Reply to Thread Bookmark Thread
Posts 1 to 15 of 15
  1. #1

    User Info Menu

    Looking around at all the custom builders I notice that some have been around and are still making guitars for 30+ years. It made me curious about how their work may have changed/developed/improved, etc, etc. I've seen a few on sale recently and the description reads something like "one of his/her earliest builds".
    I know this is pretty broad and general....each builder is different, but curious to hear some of your more experienced opinions.

  2.  

    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

    User Info Menu

    Alrighty then!
    Maybe this post is to loaded for potential of ragging on builders work, but that wasnt what I was looking for. Probably should delete.

  4. #3

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by DMgolf66
    Alrighty then!
    Maybe this post is too loaded for potential of ragging on builders work, but that wasnt what I was looking for. Probably should delete.
    You are right in your assumption - your topic has the potential to run off in unpleasant directions ... Let's hope we can discuss this valid topic in a gentleman-like fashion - after all, this forum is run my good-mannered peeps. Here is my take on it :
    It has long been nagging me that so many SELLERS (pro and private) have been using this totally normal and natural fact (builders start up and end their carriers, sometimes they leave behind only a few guitars, others are lucky and keep building into old age) to elevate their goods, arguing with either points : a) the guitar is exceptional because it's an early one and later ones are inferior or b) the guitar is much better because it's been built by an older, more experienced luthier. Granted, in some rare cases this might actually have some truth in it but in my experience it has much more weight when looking at mass-produced guitars where the original companies get sold, economics take on a much bigger role, the old workforce gets replaced by younger, in-experienced
    people - you know, there are plenty of examples.....
    When we're talking about individual luthiers I'd be VERY careful in differentiating their early and later work because who is really able to evaluate every instrument they have built, know how it's been treated, where it's been played/stored, what mods have been done, was it a total custom job for someone with very personal and extreme ideas - was the luthier always strict in his quality control or did he let a lemon slip away because of financial pressures ? There are just too many aspects/uncertainties/toss-ups in this scenario for anyone to make a valid statement. Things like the superior quality of the wood that has only been available for a few guitars early on in a career, poor eyesight and/or hearing in older age might affect the tone of an instrument or the simple - and probably wide-spread - fact that the builder has slowly been hearing a different "Ideal" in his head and therefor changed certain parameters in order to alter the tone of his guitars towards this new Ideal. And we haven't yet touched the visual/aesthetic part of the situation...
    This topic might be something for a round-table discussion with a few older and younger builders , the true experts per se .
    From my own experience I can say that the Borys B120 I had ordered from Roger in 1992 was just as good as the one he built for one of my students last year. It's an educated guess (but still a guess) that James D'Aquisto's work in the mid/late 60's when he was still more or less working with the D'Angelico design and tonal aesthetic is just as "good" as the later models he built - they are different of course but who's to say one is better than the other ?

  5. #4

    User Info Menu

    I would imagine certain builders remain true to what makes them unique, wether it be aesthetic as well as construction designs.
    And since they've been in the game for quite a while, I'm sure it's very subtle changes if much at all.

    I will say I really like Bryant Trenier work and the newer aesthetic in his most recent builds. If I had the resources I'd own one of his instruments as well as John Buscarino guitars as well.
    There are so many good choices nowadays in reasonable to highly expensive Archtops. I'm not sure price is a guarantee of a better sounding or playing instrument.

    Mark Campellone, Frans Elferink and Stephan Holst all offer exceptional instruments at very attractive prices.
    And I've played many D'Angelico, Benedetto, Gibson's New and Vintage as well as a Jimmy D'Aquisto and Epihones from the 1940s and 50s..

    We truly live I the Golden Age of lutherie! Now where are the GIGS? LOL !

  6. #5

    User Info Menu

    In my experience commissioning a number of instruments with custom luthiers and becoming friendly with them has led me to believe the following:

    • Lutherie is a journey in enlightened empiricism; meaning luthiers continually learn and refine their methods based on work on their bench. You start with talent and even some skills, but mastery only comes from experience. There is no getting around this.
    • I have never met a luthier who is not embarrassed by their early work. This was their learning ground and was the foundation on their journey towards mastery. Some get their faster than others based on how solid their foundation was or their ability to learn. Some reach this in 100 guitars and others it takes longer.
    • Some builders Attend guitar-making schools, some apprentice for a few years with an established luthier , others may have spent time as repairmen and some just started building based on books and other available information. All of these foundations are fine, but they provide differing starting points from which they grow.
    • Established luthiers, have seen their instruments come back to their bench after being played in the real world. You learn aspects of what works and what does not through this experience. They have interacted with more players and have learned how to understand/interpret their playing requirements. Younger builders do not yet have the instructive benefit of this experience.
    • Does this mean a young luthier cannot make a superlative instrument? No, of course not. But it does speak to their ability to consistently reproduce superior results. An early guitar from a well established luthier can be a “fantastic” guitar, a “dog” or even have structural issues. As they progress through their journey at the bench consistency in results begins to be established. Later in their careers the guitars may range from “very good” to “superlative”.

  7. #6

    User Info Menu

    Good post.

    Your observations apply to musicians, as well.

  8. #7

    User Info Menu

    Wow, some very great responses.

  9. #8

    User Info Menu

    I think they are evolving. I admire the newer guitars from the best luthiers.

  10. #9

    User Info Menu

    In my experience with Bill Barker he made about 110 guitars give or take 10. My dad's Barker I have is made in 1965 the 8th guitar with a serial number probably easily one of the first 15 he made. I also have my own Barker made in 1972 number 44. I also played the last batch of guitars he built in about 1987. The guitars evolved for sure in many ways and with changes but some things did not change too much. I don't think his actual carving pattern on the top changed to a huge degree. Possible over the years but that I never heard him talk about it.

    What did change was his bracing pattern after about the first 15 serial number guitars in about 1968. He changed the body to have a less pinched waist too. The very last batch of guitars had ebony pickguards in the same basic shape as his plastic ones with binding.

    To the comparisons. My dad's Barker sound wise is equal in every way to anything I played after that guitar. It probably has more power in volume I believe due to the single traversed bass bar much like Stromberg used. It has a bit more punch that my 1972. The 1972 tends to be a little warmer over all and a lush sound. I like them both don't ask me which ones is better I could not say. The last Barkers to be made had acrylic lacquer not sure how many but probably less than 25. These to me sound equal to any of the Barkers I could not tell you they were better or worse. I personally find his acrylic lacquer to be a better finish. It is nothing like the thick mess you see on import guitars these days. This is a magnificent finish that looks exactly like nitro until you realize that the binding does not yellow and it retains a better finish luster.

    So again to me there is not way to actually say the early work is necessarily better at least, for Barker guitars. I sort of see this in the same comparison as jazz guitarist and they way they age and play. Frankly all players evolve at least hopefully, the great did for sure. Take Joe Pass as an example. His sound and playing in the early 60's in a Fender Jaguar is fantastic and his lines are beautiful bop guitar. His solo stuff in like Virtuoso in 1973 different but better or worse? Finally towards the very end....I am not sure.

    Also regardless of what we want to think age takes a toll. We are not what we were at 60 as at 30. Hopefully experience and learning have left us able to do things to previous level. But we do not have the energy or even the mentally stamina we had as younger folks. I don't play any faster that I did 25 years ago but hopefully I pick better notes. I know for sure I don't have the energy or drive to sit down and play the guitar for 3-5 hours at a time or even daily like I did in my early 20's. I think making guitars probably works the same way.

  11. #10

    User Info Menu

    There are a lot of ways to look at this and probably few if any universal truths.

    In general, the more we do something the better we get at it so one would expect a luthier's later instruments to be better than the first ones. I think this is more likely to be true for luthiers who self-educated from a book, videos, etc. such as those published by Bob Benedetto, compared to a luthier who apprenticed with an established master. Jimmy D'Aquisto apprenticing with John D'Angelico, for example, shortened up his learning curve quite a bit I am sure.

    And, yes, as Mark pointed out our abilities do change as we age. Hopefully changes in physical functioning are offset by accumulated knowledge. Even in my own line of work, as I am now one of these "senior" people in the group (having been there 30 years) I find that the young hotshots coming on board now inspire me a little bit in a spirit of friendly competition. They are smart, educated, motivated and energetic. Think of Ken Parker, not exactly new to the game, building structurally innovative archtop guitars unlike anyone else's. Or Ribbecke, also not a young 'un, with his Halfling design. Age obviously does not stand in the way of innovation.

    That being said, however, each instrument really has to be taken on its own merits. An early guitar from a luthier might betray his lack of complete understanding, whereas another early instrument from the same hands might be spot on and superb. Experience improves repeatability.

  12. #11

    User Info Menu

    This question reminds me of discussions from my days as an architecture student. Questions of inspiration versus experience; the impact of commercial success; the influence of peers and/or gifted students, the impact of new technology, etc. “His early work was extraordinarily powerful in concept, though not possessing the refinement of his latter work”. “I really loved his early work, where clearly he was focused on executing the classical details, while his latter work was less concerned with the details and clearly driven by demonstrating possibilities.” Ahh, the good old days.

    AKA

  13. #12

    User Info Menu

    Quote Originally Posted by iim7V7IM7
    Does this mean a young luthier cannot make a superlative instrument? No, of course not. But it does speak to their ability to consistently reproduce superior results.
    Quote Originally Posted by rictroll
    Your observations apply to musicians, as well.
    What Ric said.

    For me the point of musical work is more about raising the floor than raising the bar. I'm trying to suck less, less often, less obviously while working in the moment. If I make progress on the bottom the high spots seem to take care of themselves.

    Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm missing the chance to leap upward. Maybe it works differently for you.

  14. #13

    User Info Menu

    From the little I know and have seen about guitar construction, it's a difficult thing, with lots of know hows and problems to solve. Having a choice, I would prefer a later guitar, since I can't imagine any builder not improving with experience and building. We've also all read stories about custom individual instruments having construction problems (I've personally seen a few)..

  15. #14

    User Info Menu

    I have watched on this forum how most guitarists succumb to the rigors of heavier gauge strings on their aging hands, and they move on to 10 gauge or lighter strings--even though the players admit that the sound isn't what it should be.

    Well guess what? Aging hands betray luthiers, too. It becomes tougher on aging hands to carve a top or a back plate on an archtop guitar. It just plain (plane) hurts.

    Finishing gets tricky, too.

    Some luthiers will gradually give up on archtop production, favoring easier to make flattops, as their hands age. Others will hire assistants (think D'Angelico) to get the laborious stuff done.

  16. #15

    User Info Menu

    From the little I know and have seen about guitar construction, it's a difficult thing, with lots of know hows and problems to solve. Having a choice, I would prefer a later guitar, since I can't imagine any builder not improving with experience and building. We've also all read stories about custom individual instruments having construction problems (I've personally seen a few)..