Bench Press: La Conner Preview, Part 5

Annnnnd…we’re back with the fifth installment of our Bench Press La Conner Guitar Festival preview series. This week the featured luthiers from this year’s festival (to be held May 11th-13th) are Sam Guidry, John Walker and Michael Kennedy. These fellas were at last year’s festival and we were taken aback by their elegant, thoughtful work.

As usual, we asked them just the one question: Are you working on anything special for La Conner?

Sam Guidry, Sam Guidry Handmade Guitars

For the La Conner guitar show this year I am making an SG-2 inspired by Japanese shoji screens. Shoji screens are traditionally used as room dividers and they consist of a wooden frame with paper stretched over it to make a panel. The designs for the wooden frames have a “deco” look to them which I felt fit into a design motif I have been exploring that I call “minimalist deco.” The general idea of “minimalist deco” is to use deco based elements to embellish the guitar while eliminating extraneous elements that do not need to be there to fit into the overall design aesthetic.

For the rosette, I have elected to use a straight design element, which I feel challenges the idea that a soundhole decoration has to be based on some idea of concentric rings encircling the sound hole. Through the use of straight elements and negative space, I feel this design pushes those boundaries. I like to see coherence in design so I have echoed the “shoji” design element in the back, end bout, and peghead decorations as well.

Michael Kennedy, Indian Hill Guitars

The guitar I’ll be bringing to La Conner has been needling away at the back of my brain for a long while and I decided it’s finally time to satisfy that itch and bring it to life! Over the years I’ve really enjoyed building the occasional 4-string tenor guitar–there’s something magical that happens with that combination of body size, elevated neck, and scale length that’s resulted in some of my favorite sounding instruments to date. Only one problem; playing them! With four strings and typically tuned in fifths, most guitar players don’t know what to do when they sit down with one. So, for this year’s show I decided to make a short scale 6-string version built off of my tenor shape that will be tuned up a whole step and see if I can capture some of that magic and let people have some fun with it!

I chose a great set of sinker Western Red cedar for the top–beautifully dark, low density, incredibly stable, and based on the guitars I’ve made from the same batch of wood, results in wonderful instruments. The back and sides are a killer set of ziricote with a mahogany neck and Peruvian walnut binding. For the rosette and top purfling I decided to feature radial arariba that has some beautiful reds and yellows that hopefully add a bit of subtle elegance to the look of the guitar.

Construction wise this guitar features some unique elements including an elevated neck and structured sides. On a typical guitar, the strings are essentially parallel to the top but using an elevated neck increases this angle and introduces more perpendicular pull on the bridge. This increased angle paired with a lattice bracing pattern gives a really pure and focused tone. Structured sides (essentially liners that span the full height of the sides) create an incredibly stiff rim and are something myself and my shopmates have been experimenting with the past couple of years. The goal of the structured sides is to greatly increase the longevity/durability of a guitar and by adding a lot of stiffness and some weight, to keep the vibrational energy in the top where all that beautiful tone comes from!

I can’t wait to hear this guitar sing and hopefully some of you will get a chance to give a try in La Conner this year!

John Walker, John Walker Guitars

For this La Conner Guitar Festival, and for Brent and Shirley, I wanted to build a guitar that tied together my 10 years living in the Pacific Northwest. I start with the parlor body I designed while working for Michael Gurian. The back and sides are mahogany from wood that Michael had stashed away in the hull of his barge/shop. The top is some nice Red spruce that I got from Steve Andersen. The purfling is some reject herringbone from Tacoma Guitars. The lines didn’t meet up so it looked funny, so I split it in two and used it as rope purfling! I finished it off with boxwood and black pearl appointments. I look forward to seeing everyone at La Conner.