Thursday, July 06, 2006

New Toy

I have been lucky enough to get a well-known and highly-respected luthier, Alan Carruth, to make a guitar for me. (And to get what is a kinfolk-deal price on it.)

Al, called "the dean of American luthiers" by Tim Brookes, in his book Guitar: An American Life, is building
me a classical guitar. While the sounding board is of cedar, one of the two most common tonewoods, the sides and back are of a somewhat-unusual wood, Osage Orange. (In the U.S., this is a "trash" hardwood; it grows wild, and has been used mostly for fence posts.) Also called hedge-apple, after the fruit it produces, this is, according to Al, a drop-in replacement for rosewood. Traditionally, classical guitars often have rosewood backs and sides. For years, the wood of choice was Brazilian rosewood (it supposedly smells like roses when fresh-cut). This particular species is endangered, and dwindling supplies, cut before the ban, have driven the costs sky-high -- a good set of Brazilian rosewood might drive the price of a custom-guitar up a couple thousand dollars.

Luthiers have found replacements for Brazilian using Indian rosewood, as well as Australian and African hardwoods, and Al says that the tone of Osage Orange is somewhere between that of Brazilian and Indian rosewood. The only drawback is that the wood is orange when fresh cut, slowly turning darker brown as it ages.

Since I am more concerned with how it sounds than how it looks, the color is not as important to me as it might be to some.

Al's waiting list is long and getting longer, but he is currently addressing my instrument. Here, if I can manage it, are a couple of pictures. One is of the rosette, surrounding the sound hole; the other is of the back and center trim. Al's choice of woods for these are fascinating: The central braid has lines of bloodwood/maple (red/white), blue mahu with satinwood (green/off-white), and 'burning bush' with cherry (orange/red-brown). The background of the braid is walnut. The curlyques around the outside are also mahu/maple/cherry. The 'angled ladder' on either side of the curlyques is Indian rosewood/maple.

Probably be a couple months longer before the instrument is done, but I am tickled pink with Al's work.


steve-vh said...

If you're a fan of well made guitars, check out Del Langejans too.

I'm partial as I bought my first drums from him 27 years ago but Earl Klugh seems to like him too. I live in the same town and still remember the smell back then when he took me to the back room.

Steve Perry said...

Some fine instruments out there -- more great luthiers than you can shake a stick at these days, and I'm glad to see it.

I came across Alan while I was on a guitar newsgroup, and his comments seemed well-reasoned and thoughtful. He spends a lot of time experimenting and studying the way sounds come out of his instruments, and is obviously well-educated in the process.

Plus the things he makes look great.

I'm a duffer, but I won't be able to blame the axe if I don't sound good.

Dan Gambiera said...

It looks like a beauty