|Making A Guitar|
|Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2011 3:28 pm
Making a guitar by Bill Brown
12 May 2011, from http://www.abc.net.au/
If you ever wondered how a guitar is built then you've come to the right place. Two of Australia's top luthiers, Robin Moyes and Jim Williams (pictured below), began their craft in the 1970's and between them have gone on to build instruments for players such as Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, Bruce Mathiske, and Tommy Emmanuel. Along with luthiers like Greg Smallman and Gerard Gilet they pioneered hand crafted guitar building in Australia and put their guitars on the international stage.
The explosion of folk music in the 1960s into the 1970s and the role of steel string guitars as a lead and solo instrument in genres from rock through to jazz and country generated a demand for quality instruments beyond those that were being supplied by the large mass production instrument brands.
Professional players were looking for guitars that went beyond a role as a strumming instrument for supporting a singer, instead wanting instruments for finger picking and single line playing that were even in tone and dynamics right up the fretboard.
In the first audio interview with this story Robin Moyes explains the tools commonly used for hand building a guitar, as illustrated in the photos.
In the second part of the interview they talk about how it all began for them.
Robin Moyes had started making guitars in the early 1970s, copying the design of a Gibson and using materials recommended by the legendary Australian luthier Greg Smallman who at that stage had made only a few guitars but would go on to fame when his innovative guitars were used by the world famous classical guitarist John Williams.
Moyes then went to the United States for a course in guitar building at Charles Fox's then newly established American School of Lutherie.
Guitar City in Sydney in the mid 70s was a meeting place for many musicians and the place where Moyes met Jim Williams, who upon seeing the guitar Moyes had made in the United States immediately thought 'if he can do that, I can too', and so Jim Williams went off to the United States to do the same course.
They then shared a workshop at Guitar City and since then, as with all crafts, this is a story of endless learning and refinement, and mastery.
In the third part of the interview they talk about sound, and especially the importance of the soundboard and methods of body construction.
Robin Moyes explains that custom built guitars tend to be lighter and that their guitars in the 70s were especially light.
"Guitars that would sit up and roar at you because they were so delicately made that all that energy was absorbed from the strings very quickly."
However, as they gained more experience they realised its best to not expend that energy too quickly at the expense of warmth and sustain.
The soundboard is the most important part.
The back and sides affect the tone depending on how reflective or absorbing of certain frequencies they are, depending on the type of timber.
Jim Williams emphasises that no two pieces of spruce or cedar, or whatever is being used for the soundboard, are the same.
The advantage of a hand built guitar over a production line model is that the luthier is selecting and matching the timber specifically for each individual instrument.
Jim Williams and Robin Moyes will frequently handle the wood, they'll flex it across the grain to find out how stiff it is, rub fingers across the surface and listen, and do a 'tap tone' by holding the piece about a quarter the way down one side and tap it to hear what tones it produces.
Robin will use a hand plane and cabinet scraper rather than a thicknessing machine, just so he can maximise the amount of handling and to be able to listen to the wood as he is working with it.
Both luthiers build classical and steel strings guitars based upon traditional Spanish techniques.
This hand building process, they point out, is something that is new to the steel string guitar, which is a guitar that largely comes from the American guitar making industry in an assembly line manner, with the great companies employing great craftsmen but never one single maker.
In part 4 of the interview with Jim Williams and Robin Moyes they explain the fundamental aspects of this style of guitar building, the construction techniques, and also discuss why certain woods are chosen.
Jim Williams has been especially innovative in sourcing Australian timbers for his instruments.
As guitar repairers they get to see a wide range of instruments, providing an endless resource of guitar designs and construction techniques, successful as well as flawed, which contributes to their ever expanding skills set.
And in the final part of the interview Jim Williams and Robin Moyes reflect on the factors that generated a demand for hand built instruments and how Australian guitar makers learned from each other in creating a new industry that has been so internationally successful.
They explain the contribution that Greg Smallman has made to developing the construction of classical and steel string guitars, especially the invention of a lattice bracing system.
One story they tell is about Smallman's demonstration back in the 1980's of how a soundboard vibrates, shown by sprinkling glitter on a soundboard, with the guitar flat on his lap, and bending a note towards a targeted frequency, causing the glitter to change shape and position on the soundboard along with the changing frequency generated by the bending string.
From this he showed a technique of how to change the pitch of a troublesome mode of vibration.
That highly impressive understanding of sound and woodworking says much about the great skills of these guitar makers, and of their collegiate approach to developing their skills.
Simon Marty, Jim Redgate and other Australian luthiers have also achieved international recognition, often with innovative construction techniques.
Robin Moyes is especially proud that now a significant number of the world's top classical players are playing Australian made guitars, which he feels is a huge achievement considering Spain has always been the home of the hand made classical guitar.
Most of the music with these interviews is from Slava and Leonard Grigoryan playing Robin Moyes guitars, except for Part 2 which features Bruce Mathiske on a Jim Williams steel string.
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