Advice for first luthier made guitar

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lucho
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Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by lucho » Sun Dec 02, 2018 4:10 pm

Hi luthiers and experienced owners:

I'm considering upgrading my instrument from my beloved Picado 49 to a higher quality instrument (the 49 is technically a luthier instrument, but is the low-end student model from Picado's workshop).

Because I live in Mexico, I have access to some great luthiers at reasonable prices (my teacher here informs me that a great guitar will cost 30-50k pesos, roughly 1500-2500 USD). I have a list of the best luthiers here and have even reached out to a few in advance of a trip I will take to Paracho in the coming weeks.

My goal on this trip is simply to meet luthiers, see their shops, and generally get a feel for them. I also want to try a variety of instruments in terms of materials, scale, etc. From that I hope to select a luthier to either commission an new instrument or perhaps buy a finished guitar if there is one that is what I'm looking for and that "speaks to me", as they say.

In selecting a luthier, here are things I'm looking at:

- it goes without saying, but some kind of good report and faith in his character, as one would want with any business dealing

- also goes without saying, but consistently good work across all his completed instruments

- humidity control in workshop (I have read of guitars from Paracho having issues in other climates if the luthier doesn't control humidity)

- general condition of his space/equipment...it's a stereotype, I know, but I always feel more comfortable with a craftsman/mechanic/chef that treats their space and tools with care

My question for the group: in addition to the above list, what types of things should I look for in a luthier?

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dta721
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by dta721 » Mon Dec 03, 2018 12:52 am

I love to be in your position, a Mexican who can visit luthiers in Paracho to select one to commission a new guitar! :okok: (I am biased because my most favorite '98 Kenny Hill Madrid, a Ramirez 1A Copy, was built in Paracho, Mexico)

IMHO, you may want to find out first what kind of guitar(s) and sound(s) you want to "upgrade" or improve from your current Picado 49?

Do you look for a different soundboard wood, e.g. from cedar, now spruce?
Do you have a preferred "bracing" or styles, e.g. a Hauser I, or II, or III style; a Ramirez 1A style, Daniel Friederich, or Robert Bouchet? These are just to stimulate your thoughts, as you may have others in mind?

Once you know what kind of guitar(s) and sound(s) you want to commission, then you can try to find out which luthiers could best make this guitar for you.

Or, you can try their most preferred guitars already built, either buy from their inventories, or commission the same one you like? This assumes you have a deep enough pocket, so that variations in price may not be a problem (just go for the sound and quality of the best guitar you can afford).

There is one issue from my suggestions, as the acoustic environment is different from one luthier shop to another, you may not be able to compare their guitars side by side, unless you can make the arrangements with them to try, e.g. 3 of the best you like, at one of their shop? Then, based on your assessment, could be better with another set of ears, you could pick your most preferred?

I don't know how you would define an experienced owners for your question, but these are my 2 cents :)

Good luck in your next guitar quest! :chitarrista:

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lucho
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by lucho » Mon Dec 03, 2018 1:39 am

Thanks, dta. Lots of good stuff there.

One issue is that while I've read quite a bit about different types of construction, different woods, modern features, etc., these all remain theoretical to me because I haven't played many different instruments. I got to try a lot of student level (900-1500USD) guitars when I bought my Picado (cedar/IRW) but that was six years ago and I was a different player then. Since then, I've only played my instrument and my instructor's (an Abel Garcia Lopez spruce/BRW). I've heard plenty of fine instruments and different models on youtube channels like Guitar Salon International, but that is not the same as playing and hearing in person.

Anyway, the first time I go to Paracho I will try to play a large variety guitars to see what I like and what I don't. Hopefully, that will help refine my focus.

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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by Mr.Rain » Mon Dec 03, 2018 9:41 am

Having also a studio Picado in cedar,only to comment that the main flaw on that guitar is the lack of projection (compared to a Picado concierto and other primeras ), I would keep it as studying/travel guitar if possible (very good ratio price quality).

Bring your teacher with you or another good player in order to appreciate that (specially if you are checking spruce tops),as sometimes the sound of a cedar top can be very loud for the player but not for the listeners...

Living in Spain GSI prices get me closer to a heart attack than any other thing...(when compared to local prices in Spain or Paracho ) ...

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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by DirkV » Mon Dec 03, 2018 11:49 am

I would make notes en give scores (f.i. a value from 1 to 10) on each of understanding criteria for each guitar you test.
Out of the scores you should be able to draw your own conclusions.
Some of the criteria can be for instance a go or nogo.
Some criteria can be more important than others.
It’s all up what you want, but to have some structure to help you choosing is not so bad.
I’ve borrowed the idea from Daniel Friedrich, so it can’t be so bad ;-).
1. Power (from up close and a distance) carrying distance
2. Sustain
3. Uniformity of sound level and timbre
4. Timbre (quality and texture of the guitar voice, it’s quality)
5. Balance between bass and treble
6. Whether the instrument is easy or difficult to play
7. Evenness of the sound quality
8. Degree of responsiveness and sensitivity
9. Attack of the sound (audible or slight)
10. Contrast (more like a harpsichord or more like a piano) and dynamic range
11. Sympathetic resonances (audible or not)
12. Clarity or opacity of the sound. It’s definition
13. Presence of a fret buzz
14. Intonation

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souldier
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by souldier » Mon Dec 03, 2018 3:03 pm

If sound and playability are your top priority, then my main suggestion would be to simply put aside preconceived biases and judge each guitar as objectively as possible regardless of luthier, price, woods used, etc. It could very well be that the guitar that speaks to you the most is the one that is less expensive and made by a less well known luthier. I remember once being excited to try a guitar by a particular luthier because I really liked everything their website said about their philosophy, goals, work ethic, etc. When I finally got to try the guitar, I was surprised that it really wasn't for me because my expectations based on the website, sound samples, etc. told me otherwise. The point is just keep an open, objective mind as you try each guitar. Other tips:

-ALWAYS bring your guitar with you so you can compare it side by side as environment and such play a huge role in how you perceive an instrument. If you really like a guitar, see if the luthier would allow you to put the money down and bring it home for a 1-2 trial period. Playing an instrument in the comfort of your home for several hours will give you a much better idea of the guitars sound.
-Ask the luthier about their return policy. You want this clear from the onset before you commission/buy any instrument.
-Buying a ready made guitar can be really advantageous if it meets your standard for sound/playability. As great of an experience as it might be to have a newly commissioned guitar, buying a ready made guitar significantly cuts out the risk and guarantees that you are getting exactly what you want with no wait time.
-Write down your impressions of the guitars you try shortly after you try them to ensure that you are intentional in evaluating the guitar and remembering how it sounded.
-When approaching each luthier, ask them what kind of sound qualities they go for in their guitars and see if it matches up with yours. You can also express what qualities you are looking for and see if they are favorable to that.
-Note that some luthiers want to pursue their own ideals while other luthiers want to adjust as much as possible to the ideals of the customer. Try to get a feel for what kind of luthier he/she is in this regard.
-If nothing really speaks to you, don't be in a hurry to get a new instrument.

Happy hunting! Let us know how it goes.
"Success grants its rewards to a few, but is the dream of the multitudes.
Excellence is available to all, but is accepted only by a few." - Christopher Parkening

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lucho
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by lucho » Mon Dec 03, 2018 4:31 pm

Mr.Rain wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 9:41 am
Having also a studio Picado in cedar,only to comment that the main flaw on that guitar is the lack of projection (compared to a Picado concierto and other primeras ), I would keep it as studying/travel guitar if possible (very good ratio price quality).

Bring your teacher with you or another good player in order to appreciate that (specially if you are checking spruce tops),as sometimes the sound of a cedar top can be very loud for the player but not for the listeners...

Living in Spain GSI prices get me closer to a heart attack than any other thing...(when compared to local prices in Spain or Paracho ) ...
Yeah, I was shocked when I first saw how much less Picados cost in Spain. I paid ~$1500 for mine ($1350 + US tax), which came with a basic $100 case. Then this summer I visited Casa Luthier in BCN and saw that the same guitar was under 700EUR, and I think that included VAT (but no case). Eek! I realize that I could have gotten a Picado 60 for what I paid! Oh well, so life goes. I still love love love my 49, and even six years later it is a joy to play. I hope the next one will be even more inspiring.
Last edited by lucho on Wed Dec 05, 2018 5:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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lucho
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by lucho » Mon Dec 03, 2018 5:02 pm

@DirkV: thanks, that list is helpful. I was planning to bring a small journal to take notes, so having a focused list is helpful in arranging my impressions.

@souldier: thanks, all great advice. While I'm generally after a traditional instrument more-or-less, I am open to following what appeals to me. So I enter with no preference for tonewoods, nor bracing patterns, etc. I can't wait to try a variety of combinations to see even if I can tell the difference, what that difference is, etc.

I will say that I like my Picado, I just wish it had more range in it subtleties and tonalities. Some of that no doubt is technique (when my teacher plays it, it immediately becomes a 20% better instrument). As for the other parts: scale length, neck shape, etc, it suits me well. I do have some issue with my RH fingers getting cramped for space, so I hope to try some wider necks (more so at saddle than nut, but we'll see what's out there) to see if that improves my RH freedom.







As I continue to think on this, I have some specific questions:

fret buzz: how do I check for this? When I play my guitar I don't have buzz unless I'm playing a section forte-forte, then the low bass string(s) may buzz. I always accepted that as normal (hit a string hard enough it will vibrate wide enough to touch frets). Is there such thing as a completely buzz-fret design?

luthier vs customer input: my attitude in life when dealing with craftsmen is to be very clear about what you want/expect but then leave them alone and left them do their thing. My vocation is in the fine arts, and there is nothing worse than a customer micromanaging an artist's work. That being said, BECAUSE I am in the art field, I have some strong views on aesthetics. In the event I elect for a commissioned instrument, how much should/can I express my preference for the purfing/rossette/other adornments? When does my input cross over into too much control?

guitar quiver: so I live a simple life and own few possessions. I know some people like a whole rooms of instruments (or garage of sports cars, or closet of shoes, etc), but that's not me. I'm debating whether to keep the Picado, since I will likely only play the new one going forward. However, I see Mr.Rain's point above about keeping it as a second/travel guitar. If I were to keep it, would it make sense in selecting a new guitar to look for something with a different sound profile so that I effectively had two timbre options for playing at home?
Last edited by lucho on Wed Dec 05, 2018 6:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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souldier
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by souldier » Mon Dec 03, 2018 5:38 pm

lucho wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 5:02 pm
As I continue to think on this, I have some specific questions:

fret buzz: how do I check for this? When I play my guitar I don't have buzz unless I'm playing a section forte-forte, then the low bass string(s) may buzz. I always accepted that as normal (hit a string hard enough it will vibrate wide enough to touch frets). Is there such thing as a completely buzz-fret design?

luthier vs customer input: my attitude in life when dealing with craftsmen is to be very clear about what you want/expect but then leave them alone and left them do their thing. My vocation is in the fine arts, and there is nothing worse than a customer micromanaging an artist's work. That being said, BECAUSE I am in the art field, I have some strong views on aesthetics. In the event I elect for a commissioned instrument, how much should/can I express my preference for the purfing/rossette/other adornments? When does my input cross over into too much control?

guitar quiver: so I live a simple life and own few possessions. I know some people like a whole rooms of instruments (or garage of sports cars, or closet of shoes, etc), but that's not me. I'm debating whether to keep the Picado, since I will likely only play the new one going forward (under the assumption it is a better more refined instrument). However, I see Mr.Rain's point above about keeping it as a second/travel guitar. If I were to keep it, would it make sense in selecting a new guitar to look for something with a different sound profile so that I effectively had two timbre options for playing at home?
Buzz - I play my familiar repertoire with a strong right hand to see if the buzz is at a normal/acceptable level. Also do some chromatic scales, playing every single note from frets 1-12 using rest strokes. There is no such thing as a guitar without buzz, so be reasonable in your expectations.

Luthier vs customer input - It all depends on the luthier. Some luthiers allow for very little customer input while other luthiers I've seen are quite willing to experiment based on customer request. Before visiting a luthier, you should check their website for pictures of completed instruments to see what you like and don't like about the aesthetics of their guitars. Then when you visit them, ask them upfront if they have preset designs to choose from, or if they are willing to try something new based on your request.

Guitar collection - Personally I am a one guitar kind of guy. This is because I like pouring my heart and soul into one instrument rather than dividing my affections. It has other benefits like only having to maintain one guitar, being familiar with the guitar and not having to adjust technique, not having a guitar lying around that isn't getting played, etc. I haven't found any need to get a second instrument. If ever I get another instrument, chances are I'll end up keeping one and selling the one I like less. In the end it depends on YOUR needs and preferences, which you would know far better than anyone else here on this forum.
"Success grants its rewards to a few, but is the dream of the multitudes.
Excellence is available to all, but is accepted only by a few." - Christopher Parkening

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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by Mr.Rain » Mon Dec 03, 2018 5:55 pm

lucho wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 5:02 pm
..... However, I see Mr.Rain's point above about keeping it as a second/travel guitar. If I were to keep it, would it make sense in selecting a new guitar to look for something with a different sound profile so that I effectively had two timbre options for playing at home?

I think you may want a spruce top(specially if your teacher has a good one...), I like my cedar tops,generally it is easier to produce a good tone out of them and they aretend to be louder for the player ,but I feel spruce tops are more refined,you have to work a bit more to produce a good tone but the result is beautiful.

I find that my cedar top is a good guitar to study and play some pieces with a different sound... (again my concierto spruce projects better,but I just play for friends and family so no need of another concierto in cedar... plus i have too many antique guitars....)

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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by rinneby » Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:59 pm

souldier wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 3:03 pm
If sound and playability are your top priority, then my main suggestion would be to simply put aside preconceived biases and judge each guitar as objectively as possible regardless of luthier, price, woods used, etc. It could very well be that the guitar that speaks to you the most is the one that is less expensive and made by a less well known luthier. I remember once being excited to try a guitar by a particular luthier because I really liked everything their website said about their philosophy, goals, work ethic, etc. When I finally got to try the guitar, I was surprised that it really wasn't for me because my expectations based on the website, sound samples, etc. told me otherwise. The point is just keep an open, objective mind as you try each guitar. Other tips:

-ALWAYS bring your guitar with you so you can compare it side by side as environment and such play a huge role in how you perceive an instrument. If you really like a guitar, see if the luthier would allow you to put the money down and bring it home for a 1-2 trial period. Playing an instrument in the comfort of your home for several hours will give you a much better idea of the guitars sound.
-Ask the luthier about their return policy. You want this clear from the onset before you commission/buy any instrument.
-Buying a ready made guitar can be really advantageous if it meets your standard for sound/playability. As great of an experience as it might be to have a newly commissioned guitar, buying a ready made guitar significantly cuts out the risk and guarantees that you are getting exactly what you want with no wait time.
-Write down your impressions of the guitars you try shortly after you try them to ensure that you are intentional in evaluating the guitar and remembering how it sounded.
-When approaching each luthier, ask them what kind of sound qualities they go for in their guitars and see if it matches up with yours. You can also express what qualities you are looking for and see if they are favorable to that.
-Note that some luthiers want to pursue their own ideals while other luthiers want to adjust as much as possible to the ideals of the customer. Try to get a feel for what kind of luthier he/she is in this regard.
-If nothing really speaks to you, don't be in a hurry to get a new instrument.

Happy hunting! Let us know how it goes.
Well said!

/J
1964 - Masaru Kohno No.7
2016 - Pete Beer

Feel free to ask me anything about Japanese classical guitars.

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lucho
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by lucho » Fri Dec 07, 2018 5:41 am

So I just got back from a somewhat successful and somewhat unsuccessful trip to Paracho. The main issue was that two of the three luthiers that were recommended to me by my teacher (and have recommendations elsewhere online) did not have any guitars in stock, so I couldn't even get a chance to play or listen to their work. They generally build-to-order so it will be hard to try guitars that are roughly what I'm after. However, one of the luthiers, in recognition of this problem, did offer to build me a guitar and if I didn't like it, he would build me another (he figures he can sell the first without issue). So that he isn't taking 100% of the risk I have to put a down payment and essentially pay for the first at completion, whether I chose to exercise the right for re-build or not. Something to consider. In any case, I remain in touch with both luthiers and have asked them to contact me when they have a concert quality model available that I can try.

As for the third luthier recommended, there was too much variety in the quality of his work---he has helpers/apprentices that he uses so perhaps the lower quality ones were mostly their doing. In any case, he was kind but I didn't have a report with them (whereas I spent an hour+ chatting with each of the other luthiers.)

I also stopped in shops of other luthiers, both well-known ones and ones I hadn't heard of. One of well-know luthiers wasn't around but his father was, so we had a chat and he showed me instruments. Oddly, even as I told him what I was looking for he showed me the cheaper student models (I would have figured you'd want to start with the up-sell and then work down, but whatever). None of them sounded good or even showed a fine attention to detail in the construction. At the end, he told me he had a guitar of better quality in his sales shop down the street. It was 2.5x the price of the next nicest he had in available. I sat down and tested it. Wow, what a nice sound! And it played nicely and lacked any cosmetic flaws. Truly a concert instrument. I would have liked to talk to his son about the construction, etc. but I guess that will have to wait for a return visit.

----

As for technical stuff, I was disappointed that there weren't that many high end options available to play and test. But I understand, the Mexican market for thousand-dollar guitars is small. So most of the inventory, even of the better known luthiers, is student model quality. In any case, I did get to play a variety of woods, body sizes, and top bracing patterns.

- I tried my first lattice top, which was louder than I expected even having read all about their volume. But the modern stuff isn't for me so I'm scratching any lattice, double top, double back, etc.

- What was nice is that all the true concert level guitars that I tested sounded louder than my Picado, regardless of wood or size. I felt that this gives me a greater range in playing with less struggle. I have to struggle so much to play FF on my current guitar.

- I generally favor cedar for three reasons: I like the darker timbre; I prefer playing songs that are associated with dark moods; and, I play for myself so no need for good projection. But I of course wanted to hear what spruce had to offer. Of the three best guitars that I played, two were spruce and one cedar, even as I probably played equal number of cedar and spruce. So I'm warming up to spruce. It's neck and neck!

- I liked the smaller bodies more. There wasn't a huge difference in lower bout variance, but the guitars that were more Torres/Hauser size sounded nicer and had a better range of timbres. Of course, there were a lot of factors involved that muddy any conclusion (e.g. B/S wood, bracing, overall construction quality, etc) so I'm not going to commit to wanting a smaller guitar yet, but I'm leaning that way.

- BTW, palo escrito never looked that nice to me in the few dozen versions I've seen online. But man, some of the good stuff is gorgeous. Figured with flame and can look like some of the prettiest BRW.

----

Now I'll chat with my teacher at my next lesson as a debrief. I also wait for those two luthiers to have guitars that I can try. And I will reach out to the absent luthier who made the "wow" guitar I played. The search advances slowly...

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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by simonm » Fri Dec 07, 2018 2:59 pm

lucho wrote:
Fri Dec 07, 2018 5:41 am
....
As for technical stuff, I was disappointed that there weren't that many high end options available to play and test. ...
Most builders with a reputation are essentially building to order. Once a luthier is successfully on "the list" (if such a thing existed) the only time you will get a chance to try a "luthier" guitar is in the time between finishing the guitar and when it is shipped. This is not just in Mexico. The artisanal workshops may have some stock but as in your experience, more likely the lower end stuff.

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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by souldier » Sun Dec 09, 2018 6:47 pm

I'd imagine most luthier's who have a decent guitar on hand will want to sell it asap to gain some income form their work. You might be able to find people locally who own some of their instruments. Sometimes the luthier themselves might be able to get you in touch with one of their customers who has an instrument you can try.
"Success grants its rewards to a few, but is the dream of the multitudes.
Excellence is available to all, but is accepted only by a few." - Christopher Parkening

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lucho
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Re: Advice for first luthier made guitar

Post by lucho » Sat Feb 02, 2019 2:43 pm

Just as a follow-up, I selected a luthier and delivered him some materials (I ultimately chose Black Walnut/Engelmann, neither of which is readily available in Paracho so I bought the wood myself in USA and he adjusted the price accordingly). I'll post a photo of the guitar when it's done later this summer.

In the end, it came down to two luthiers, both of whom came recommended and who I liked and trusted. Neither had finished guitars on hand when I first visited but eventually I was able to play three very different models from one of them, so I went with him. I liked the other guy too and so I'm having him build me a custom tenor ukulele as a gift for a uke-loving friend who turns 50 this year. In both cases, the process of designing the guitar was wonderful. I spent three hours with each of them yesterday and could have stayed longer if I didn't have to get back on the road. One of them even invited me out to lunch after, where we discussed building, vacation spots in Mexico, CITES, and a dozen more topics.

It was really nice to get to personally know the guy building the instrument. I liked the process I would order five more if I had the money...

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