klath Guitars

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The Northwest Handmade Instrument Show at Marylhurst was a huge success (as always, it seems).  Well-organized, well-attended, and the only possible complaint is that it was too crowded!  Not a bad thing by any means.  I actually missed the cutoff date (I was focused a little too much on the Newport show) but Robert Steinegger very graciously offered to share his table with me.  He’s a long-time builder and restorer who makes beautiful Martin and Gibson inspired instruments.

The exhibitors numbered somewhere near 80, which is huge for that space.  The public came by the hundreds.  There were so many instrument demos that the organizers had to cut the time slots from 20 to 15 minutes.  Jamie Stillway stepped in and played for me at the last minute, when my regular demo guy had to have an unplanned surgery (he’s doing much better now).  Jamie played beautifully.  She’s such a great musician.  I could listen to her all day.

Posted 12 years, 12 months ago at 3:06 pm.

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newportJust got back from the Newport Guitar Festival in Ft. Lauderdale.  It was a lot of fun, but a bit slower than I’d hoped.  I got lots of good feedback about my guitars.  The classical in particular received positive comments for it’s tone.  It is built fairly light, but I didn’t weigh it until I got back– 2 lbs, 11.9 oz, including the tuners.  Definitely the lightest I’ve gone.  Then again, this is the first traditional classical I’ve built.

The best parts of these shows is always talking to other builders, and listening to some great music.  In that respect, this show did not disappoint.  I got to hang out with a number of luthier friends I hadn’t seen in a while, including Kathy Wingert, David Freeman, and Harry Fleishman.  (Definitely worth checking out their sites.  They are great builders, teachers, and just generally cool people.)  The music was wonderful.  There was a ridiculous number of really great players who were doing demos, playing concerts, sitting in song circles, and wandering around trying out the instruments.  As a beginning player, I was completely overwhelmed by the caliber of skill I got to see and hear.  In a couple of instances I had world class players trying out my guitars, and only found out afterward that I should have known who they were.  (That might be the way to go, though. Not know, not be intimidated, and simply enjoy their incredible playing at face value).

Andy and Nancy figuring our their set. Wish I'd gotten a photo of Jamie playing too.

We all got time slots to present our instruments on stage (and I hear the performances will be available on youtube sometime soon).  Two of my demos were done by Jamie Stillway, who is a great bluesy jazzy guitarist from Portland.  In fact, I’m listening to one of her cds right now.  Hearing her play was one of those world-expanding moments, where I was just sitting in amazement thinking “I didn’t know my guitars could sound like that!”  Nancy Conescu and Andy Wahlberg shared the third slot.  Nancy is an incredible celtic singer and guitarist, and Andy is probably one of the most entertaining people you’ll ever hear of.  He played his harp guitar in the final all star concert, and whipped out this amazing instrumental version of Bohemian Rhapsody.  Anyway, the two of them sat down for about 5 minutes at my table, figured out what they were going to play, and then at the demo produced an incredible performance of celtic and old jazz tunes.  Nancy did a couple tunes by herself that were just beautiful after Andy left the stage.

A Huge thanks again to all three musicians!

Posted 13 years, 1 month ago at 3:27 pm.

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I’m officially participating in not one, but TWO handmade instrument shows this summer.  In fact, they are back to back.  The third and the fourth weekends in April.  One, Newport, I’ve already mentioned.  The other has been a favorite of mine since the first time I went.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many people who are so passionate about their craft all in one place.  In many ways, going to this show for the first time was probably the single biggest event in my development as a builder.  It is the Northwest Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibit.

Chromatic Marimba Frame

Chromatic Marimba Frame, Dean Marimbas

I was there to help Carl Dean with his marimba table.  I figured we’d switch off table duty and wandering around, and since I’d just started building guitars I thought there might be a stringed instrument or two I could look at, or a luthier who might be able to offer a little advice.

I was very wrong–  There were dozens(if not hundreds) of amazing handcrafted instruments, and EVERY SINGLE person I approached to talk to was incredibly supportive of my beginning efforts at lutherie, and they were very open about their techniques, methods, materials, and everything else.  I met people that weekend who have become friends, teachers, and mentors.  It really was my doorway to contemporary lutherie.  I spent every minute I could talking to every person I could, and poor Carl got stuck manning the table all by himself all weekend.

The next year, I got my own table.whee

Posted 13 years, 2 months ago at 4:56 pm.

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Newport and the Sonic Sitka

I don’t remember when I first met Denis Merrill.  He is certainly  someone you don’t forget once you do meet him.


If you have any connection to the lutherie community, there is a reasonable chance you have heard from him in the past year regarding the “Sonic Sitka” project.

Denis got a hold of six feet of spruce trunk, and has cut around 100 guitar tops from it.  Then he went around and convinced as many builders as he could to make a guitar out of it.  They’re going keep track of these instruments to test them sonically over time, and record the changes.  One thing I can say about this wood is that it is gorgeously figured, which you can see a little of in the pic.

Steiny's 1880's Washburn.

Steiny's 1880's Washburn.

The Sonic Sitka is the softest top wood I’ve worked with, and one challenge of it is to compensate for what I expect to be a naturally strong bass and weaker treble.  This was a deciding factor in choosing the size and shape of the instrument as well as bracing.

I love parlor guitars, and this one is based roughly on a beautiful old 1880’s Washburn that Robert Steinegger restored and had me French polish.  (Last I heard it was ready to be sold).  I adjusted most measurements for mine, but used the original silhouette because it’s just too gorgeous.

The project cumulates with a display at the Newport Guitar Festival which will happen in about two weeks  starting April 16th.  I wasn’t sure I was ready for such a big show, but since my guitar has to be there anyway I thought “why not”?  Time to really start running with the big boys (and girls)!img_3777

Posted 13 years, 2 months ago at 4:06 pm.

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Building the Torres

Both Francisco Tarrega and Antonio de Torres were masters and innovators in their fields, and both have influenced every single builder and player of classical guitars who has come after them.


Now it’s my turn to reap the benefits of their legacy.  I am building the 1888 Torres guitar.  It was owned and played by Tarrega, and recently restored by master luthier Jeff Elliott (who made the plans that I’m using).

My materials are Engleman Spruce for the top, Indian rosewood for the back and sides, and Alaska yellow cedar for the neck (reinforced internally with maple).

The biggest obvious challenge in this project is the infamous Spanish Heel.

In steel string guitars, the body and neck are built


separately before being fit together right at the end.  When you build with a Spanish heel, the neck and top have to be joined right at the beginning of the assembly because the neck continues into the body.  I was excited to tackle this one, and it went surprisingly smoothly.  The final finish details might be difficult, but so far so good.

I went for a solar theme with this one (my one design indulgence).  The fingerboard shows the progression of an eclipse (or perhaps a lunar cycle), and the rosette shows a stylized solar eclipse.  I used similar techniques here as for the sunflower guitar–allowing the pattern to continue over the fingerboard, and the precisely inlaid petals.  The rosewood background, however,  made it a very different project.  I’ve found that when inlaying into hardwood it is more difficult to keep crisp lines. At the same time, dark woods are more forgiving to work with.  It’s a fair trade.

img_3770The most recent pic:

Posted 13 years, 2 months ago at 10:57 pm.

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Taming the wilds with the 1888 Torres

Fred Carlsons Big Red harp sympatar

Fred Carlson's "Big Red" harp sympatar

So, I’m a raring young luthier, ready to take on the guitar world, make my mark, and of course solve all the problems that 600+ years of instrument builders haven’t been able to perfect.  My luthier-hero is Fred Carlson who is famous for building some of the most insane, yet perfectly balanced, instruments you will ever see. (<— check out the pic)  I enjoy the experimental, the new, the scientific, and the creative.

In any case, my instruments do reflect this.  Don’t get me wrong– I’m very detail oriented, precise, and patient when it comes to the work, but when it comes to design I have a hard time reigning myself in.  Every aspect of my first several instruments were my own design, more and more completely as my abilities increased.  How about a guitar that I could play in the passenger seat of the car?  How about something made out of this gorgeous bright red Padauk?  And inlay…?  There are just too many possibilities, and I learn brand new things every time I try one.

However, there is another, more subtle side of lutherie.  Repeatability, consistency, and the ability to finely tune and predict how a particular bit of wood will sound if you shave off .001 inches rather than .005 inches.   Basically, sensitivity to what you’re doing.   And that only comes with experience and thinking about what IS there rather than what could be there.

With that in mind, a while back I asked  for the advice of Jeffery Elliott and his partner Cyndy Burton, who are both great classical builders and have become friends and mentors.  They strongly suggested that I find myself a proven guitar design and build it– preferably multiple times.  In fact, they even recommended a pattern:  The 1888 Antonio de Torres.

After resisting for a while (who likes discipline?), I decided it was for the best, and ordered myself the plans.

This instrument is now almost complete, and to my surprise I’ve had a fabulous time building it.  Next post: building the Torres

Posted 13 years, 2 months ago at 9:03 pm.

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Sunflower is a hit!

img_3605So Megan’s Sunflower guitar is done.  I thought it came out beautifully.  The rosette was exactly what she wanted, and I did the bee as a bonus.  It has long been packed up and shipped off (actually, she picked up while in town to run the Portland marathon) and I’m realizing now that I don’t have any good pictures of the full instrument.   Details, yes, and I’ll post a few of those:  img_3611

I love bumblebees, and was very excited to try to inlay one.  It was definitely a challenge to do, and I had to come up with new techniques to get it to look the way I wanted it to (eg, the semi-transparent wings).


The sunflower motif was the one visual element that Megan requested.  As an avid gardener who’s favorite flower is, well, the sunflower, she felt it would be a fitting way of personalizing the instrument visually.

The debut performance for this guitar was at the Portland Guitar Society (PGS),  which is an organization that supports, encourages, and mostly just loves guitar performance of all sorts.  I brought it to show a few friends and mentors who frequent the gathering.  Peter Zisa, who is a well known teacher in the area, and an excellent performer, volunteered his talents to play the instrument during the open mic segment.  He played music as it came to him (when I later asked what piece he had played, he smiled and said it was an interaction between musician and instrument).  I had liked the balance and tone of the guitar before hearing Peter play, but until then had no idea that it could sound like that!

Posted 13 years, 2 months ago at 6:13 pm.

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And the website is… Not complete, but at least I’m not ashamed to give out the URL anymore

So it’s been a while!  I’ve been busy in all sorts of ways (including new job, and completing 3 guitars.. almost). Gearing up for the Newport Guitar Festival in Ft. Lauderdale, FL has finally spurred me into getting this website serviceable.  Finally swapped out the default pictures in the cool slidy header for my own pics– which was the big complicated project that I avoided for months.  Then I linked them to pages that actually exist…  and… Voila!  Real website!    My last big step will be to get the gallery working fast enough to not scare away casual browsers.  And maybe add more pictures, while I’m at it

I’ve got 3 complete or nearly complete projects to show now, but I think what I’ll do is make a new post for each, for later ease of searching.  How fun!

Posted 13 years, 2 months ago at 5:06 pm.

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Megan’s sunflower

The design for this rosette was a collaboration between myself and the client.  If you think it looks sweet now, just wait until it has some shellac on it!img_3576

Maybe the most unique bit of this design is the way it continues over the fingerboard


Posted 14 years, 1 month ago at 7:20 pm.

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