Kenny Hill Guitars

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
Pepe Vergara

Q& -A Taken from Darren's website:

Post by Pepe Vergara » Mon Apr 24, 2006 4:54 am


Q. When did you get started in luthierie and what prompted you?
A. Aug 1994 is when I first made a guitar. Prior to that I was just tinkering around, doing odds repairs like refrets, setups and refinishing. I was searching for a way to construct an affordable instrument with good playability and sound quality.

Q. Did you go to any schools?
A. No, what I have learned has been self-taught.

Q. What is your favorite tonewood? Why? Backs/sides? Tops? A. My favorite tonewood is Brazilian, for its beauty and bright metallic flavoring. For tops, I prefer German spruce for the wide rich and lush tonal spectrum it offers.

Q. In your opinion what makes a good sounding guitar?
A. In my experience, a good sounding guitar is made primarily from the quality of materials chosen, followed by design and workmanship. The wood itself must speak to the builder in a way that delivers self satisfaction, like a chef adding spices to the pot, the builder shaves a little here then a little over there. I build guitars to enjoy myself primarily, its not only a job but a way of life and like a marriage one could say. the design is the second aspect of delivering a fine instrument, one could get carried away with this subject but lets keep it simple and say I prefer traditional fan bracing in the Torres/Hauser manner. I've concluded the more one sways from tradition the more one loses the spirit of building. lastly is the workmanship , which can be looked upon by the client at the primary candidate for a lifetime keeper, today's world of high factory gloss and dramatic grain figuring and coloring is all about show, not that I don't admire those traits but to keep that as the first objective is downright unorthodox to the nature of this wonderful little creature we call the classical (Spanish) guitarra.

Q. What do you look for when you buy tonewoods?
A. I look for a sounding board's appearance. I prefer a fairly even grain spacing, not too tight so it chokes up the sound, but more along the lines of 20-24 per inch. Color is also important. I try to avoid too many streaks. The boards also need to be very stiff when flexed across grain, as this allows for the thinnest plate with minimal bracing for optimum sound output/quality.

For backs and sides I prefer the old chocolate or bright orange Brazilian. It doesn't have to be all quarter sawn, just the center part 3-4". I like the look of slab sawn on edges, as it makes for a really distinguished looking showpiece.

Q. What are your finish preferences? A. Nitro lacquer with French polish on top.

Q. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently in regards to learning the craft?
A. I would have attended a luthierie school, not just for guitars but for other string instruments, such as lutes, mandolins and violins.

Q. How many guitars a year do you produce?
A. That¹s a tricky question to answer. When I began making guitars, I made between 12-16 instruments each year. Now, after 10 years, I have become proficient enough to average approximately 48-52 guitars. The average for my 10 years of work comes to 32 completed guitars per year.

Q. What models do you offer?
A. I offer mostly classical guitars, in several models. For flamenco guitars, I make a Blanca and a Negra. I made 3 steel string models--the Parlour, OM and Jumbo.

Q. Do you have a favorite model? A. Personally I have a deep admiration for the work of Hauser I. His guitars are definitely the crème de la crème.

Q. What is your backlog?
A. My backlog is 8 months.

Q. Any advice to new builders?
A. My advice is, if you're in this for the money, then quit while you're ahead. I¹ve maintained day jobs as a short order cook, construction worker, grocery clerk and meat cutter in order to support my guitar making. It's truly a labor of love, encouraged by family and the players who own my instruments that makes it all worthwhile. I am happy to be of service for any particular requirements desired.

Q. Your prices seem much lower than the average for the level of building. Can we expect your prices to increase over time? A. Most certainly. I make them affordable for all classes of society, not just the doctor or collector. Don't worry they wont go the way of Fleta or Smallman.


His base price is $2,000.


Post by Lebayer » Mon Apr 24, 2006 5:50 pm

I currently own four of Darren's instruments, with another, special model, almost finished. The instruments are: "Friederich" model, with cedar top and cocobolo back and sides; "Bouchet" model, with euro spruce and Brazilian back and sides; a highly customized "Bernabe" model, with elevated fingerboard and sound ports, euro spruce top and beautiful Brazilian back and sides. Finally, I have one of his Santos flamenco.

All of the instruments are well made; they play well and sound balanced and even, across the board. The Bernabe is truly exceptional, comparable to any instrument I've played (current stock of about 17). They are great values and - as noted - often on the used market. The availability seems to stem partly from simple productivity and modern marketing. Darren has built almost 500 guitars in about 12 years of building. He sells direct, for relatively low prices, given a very high consistency in quality. Differences in sound between the models is about what one might hear with the actual intstruments (I'm guessing), based upon the differences in bracing and general design. For example, "Fleta" models, which are usually heavily braced and relatively massive, sound alike but very different from "Hauser" models. The Bouchet and Freiderich models sound similar, but that's not surprising.

The guitar I'm waiting on is built using lattice bracing - squared, not diaganol - with custom snakewood rossette. I think Darren will move from
heavy reliance on particular models, to develop his own favorite bracing and body types. I'll have the lattice guitar in a few weeks and will report on initial impressions.

Best of luck.


Post by Allan » Tue Apr 25, 2006 1:03 am

You've got a point there, regarding productivity and marketing, in that there are just more Hippner guitars out there to satisfy demand.

And yet, I just find it a point of general interest that some luthier's guitars are impossible to find used. I remember searching once for months for an Eric Sahlin guitar (used), and at that time found only one used Sahlin on the whole planet earth for sale. Same thing happened with trying to find a used instrument by Alejandro Cervantes. I know Cervantes guitars have been around for a while now, but when I searched over a period of months I only came across one of his guitars that was up for resale in a shop in Philadelphia. I bought a new one, and now as a (very biased!) owner I think I know why people don't give these up once they have one.

Sometime it might be interesting to take a poll of CG players to get an idea of what guitar they've held onto the longest (accompanied by the number of years they've kept that instrument), and the guitar held onto the least amount of time. I bet the results would be very revealing. In fact, I'll go first:

Longest held classical guitar: GRO8 Esteve, Cedar/Indian, owned now for 8 years.

Shortest held classical guitar: 2004 Antonio Marin, Spruce/Brazilian Bouchet model, purchased brand new and sold after 8 months.



Post by Lebayer » Tue Apr 25, 2006 8:41 pm

You make another good point, I think. I would part with several of my Hippner guitars, partly because I know I could replace them with comparable instruments. The two custom guitars would be exceptions; I'll probably hold those. I sold a Carillo "Gabriela" in about two months; it was a fine guitar but I preferred the sound of my Ramirez (for a cedar top) and rarely cared to play the other. I was also quick to sell an early Larrivee; way too tight and closed. Just didn't have the patience for fresh spruce, I guess. Now I prefer to buy old spruce tops but seem to grab at new guitars, too, if I think the deal is good and I can sell later, without suffering serious loss. I bought both a Hill Hauser '37 last week, with that thought in mind!


Post by Allan » Wed Apr 26, 2006 1:57 am

Ditto regarding the Carrillo "Gabriela", Lebayer. I had the Brazilian/Cedar model and sold it after one year. I felt it didn't have enough clarity. After the Gabriela I went back to spruce and stayed there.

Also right about some fiscal luck in the turnaround department as I purchased it new at $2940 and sold for $4000.

I think unconcsciously I always knew I would be buying and selling for a while, which is a great opportunity to find out what you really need to look for in a guitar. I've always compared the process to dating. Play the field, be careful of first infatuations, and remember there's no need to make a final commitment until you find the right one, or as you so aptly put it, the one that is not "replaceable".


Don Quichotte

Re: Hill Barcelona

Post by Don Quichotte » Fri May 12, 2006 3:08 pm

e.zurcher wrote:....On the internet I have seen Fleta's for sale in Japan for $30000. It makes me wonder: did the Fleta brothers ever get rich?
Last year an old Fleta was sold for more than 80.000 $
I just missed a few dollars to buy the instrument otherwise I would be the proud owner of a Fleta 1961. :wink: :wink: :wink:
BTW Jason Waldron was the previous owner of this instrument after that John Williams played it.


Post by Lebayer » Fri May 12, 2006 3:51 pm

My preference has always been to buy an instrument, after having had opportunity to play it and several others. Since I lived for many years in an isolated setting, buying from a distance became the norm. I would select based upon an owner's description of the sounds produced. Often, my initial impression of a guitar - based only on sound, closing my eyes, etc. - was quite different than the impression I formed after several months of playing. Partly that is due to actual changes in sound - maturation of the top, warm up, and so forth - but it was also due to ascending the learning curve on how best to create a particular sound from a particular instrument.


Post by Lebayer » Fri May 12, 2006 3:57 pm

Forgot to mention, I did receive the Hill '37 and have several hours of playing devoted to it. I managed to buy it for $2600 (my apologies, Kenny). It's a Brazilian model and quite lovely. The clarity and beauty of the sound is quite a bit better than what I recall of the Munich model I used in 2000, made in Paracho. That was a nice instrument, for which I paid $2000 but really in a different league than this new model. I couldn't say that the instrument is worth the $4-5000 they are marketed for. I exchanged a few emails with Kenny Hill re this instrument and he felt the '37 model has been underpriced, from the start. Time will tell, I suppose. Again, when you reach the $4000+ range in instruments, the competition is very stiff. I would not pay that much for this guitar but others probably would, and be happy about it.


Post by Allan » Fri May 12, 2006 9:32 pm

Right about those changing impressions. I remember playing my Marin the first few weeks and thinking how warm and beautiful this is! But within a couple months the trebles seemed so bright and shrill I felt their sound could pierce a cement wall. It actually hurt my ears to listen to it.

The Carillo was the opposite. Tarrega sounded fantastic on the cedar Gabriela, but I remember the first time I tried to play an arrangement of Bizet's Habanera from Carmen, and I couldn't distinguish the notes in the chords. In fact, a full C chord followed by a full E chord would sound like the same indistinguishable warm mush.

Ah well, all learning experiences that eventually lead to the right guitar.



Post by Nicolo » Thu May 18, 2006 3:11 am

I played a Kenny Hill Hauser 37' Brazillian Rosewood with a spruce top. I wasn't impressed. I have a Alhambra Luthier Rio which has a better sound in my opinion. The thing the Hill guitar was missing was the crisp silky high's that I was looking for.


Post by Nicolo » Thu May 18, 2006 3:24 am

In my last post I judged the Kenny Hill too soon. Changing the strings on the instrument with D'Addario's made a significant difference. It is a very nice sounding guitar.

Ted O'Farrell

Post by Ted O'Farrell » Thu Jun 01, 2006 4:30 am

Has anyone played the Hill/Ruck model?

tedguitar :)


Post by Lebayer » Fri Jun 16, 2006 9:23 pm

Haven't played the Ruck model but did exchange some emails with the owner of Bentley Guitar Studios. He had a Hill/Ruck and an American made Munich model. His advice to me was to take the Munich.

Having said that, I do play two instruments with ports. Amplifies what the player hears, although the ports don't really change the quality of sound produced. I like them a lot and had them added to a Johnny Walker spruce-top being built for me. He was very accommodating, by the way, although he'd never before included ports on a guitar.



Post by CGC » Wed Jun 21, 2006 1:42 pm

I've been playing a Hill guitar for seven years. It has a spruce top with indian rosewood back and sides. It's a fairly good guitar for the price.I was more impressed when I played his double top model. It has a lot more projection and power.By the way, Kenny is a great guitarist. I've seen him twice and also purchased his cd. :D


Post by ysorpheus » Wed Jun 21, 2006 6:44 pm


You have several Hippners, a Johnny Walker, a Hill '37, ...
How do you compare your Hippners with Johnny Walker and Hill?
I know it is not an easy yes/no answer, but any bit of info would be very interesting to hear.
Is JW guitar as good as Hippners in terms of construction and sound quality? I would think JW may be better in construction since he produces much less guitars in a hear, but I wonder about the sound quality.

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