Monday, January 5, 2015

12 String Semi Acoustic

2015 is here and with it, a shiny new guitar. 

This guitar is the result of a collaboration between myself and a good friend to whom this guitar now belongs. I usually steer away from requests involving shapes or specs that I haven’t already put together. But every once and a while someone comes along that knows exactly what they want and that request happens to coincide with something that I have been itching to build.

We started with the basic idea of an archtop guitar’s tone coupled with the output and durability of a solid body electric guitar. This guitar is probably as thick as a slab body guitar, but almost twice as big and half the weight. It features three individual cavities that marry the tonal characteristics of braced archtops and chambered solid bodies. By marrying these types of internal structures, we were also able to introduce a back plate for easier access to the electrical components.

In a lot of ways, this guitar was my homage to classic designs, materials and aesthetics. But it wouldn’t be a Holcomb Guitar without a conscious attempt to  put my own spin on the classic treatments. Here’s a rundown of the ins and outs of this one.

12 String Electric Guitar
12 Tonepros Kluson style tuners
Bookmatched AAAA Maple Headstock Faceplate
South American Mahogany Neck
Flamed Birdseye Fingerboard, 25.5” Scale
Lucite Tortoise Nut, Neck Markers
Tortoise Neck Binding w/ White Side Dots
Medium/Medium Fretwire
AAAA Maple Top with Tortoise W/B/W Binding
Mahogany 3 Cavity Body
Tune-o-matic Bridge, Trapeze Tailpiece
2 Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates Humbuckers
1 Lipstick Single Coil
5 way switch – 1.Neck 2.Neck/Bridge 3. Bridge 4. Bridge/Lipstick 5. Lipstick
1 Volume (Coil Tapped) 2 Tones

The coil tapped humbuckers give an amazing range of tonal possibilities combined with the lipstick. The coil tap was essential to mitigate the discrepancy in output between the humbuckers and single coil.

The wood combinations are pretty traditional by most standards. I did, however, mill the top to the thinnest dimension possible for as much resonance and clarity as possibility. The neck is a set neck, which is a rarity for my builds, but I used a special dovetail neck joint with a very scant amount of glue to ensure the neck and body would be as sonically compatible as possible. 

The whole guitar is finished with hand rubbed shellac. The maple is so figured that it catches a lot of light on its own. I didn't want to finish it with lacquer and run the risk of it looking super flashy and loud. My goal with figured woods is to tone them down so they don't look like a holographic sticker. 

Here are some kind words from the owner - 

"There is always one big reason for getting a new instrument, and then--typically--a little tornado of different small reasons buzzing around as well.

The big reason is always the eternal search for the sound.

When I met Nick, the little tornado of other reasons was gathering strength. I was walking out of the glass studio where I sometimes work and he was walking into his studio holding a kick drum so I struck up a conversation about music instantly. We got along famously from word go and this meeting joined the tornado.

Shortly before I met Nick I had given my first electric guitar to a dear friend and I was missing it a little bit. It was a 1972 Epiphone EA-250 in cherry red (the epi version of Gibson ES-335). At that time as well, I had formed a new band and I was writing a good deal of material. I was doing all my writing on a '63 Framus Camping King 12 string, while the axe for the band was a Stratocaster. So there was some disconnect from the original concept of the song to its realization in the full band format. Even the tiger maple on the body and headstock and the tiger Birdseye maple on the neck arrived around that time from my brother-in-law; offering it up if I'd had any need of it in my own work as a glass maker.

The style and look of this guitar was birthed from all these little reasons filtered through Nick's know-how and knowledge of guitars, tone woods, and construction styles. Originally I asked Nick to make me semi-hollowed body guitar styled similarly to a 335, with two bolt-on necks that I could switch in and out: a 12 string neck and a 6 string neck. I wanted to have a floating bridge with interchangeable saddles (one for 12 and one for 6). It was going to be a modular guitar.

As I spoke more with Nick and he taught me about different construction styles and the reasons for doing it this way or that, the original design changed. Nick helped to steer the design to the final form. And as Martha says, it's a good thing. Nick suggested a set neck, humbuckers rather than a traditional strat pup configuration, as well as the neck and headstock design.  His aesthetic too led to beautiful appointments throughout--the classy binding, the perfect chamfer on the top, the mellow hand-rubbed shellac finish. That's just a short list, but without a doubt it was rewarding collaboration.

Then there's the sound. The neck is warm and acoustic, the bridge has meat to it while at the same time squawky with attitude, and the lipstick is brittle and bright and loves to be drenched in spring reverb. Come hear it sometime.  Hats off to Nick!"


Friday, March 21, 2014

And now for something completely different (Dr. Teeth Bass)

We all have our guilty pleasures. Mine is Top 40 Radio and pointy guitars.

I had bought a surf green Stratocaster a couple years ago, mainly because I loved the way it looked. I don't really play much guitar but I hoped that this guitars allure would be the incentive I needed to move up to 6 strings instead of 4. Something about the sickly, sunbaked green and the tortoise shell pickguard was such an amazing color combination in my mind that I started thinking about all the short comings of the instrument itself and what I expected it to be just from its appearance. Something about the sarcastic weirdness of that color scheme got me thinking about how to make it even more weird and fun.

I love BC Rich shapes, some of them at least. Neal Moser designed a lot of their 80's pointy metal shapes and continues to maintain his own Custom Shop making high end, souped up versions of his original BC Rich designs.

 Bernie Rico aka BC Rich>>>

His designs are so over the top and intense that BC Rich has basically turned itself from the company Bernie Rico started into a niche market for the metal community. Unfortunately, these shapes are so stylized and dramatic that they never really made it past being a stage prop which is unfortunate.

As a two dimensional design, a lot of Moser's designs were very beautiful and elegant (in their own evil way). There are so many guitars in the world that glaze over the defining lines of the the shape of the body, which makes sense because in the case of these pointy metal guitars, they don't make a comfortable and erogonomic translation to a three dimensional object. Regardless BC Rich designs continue to hold a special place in my heart. I own a Beast bass that I added extra strings to to make it an 8 string. But something about that green Strat was still calling my name.

A personal dilemma I find myself faced with as a luthier and as a guy who loves to buy guitars is "Should I buy this or should I make this?" With cheap-o weirdness that appears in flea markets and Ebay listings, the unique appeal of certain instruments can't be passed up; a patch of crazing here, a big patch of paint missing there.. a ridiculous sticker or phrase scrawled on the back.. There's a reason many companies have jumped on the road worn craze - an instrument that has been loved and lived in invites you to play it and to use it. I've bought my fair share of guitars that fall into this category, almost all based on looks.

In this process of collecting weird crap, my brain collects a layers of residual feelings towards all these strange specimens that I hope to imbue into my own instruments. At a certain point it will inspire a new shape or an idea for a hardware modification but this time my brain said, "You need to make the ugliest, coolest thing" So I started with a list of adjectives that would define some parameters for how this thing would look. I came up with this :

All good ingredients for any guitar, right?

So here we have it. My Green Hilarious Pointy Muppet guitar. I wanted all my favorite things on it, Here are some specs.

Quartersawn Maple Neck, Ebony Fretboard with Mutant Inlay, Handpainted Dr. Teeth Headstock, Hipshot Ultralite Bass Tuners, Grover Rotomatic guitar tuners, Tusq Nut, Medium/Medium Fretwire, Mahogany Body, Tortoise B/W/B Binding, Mystery brand 8 String Bridge, Cruiser P-Bass Pickups, Ibanez Iceman Minihumbucker, Seymour Duncan SMB4d, 6 Way rotary switch and a 3 way coil selector for the Seymour Duncan Musicman Pickup. 34" Scale


Monday, March 3, 2014

Custom Walnut Boomer

New to the world in 2014 is this Custom Walnut Boomer. My initial thought when designing this model would be that it was an ideal option for those who crave sustain and clear articulation simultaneously. However, the request for certain modifications to this particular model have proven to give even more range and power to this already great model.

Here's a quick review from the owner: "First let me say that the whole process of  building this bass with Nick was excellent. I chose the Boomer body design, and from there it was deciding on what woods, hardware and electronics to use. 

To sum it up, I got everything that I requested.  I did not have to change or compromise on anything.   I knew that from the combination of all the components that the sound would be really good, but it exceeded my expectations.  This bass sings. The action and playability are excellent.
I’m looking forward to another bass build with Nick.  This time something off the wall! "

All the great standards are here: Hipshot Hardware, Mahogany Body with a Walnut Top, 34" scale and the soft C profile on the neck. Some of the upgrades that really make this bass really special are the solid quartersawn Wenge neck with a Ebony Fretboard, the Coil Tapped Seymour Duncan Musicman pickup, a Hipshot D-Tuner and the super solid, super beefy Hipshot Brass A Style Bridge. This bass was ordered with a custom reverse headstock with 1+3 Tuners for easy, unfettered access to the D-Tuner. My favorite feature is the Coil Tapped Musicman pickup, it has been strategically placed right up against the bridge for optimum tonal range. Most people would say one of two things to that; "Wouldn't cramming it next to the bridge cut the volume?" or "Bridge pickups get way too nasally that close to the bridge." While these concerns are definitely valid in most cases, this configuration defies those rules. With such a hot pickup, it manages to retain full volume capabilities with its height closer to the strings. Also, by seating it right next to the bridge, the tonal characteristics are much more dramatic when switching from the back coil to full humbucker to front coil.

On the aesthetic side of this build, I was given the opportunity to take some creative liberties with wood composition and matching covers. I have recently embarked on the venture of bringing psychedelia to woodworking. I love the incredible grain patterns that appear in roto-cut plywood.

The new owner of this bass was curious to see what I would come up with so I suggested that we incorporate this element into the binding, inlay, backplate and headstock plate. We're both pretty happy with how it turned out!  (PS - My shop isn't always this dirty!)