my first acoustic guitar; well, the first since the cowboy special I had at age 12; the one with the action an inch off the fretboard. The journey began with a wine tasting at Arrington Vineyards and ended up with a helpful salesperson guiding me through a dizzying array of models and features at Guitar Center.

My parents came into town for a visit and we brought them out to Arrington because they frequently offer live music (makes sense given it is owned by Kix Brooks). While enjoying an acoustic trio I cracked the ‘how many guitars does a guitarist need; just one more’ joke, fishing for validation and my 72 year old mother comes through with “if you don’t have an acoustic guitar yet you really do need one more.” Thanks, mom!

I got a crash course in guitar physics during my recent visit with Bill Hollenbeck, master luthier. I also read a helpful acoustic guitar buying guide from my Guitar World back issues where contributing writer Chris Gill echoes my mother’s statement. According to the article, regular practice on an acoustic helps build your technique by encouraging you to play more cleanly and accurately.

Entering the acoustic room at Guitar Center was still overwhelming in spite of my bit of research. My goal was a low priced import that sounded almost as good as a higher priced domestic model, like the Epiphone Dot Studio I wrote about recently. No go. After trying 5 or 6 different models in that range I realized the price would go up.

The salesperson outlined that the main difference for the next price range up was solid woods vs. laminates. So, the next 5 or 6 I tried were Sitka spruce tops with rosewood sides and backs and mahogany necks. From the first strum I realized this was a different world. The tone was lively and had a lot of presence. They all sounded great, just different and I chose an Epiphone Masterbilt (AJ-500R pictured above), which had the sound I envisioned for an acoustic.

Whether you want to explore your gentle side or simply improve your technique, take it from Guitar World and my aging mother; every guitarist needs an acoustic guitar. Go out and get yours today!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Hamblin Small Jumbo

I was commenting on an article from “eric makes music” where he mentioned his tenure at the Roberto-Venn school of luthiery. He also provided me a lead on Kent Hamblin, and Hamblin Guitars; Guitar Boomer’s guitar of the week.

Hamblin Guitars builds handmade guitars catering to fingerstyle players out of a shop in Telluride, Colorado. His guitars are handmade (no CNC equipment) with traditional techniques except where needed to achieve tone goals. For example, the guitars feature some modern techniques such as bolt-on necks with carbon fiber reinforcement. The design goals strive towards achieving an even response across the scale length and a sparkling tone quality.

The Small Jumbo features a mahogany neck with bound ebony fretboard, chrome Schaller tuners, and a single cutaway option and is available in a variety of woods (cocobolo back and sides with a cedar top recommended for the Hamblin signature sound). Kent Hamblin will also tailor neck shape, width, and string spacing to order.

If you ever make it to the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival, stop by and visit or better yet, visit Hamblin Guitars online at

Friday, February 15, 2008

Guitar of the Week: Hollenbeck Jim Nichols Signature Archtop

I recently attended a vintage guitar show and ended up spending the bulk of my time learning about the art and science of guitar building from Bill Hollenbeck of Hollenbeck Guitars.

Bill Hollenbeck specializes in archtop guitars that feature fine artistry as well as an intense focus on chamber tuning or the physics of the guitar. What caught my attention in the first place was a partially carved backplate displayed in his booth with pencil markings all over it.

I learned that he works with tolerances to thousandths of an inch and angles down to half of a degree as he carves the soundboards and neck. He continually measures the thickness of the soundboard using a micrometer and marks where further carving is needed in order to achieve the even response he is looking for, especially where the bridge and saddle attach on the top. He zeros in on this even response through use of a tuning fork. The payoff for this level of detail is exceptional sustain and evenness of sound at all points on the fretboard.

One of the guitars he is most proud of building is Ebony-n-Blue, shown at right, for Scott Chinery's Blue Guitars project, which was in homage to Jimmy D’Aquisto, considered America’s all time greatest luthier. Bill Hollenbeck is featured in the book, Blue Guitar by Ken Vose and Ebony-n-Blue was displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 1998.

Some interesting anecdotes I picked up during my visit were that violin makers do not make good guitar builders and vice versa. While violins share the archtop design, the physics are completely different and “physics is physics.” Seems violins do not have sustain where that is something you want a lot of in a guitar. Another interesting tidbit was Bill Hollenbeck describing some of Les Paul’s early experiments with multi track recording. He would record takes directly to the wax disk. Then, for the next track, he would record over the first take and get a multi track effect. Needless to say, any mistake meant starting with a new disk!

I’ve included a photo of my favorite, the Jim Nichols signature model as well as a photo of a partially carved soundboard displayed at the show. You can visit for more information on the full lineup as well as on Bill Hollenbeck.

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