Ken Talks about Building Guitars:
I first built archtop guitars in the early 70’s, They were my first love. I was able to learn about how they worked by repairing many fine old instruments, and I built a friendship with Jimmy D’Aquisto, which was inspiring and fruitful. Other guitarmaking projects occupied my attention for quite a while, but now I’m back on the case.
For the last 8 years, I have devoted myself exclusively to the design and development of a new kind of archtop guitar. The guitars that you see and hear on my site are individual pieces, not really models, and, although they do exhibit differences, they share the same outline, scale length, neck attachment, etc,etc.
I’s been fun to explore the range of tonal response that can be coaxed from the archtop form by changing the materials and proportions.
I believe that the acoustic archtop is the most versatile form of acoustic guitar, and decidedly not, as sometimes viewed, the most limited. The recordings on my site show how different players each bring out a voice unique to them and their playing style. My new archtops all have different voices, but all belong to the same family, so to speak.
Some of the things that set my guitars apart are unparalleled evenness throughout the range, uncommonly good note separation (clarity & consonance) , truly exceptional low end response, and a broad dynamic range.
This year I brought two guitars to Montreal. “Spot” was built in 2008, with Sitka spruce and curly Aspen (something I’ve never seen before) with ebony fingerboard, veneers, etc.
The other guitar is “Stella”, and was completed last month. Stella is Italian Alpine spruce, sugar maple back, sides, and neck veneer, ebony appointments, and has a humbucking pickup system. Please refer to my website for a complete description of this wonderful pickup.
If you’d like, I’ll be happy to send some CDs that show how the Brownie guitar performs both miked and also with the magnetic pickup through a tube amp. After decades of experimentation with piezo pickups with my partner-in-crime Larry Fishman, I sadly conclude that they don’t have a place on my instruments.
The good news is the current magnetic system sounds great!
The wood travel restrictions are daunting. Regulations are complex, opaque, and very much in flux. It’s hard to know what’s legal, and what will likely be enforced. I do know that enforcement is greatly varied, and the laws are open to interpretation, that is, also to mis-interpretation. Ouch.
Ultimately, ebony is a safer bet, and in no way sonically inferior.
So far as body material is concerned, you can see from my site that I’m free of predjudice. I have auditioned many kinds of spruce, and also many kinds of body material. For the body, I like material that is moderate in both weight and stiffness. As in the kitchen, it’s the chef, not the venison.
Big Leaf Maple would be a fine choice, but so would Curly Mahogany. I have some more of the material that built “YOYO” and “Semeur”, and consider it to be a magical fiber.
The material in “Fig” is quite colorful and unusual (one-of-a-kind), and if you wanted something like that, I’d have to seek it out.
About longevity and serviceability of Stealth tuners:
When I first got a sample set of the Gotoh Stealth tuners, I took one apart and looked at it under high magnification. I can tell you that the tolerances and finishes are as astonishingly good. The gears are tiny, of course, and are rated for no more than 20 kilos or 44 pounds each. This is well within the tension load that could be applied by any guitar string that my instruments would tolerate.
Of course, I have thought through these things prior to using the Gotoh pegs, and I’ll mention that if they were to fail (probably after I’ve left the planet) and were no longer available, a good repair/restoration person would be able to fill the tiny recesses in the headstock with wood, and install some other pegs without any compromise in the strength of the headstock. Look at the market for original parts for 30’s guitars, and you’ll see that somehow they pop up (cloning??)