It’s been nearly a year since our kickoff and what a great time it’s been! We’ve individually completed over a dozen guitars through all that life has thrown our way.
Most of us are working alone in the shop, during nights and weekends, and progress often comes in small waves. The support of the group and the deadline at the end has been really helpful for most of us. Watching the progress online, meeting to hear music and opening our shops all contributed to the spirit of sharing that we intended.
Now we can celebrate the way we started, with handcrafted instruments in the hand of musicians.
Come join us on Sunday November 4th at 4:30pm at Club Passim in Cambridge MA to see these beautiful guitars and meet the builders. Hear their stories and learn more about what they have accomplished.
Stay for the 7pm concert featuring Peter Mulvey, David Goodrich, Sarah Borges and Jabe Beyer. Hear these locally handcrafted guitars played on stage. Although we started with a common platform, you’ll see how every single builder infused their instrument with their own vision and personality.
Many builders are moving forward with their material selection, design and even with the initial steps in construction. There is a steady flow of conversation in the forum, and the build logs are growing every day.
The OM build group is a diverse bunch, with many different approaches and expertise. That is what makes this interesting to many of us – getting to see how 30+ different people would all approach the same problem and achieve a similar goal.
Mike McCarten is a designer/engineer by day, and an artist in the shop – sculpting beautiful archtops, and unique creations in his shop in Athol, MA. This creative approach allows him to model complex designs with CAD/FEA and produce instruments that are very natural, artistic and organic in their design, but with solid engineering principles behind them.
He has been working out the details of a new neck block design and using his engineering expertise to present several possible solutions. Rhetorical question of the day: If RED equals DEFLECTION, which design is going to best resist the force of string tension over time?
Don Boivin is a relatively new guitar builder, but his first few instruments clearly show his lifetime of experience working with wood. Every detail is confidently and expertly executed. He has wasted no time in getting his stock selected and prepared and we’re all enjoying his progress and approach.
Do you need an expensive thickness sander? No, clearly not. A sharp handplane and some time at the bench can yield great results. Throughout the next year we’re going to see a wide variety of approaches, from modern CNC to vintage hand planes – all perfectly valid and well-suited to the task at hand.
Our “kick-off” meeting last Sunday was a huge success. Attendance in East Boston was impressive and it provided a great opportunity to see some good friends and make some new ones. The energy level and overall enthusiasm were exactly what we were hoping for.
The highlight of the meeting was an informal listening session from Berklee professor and local guitar hero – Jim Kelly. One of our goals is to bring in really high caliber musicians – hear them do their thing, and pick their brains for the types of characteristics they look for in an instrument. Tonality, playing dynamics, ergonomics.
Jim played a number of high quality instruments, including his own Collings 000, a Martin OM-21, a Santa Cruz Vintage Series OM, and a pair of Borges OMs. The resulting demonstration and conversation was very helpful and was exactly the type of thing to get people thinking about the types of qualities they would like in their own instruments.
Many players want a Swiss Army Knife instrument. One size fits all. The OM has a reputation for versatility, and that is one reason why we selected it as our “base platform”. The reality is that it’s difficult (but not impossible) for one guitar to do everything well. Jim’s own versatility demonstrated this fact as he moved through jazz, classical, fingerstyle, etc.
Some of the guitars struggled a bit to keep up – and other ones moved effortlessly from piece to piece, from subtle fingerstyle to more aggressive flatpicking. The warmth and character of a Red Cedar top to the inviting tone, volume and strong bass of the Adirondack Spruce. It gives us some food for thought and concrete examples to use for inspiration as we move forward.
Just over 8 years ago (has it been that long?) we officially launched the New England Luthiers group. We knew there was real value in regular meetings with sharing of information, demonstrations, shop visits, field trips. It has been a successful on many levels with lots of enduring friendships, great conversations and inspiring work.
A small group of us wanted to design an event that would help us refocus our energy. We wanted to continue to support and encourage people in their work, to actively include musicians in the process, and to help promote New England as an important center of instrument making. We also hoped that we might learn something and perhaps move towards a better shared vocabulary about tone, playability, ergonomics.
The idea we settled on was a “collaborative build”, where builders would all use a fairly standardized instrument as their base. It would be customized and individualized, but retain the core characteristics of (rough) size, shape, and air volume. The guitars would be built over the course of 6-8 months and at the end we would have some formal listening sessions to help us understand how the decisions we made along the way may have influenced the outcomes. Every builder would document their work and share what they were doing with others. Our hope is that people would open their shops and there would be opportunity for real collaboration, not just virtual sharing.
We would also have a public concert with respected performers who would play the instruments and give us a chance to hear them in a live venue. There’s hardly anything more exciting for a builder than hearing their instrument played live.
So, we are officially kicking off this effort on November 13th and will be regularly updating this blog with information, photos, videos – as the project progresses. Some of the details are still unclear, but we are moving forward. Stay tuned.