Most guitars are designed by marketing committees, whose primary goals are sales and subsequently, indestructibility. Then theyʼre built by factories, whose primary goal is efficiency. These goals probably donʼt completely line up with the desires of the player. As custom builders, we get excited about building you an instrument that will help you play and sound your best. Thatʼs probably what you want, too.
But we do live in constant tension. On one hand, weʼre trying to get the instrument to respond, to move as much as possible. On the other hand, the construction needs to be stiff enough in all the right places so the neck angle is solid, and so the soundboard doesnʼt distort too much under the torque action of the strings at the bridge.
Instead of just rehashing old factory designs, we think through every joint and every brace, to make the guitar respond to the player, while focusing on structure where itʼs needed the most – especially in the neck joint and upper bout, and around the bridge.
Most guitars have a flat-sawn bridge plate with the grain perpendicular to the top grain. Ours is quartersawn, with the grain parallel to the top grain. This helps the top better resist distortion due to the torquing action of the strings at the bridge. Then we go a step further and laminate a .020” flat-sawn piece perpendicular to the main plate, to make it more stable and stiff, and to prevent the plate from cracking.
Inspired by the work of Ervin Somogyi, our unique, interrupted rosette makes a distinct statement, like a single strand of pearls set against a black evening gown. The first Dehradun was made with this design, and we got so much positive feedback on it that the design became our standard. Handmitered purflings border pearl, abalone, and figured woods. Traditional and custom rosettes are also available.
We use a 3-piece neck for a two main reasons. First, it’s more stable. Any tendency of any piece to move in response to climate conditions is stabilized by the other two. Second, the main reason truss rods stop working is that they compress the mahogany on either end and get screwed to the end of their adjusting range. Often the adjusting bolts get stripped out in the process. The high crushing strength of rosewood provides a stronger bed for the truss rod and neck bolts than mahogany can.
Broken headstocks are absolutely unnecessary. Five structural elements conspire to make our peghead as strong as possible. First, the three-piece neck continues through the headstock. Second, we use a scarf joint to keep the wood grain parallel to the direction of the force the strings exert on the tuners. Third, we apply a 1/16” vertical grain, quartersawn veneer to both sides of the peghead for added stability and structure. Fourth, the decorative volute is also a structural element, strengthening the neck at what would otherwise be itʼs most vulnerable joint. Fifth, the truss rod access is through the soundhole rather than in the peghead, so there’s no channel under the nut.
Two different soundboards from the same tree can vary wildly in stiffness. The factory standard of thicknessing woods to target measurements just doesnʼt result in consistent build quality. Thatʼs why you can pay so much additional money for the most highly adorned models and end up with something that sounds significantly worse than the cheapest models. Factories will select the stiffest soundboard, then build it to the same dimensions as the cheaper stuff, resulting in a top thatʼs too stiff and doesnʼt respond. So we thickness our soundboards to target deflection. Weʼre looking for the ideal stiffness, because thereʼs no such thing as an ideal thickness that works across the board, especially when you consider the different sizes of guitars we build. Each size has a target stiffness that optimizes that guitarʼs response.
The head block is probably the most important single structural member of the instrument, and should be treated as such. Our head block/transverse brace unit makes standard upper bout configurations look like an afterthought. The weight of the fretboard on the upper bout of any guitar makes that part of the guitar ineffective at contributing anything but the highest frequencies to the overall tone. Realizing this gives you the amazing ability to utilize the upper bout for its intended purpose: supporting the neck joint! We build a head block that extends under the fretboard and engages directly into the transverse brace, which then continues out to column supports on either side. This locks the entire head unit together and results in an upper bout thatʼs extremely rigid and stable. You can stand on the upper bout of a Dehradun (although we donʼt condone it).
Have you ever noticed how one chord can sound just fine, but then you play another chord and it sounds out of tune? Stringed instruments arenʼt perfect, but steps are taken in high-end guitars to make them as in-tune (thus the word intonation) as possible. The first issue to address is that the extreme ends of steel strings donʼt actually move, so the effective vibrating length of the string is just a bit shorter than its actual length. So the strings are effectively lengthened by moving the saddle out a bit away from the nut (thatʼs why you see the saddle at an angle on steel string guitars – the bass strings move less at the ends, so they have to be lengthened more to make up for it). In addition, when you fret a string at, say, the 7th fret, youʼre bending it slightly, making it go sharp – so the saddle is compensated out a bit for that as well. But what about when youʼre not fretting a string? The guitar has already been compensated as if you are, so the note is going to come out flat. For some reason, most factories still donʼt take this into account. The nut needs to be moved up a bit, shortening the length of the open position – then each string can be individually compensated to make the open position and fretted positions in tune with each other. Weʼve been told by our clients that the intonation of our instruments is the best theyʼve ever heard. Thatʼs no accident – we spend a lot of time making sure each note comes out right.
We hand-carve the bracing, thinning the braces aggressively but removing the height sparingly. The resulting parabola-shaped braces give the highest soundboard stiffness-to-weight ratio possible, allowing the soundboard to respond to the lightest touch. But voicing doesnʼt stop at the soundboard. The natural resonance of the soundbox contributes to the breathy bass presence behind the strings, and that resonance is determined by the ratio of the sound box volume to the soundhole diameter. Think of blowing across an empty bottle. The bigger the bottle, the lower the note, assuming the opening stays the same. But we want some control over that note. So whereas the typically factory makes all soundholes the same size, each of our models has a soundhole specifically designed to coax out that nice breathy bass tone. Lastly, we build a responsive back. Listen to the difference of your current instrument when you strum it in the case, and when you take it out. Thatʼs the back and sides contributing to the sound, and their contribution is important. We tune our backs for constructive wave interaction with the soundboard, reducing impedance and bringing the instrument to life.