One was a small bodied 8-string guitar made by someone in New Jersey that I’ve never heard of. I didn’t examine it too closely but had a rosewood body and was obviously quite expensive. Fran shook his head when described what was being done. The action was apparently quite bad – too high – and the frets were not in good shape. Quite astounding to me as it was a relatively new instrument.
The other was very radical in look and function. It had four (or five?) nylon strings on top, although they were of different diameters none were wound, and believe it or not, three nylon/wrapped bass strings such as you would use on a bass guitar. The bass string were tuned using large bass tuners; the others tuned with regular guitar tuners. I guess the idea was you could play chords on the treble string while keeping a bass line going on the thick bass strings. But the most radical thing about it was the neck and the way the frets were placed. Up at the higher part of the neck the frets were straight across the neck as you would expect, but as the they approached the head of the instrument they were set in at and increasingly non straight angle. At the first few frets the frets were had so much angle that I could not imagine how the thing could be comfortably played, plus they were a good distance apart.
Fran took it off the bench and with a smile said – go ahead, try to play it. Sure enough, it was almost impossible to play in first through fifth position. And in spite of the fact that it was constructed of very expensive woods and the fit and finish were gorgeous, the thing sounded…..awful. Dead, dull, lifeless.
Now, I know I’m pretty conservative in my tastes in guitars, preferring the traditional designs of Martin and the classic f-hole arch tops made by Gibson, but I firmly believe there is a point of diminishing returns in guitar design. A year or so ago I had a guitar that had what was supposed to be a radical new bracing system that was supposed to be the “latest greatest” but it proved to be average at best. This was a disappointment but not exactly a surprise.
There is a good reason why Martins, Gibsons and many other guitars are virtually unchanged for generations. The traditional designs WORK.
The boutique guitars? Well, it’s no accident that most of them are constructed virtually the same as well known, traditional guitars. Both of the radical designs I saw at Fran’s yesterday were no doubt very, very expensive. Are they worth it? You be the judge.
Peace & good music,