Frequently Asked Questions
The following comments are based on my observations and experience as a long time guitar luthier- player and pertain mostly, but not entirely, to my guitars.
What is the tonal difference between spruce and red cedar for a guitar top?
A cedar topped guitar has an open and warm sound and maybe a little more volume than a spruce topped guitar with everything else in their construction being equal. A spruce topped guitar has a brighter tone than a cedar topped guitar, once again, with everything else in their construction being equal.
How long does it take to break in a new guitar?
A cedar topped guitar will break in quicker than a spruce topped guitar and in general, it takes 500 to 1,000 hours of playing to break in a cedar topped guitar. An Engelmann spruce topped guitar takes at least 1,000 hours of playing to break in and will continue to improve over the months and years.
A European spruce topped guitar will take several thousand hours of playing to fully open or break in over several years. There seems to be a time factor, under string tension, as well as a playing time factor involved in the break in process. I have several older spruce topped guitars that continue to improve tonally with time, even if they are not played regularly. European spruce is a harder spruce than Engelmann spruce- this may account for the longer break in time for a European spruce topped guitar.
New guitars, in general, get louder, sweeter sounding and more responsive with time and playing.
A new guitar should have a tight sound. If a new guitar has a broken in sound, it is probably braced too lightly and will eventually have a fat and round undesirable sound with time and playing.
Does a cutaway take away from the sound of guitars?
A cutaway does take physical volume from the guitar body, but doesn't seem to have much, if any affect on the tone or volume of the guitar. The physical volume removed by the cutaway can be added back to the body by making the body slightly deeper.
Do you add ports to guitars?
I sometimes port my guitars, but not routinely, only by request. Porting seems to allow more air to move out and into the body when the strings are plucked than just from the sound hole itself. The sound of a ported guitar, from the player standpoint, is somewhat of a surround sound effect. Very few people request to have their guitar ported.
What is French polish finish?
French polish is an old process of finishing using shellac resin dissolved in alcohol and applied using a pad with an oil as a lubricant. I use pure ethyl alcohol to dissolve the dry shellac flakes and olive oil as a lubricant. The process is a tedious and difficult to learn finishing method, but gives good results and is tonally desirable for a guitar. The French polishing process take several days to weeks to complete, depending on the model of guitar and the wood used in the body. I finish the body, including the top, with this process and sometimes the neck. Some people prefer to have the neck finished with oil varnish. French polish is not a waterproof finish and can be damaged by water if left in contact with the finish. I usually recommend that a long sleeved shirt be worn or a protective sleeve be used to protect the top from skin contact. Over time, the shellac finish will polymerize to form a more solvent resistant finish, but it will probably never have the resistance of the newer modern finishes.
What scale length should I request for my guitar?
The standard scale length for a classical or flamenco guitar is 650MM. If you have smaller hands, a shorter length may be used, e.g. 640 or 645MM, or if you have larger hands, then a 660 or 665MM length may be better for you. Keep in mind that shorter scale lengths tend to emphasize the treble and longer scales tend to emphasize the bass. 650MM is a good compromise length. A person with smaller hands should consider a narrower neck than the standard 52MM nut width and a person with larger hands should consider a wider neck than the standard. In general, if your open hand maximum spread width from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger is about 8 inches, then a 650 MM scale should be used.
What woods do you use for necks?
I use Spanish cedar and mahogany mostly for necks. I prefer Honduras mahogany for classical necks and Spanish cedar for flamenco necks. Mahogany is a harder wood than Spanish cedar and is more resistant to fingernail marking. Spanish cedar is a lighter in weight wood and more suited for flamenco necks.
Do you make rosettes?
In general, I don't make rosettes. I use commercially available rosettes from several sources. It takes a lot of time to make a rosette- I prefer to spend my time making guitars and leave rosette making to the professionals in Russia or Japan. By request, I sometimes make special rosettes that are based on spalted or special selected woods or shell stock, e.g. abalone.
What glue(s) do you use to assemble your guitars?
I use original Titebond only for my work. I have tried using hide glues, but found no good reason to use this glue. Hide glue is the glue to use if an instrument is to be taken apart on occasion, such as a violin, but guitars are rarely taken apart.
What woods do you use for the back and sides?
I use cocobolo rosewood for back and sides of Grand concert classical guitars. This wood is hard and dense and produces a guitar with outstanding projection and sustain. For concert grade classicals I use mostly E. I. rosewood, maple, walnut and pau ferro. I use cypress for the back and sides of a blanca flamenco and E. I . rosewood or walnut for the negra flamenco back and sides.
How do you join the neck to the body?
I always use a Spanish foot design which means the neck extends into the body. I never use a dovetail joint for attaching the neck.
What strings do you recommend for your guitars?
There quite a number of strings available and I can't try them all, but Hannabach strings really sound good on my guitars, but don't last a long time. A good string for guitar break in is D'Addario EXP45 or EXP46. I build my classicals to handle high tension strings, but my flamencos are built for light to normal tension strings.