17 March 2011

Review: Roy Courtnall - Making Master Guitars

As promised a translation of the german article which you find here.

Let's go classical. Roy Courtnalls book "Making Master Guitars" is not cheap, but it is a some sort of bibliophilic book, which I do not want to read on my eReader. You will find descriptions of guitars crafted by the most famous classical luthiers:
  • Antonio de Torres
  • Santiago Hernandez, 
  • Hermann Hauser, 
  • Hernandez y Aguado, 
  • Ignatio Fleta, 
  • Robert Bouchet
  • Daniel Friederich und 
  • Jose Romanillos. 

Each guitar is presented with its own evolutionary history and an extensive textual description of the different constructional details. These explanations are supported by detailed photos and precisely dimensioned plans of the plantilla, the purfling, neck and corpus joints. Furthermore the rosette, bridge and headstock are explained in accurate drawings.

Given these descriptions you can apply measurements and details of these guitars and adopt them directly for your own model. The only thing you will miss in this book are as usual the sound examples of the guitar. But that is today not a problem: You will find them in the internet or on CD like „What about this, Mr. Tarrega?“ by Wulfin Lieske, who played an original Torres guitar (La Leona). 

Those who want to simplify the selection and always wanted to own a Hauser: You will find in this book at least the required technical specifications to build your dream guitar..

It is another question whether the first guitar build by oneself will sound like the original. I can assure you that it will sound different. It always will. But you have some shots free.

The second part of the book is filled with the descriptions of traditional woodworking tools, which are essential for guitar building. Of course the special tools for guitar construction are covered. The portrayal of the different woods needed is sparse but sufficent. You can find additional hints in the local wood shop. 

Roy Courtnall proposes the open spanish construction which is supported by a  Solera. This basic plate facilitades the building process and forces a slight curvature of the soundboard. The construction of the Sollara is presented in detail and can within limits also be used for other corpus dimensions. 

(You will find a somewhat easier way to construct a "Solera" in the big catalog  of Luthiers Mercantile. This catalog is also full of hints and tips. I made a copy of that construction by myself. It was easy and still works.)

The construction of neck and the headstock is explained in the following design step. Special attention is focused on the spanish neck-corpus joint. The procedure is described in a logical manner. The text is very condensed but accompanied with a lot of detailed photographs. And what is more important, the technical drawing with measurements tell more than thousand words.

To build a rosette is not an easy task. All the rosettes are described in detail and two construction methods are explained. You can take the models from the first part of the description of the individual guitars. For those faint at heart or too lazy here is a tip: A commercial manufacturer (Karin Rost) offers traditional and modern rosettes for a fair price. They can be bought also in little quantities. (I do not get money for that ;-)

On the following pages the construction of the soundboard and the back plate together with the ribs is explaind in detail. The text lacks some pedagogical motivation. It is more of a systematic technical description. This is not easy to read. You have to take your time to understand the immense number of details and their correlation. So before you start to build, make sure that you have read and understood the text.  When you have already started to build it is sometimes to late to implement corrections. ( I am talking with some experience.)

To bend the ribs and to glue them to the soundboard two different methods will be presented in extense. The process is accompanied by pictures of  hard working luthier: Robert Bouchet.

The joining of the purflings is demonstrated with accuracy, although with todays modern glues you can find other ways of putting things together. Lots of space for experimentation. 

The themes for the following chapers are: 

  • Neck, 
  • Frets, 
  • Bridge, 
  • Saddle and 
  • The final form of the neck
If you follow these instructions closely success is around the corner. The last chapter is dedicated to the possibilty of modern  finishing techniques. You will also find also the traditional way to use shellac in order to give your guitar the ultimate touch. (I was to impatient, so my wife did it with great success)

Roy Courtnall, who also wrote a comparable book about "The Art of Violon Making" (very interesting), offers for the one who "only" plays guitar" an absolut interesting overview about the production process of a real handmade master guitar. With the historical overview and presentation of important guitars he is able to demonstrate major milestones in the development of the classical guitar. 

It was Courtnalls book which inspired me the most. So I took the plunge and reproduced three guitars just right out of the book .  Plans and details were after careful reading sufficent. Information I found in other books where helpful. But when I had to chose again and can take only one book: My choice would be clear: Masterguitars by Courtnall.  He is "responsible" for my first own  Hauser I.