There’s a lot more to guitar design than arriving at a pleasing body shape and deciding on the decorative scheme. At some time (one would hope) somebody considered how much static force the strings exert on the guitar and made sure that there was enough wood in the neck and soundboard to sustain those forces, long term. And hopefully, someone considered how much dynamic force the vibrating strings exerted on the soundboard, so that those dynamic forces could most efficiently be transformed into sound. And what about the playability of an instrument, or its musicality? Were they ever really part of a considered design or did they just somehow evolve?
It’s a fact that the predominant guitar designs around today for both Spanish guitars (classical and flamenco) and steel string guitars originated, separately, nearly 150 years ago. In the years since there has been massive progress in science, materials and computing but the vast majority of guitar designs have remained largely unchanged. The opportunity is obvious.
My contribution to furthering the science of guitar design is manifest in the range of classical and steel string guitars I now build. The challenge I set myself was to build more efficient guitars, ones that are more sensitive and responsive to the player’s touch, whilst also being very playable, very musical and yet built to last. The results of my work are summarised in the charts opposite, which show the relative responsiveness of my instruments compared to a wide variety of others that I have measured. Whilst the guitars produced by most makers vary considerably from instrument to instrument, I picked the best instruments available to me. The measure that I used to make the comparison I call monopole mobility, a technical term describing how easily a guitar string can drive a soundboard. The easier it is to drive the soundboard, the more sensitive, responsive and ultimately the louder the guitar is.
It is not the sole arbiter of a great instrument. The guitar also has to play in tune all over the fretboard, be even in its volume (no “wolf” notes), have an alluring sound and pose the minimum impediment between the musician and the repertoire and still hold together for the long term. These values I summarise as Sensitivity, Playability, Musicality and Longevity.
I discuss some of the aspects of these values in the following pages (just click on the headings below). If you want more detail, it’s available in the book.