Tuners

When I built my first guitar in 1974 which, incidentally, I still have, I was under no illusions as to the quality of the finished product. In fact, I used an old set of Kluson tuners salvaged from a Gibson I had owned, thinking that I wanted to improve my skills before spending hard earned money on new machine heads. Those Kluson tuners were not particularly good but still found their way onto some quality instruments of the time. This would probably not happen today, at least not on a hand built guitar. Interestingly, our choices are better now than they were 20 years ago. Back then, if looking for a high quality tuner, the choice was either Grover or Schaller (if you could find them). Things have certainly changed! Gotoh has become a big player and of course Waverly now practically owns the market for high end vintage style tuners. The following are my thoughts on these products based on my experience with them.

Grover

This company completely dominated the luxury tuner market before the 1980's. Unfortunately, quality control started to slip and consequently, so did their reputation. As a result, I rarely use them now except when requested specifically. I’ve always liked the style of the Grover Rotomatic and the new ones are nicely finished. Time will tell if they can recapture their place in the market.

Schaller

The M6 enclosed tuner has been a mainstay on quality instruments for years and I have used them with great success. In addition to a well deserved reputation for solid construction, they are also very nicely finished. Lately Schaller has been pouring it on with with new and innovative designs, as pictured. 

Gotoh

I started using Gotoh machine heads in the 1980s and now use them almost exclusively. Their 510 series is my first choice and, in my opinion, unsurpassed for a factory made sealed tuner. The fact that I have used Gotohs on hundreds of guitars without a problem tells me I made the right choice. Beautiful tuners!

Waverly

Here’s a success story! Talk about filling a much needed gap in the market. These are beautiful, vintage style tuners that not only look gorgeous, but are made to the highest exacting standards. The whole package! To my mind, the best thing about Waverlys is their vintage look. For example, on my slotted head models (00012 and 0012), this is the exact look I want. Before Waverlys came along, the choices for this style of instrument were extremely limited. The downside for some people is the price. They are expensive but many others feel that when buying a handbuilt instrument, the extra cost of Waverly tuners is worthwhile.

Waverly Copies

Left to Right: Waverly, Gotoh, Grover, Schaller. Note: All of these tuners are available in different finishes and tuner-button materials such as, Ivoroid, Snakewood, Ebony, Nicklel and more. 

Left to Right: Waverly, Gotoh, Grover, Schaller.
Note: All of these tuners are available in different finishes and tuner-button materials such as, Ivoroid, Snakewood, Ebony, Nicklel and more. 

It’s worth mentioning 3 new players in this field.  Gotoh, Grover and Schaller have introduced Waverly style tuners in answer to this hot new market. I’ve just received a set of the Schallers and they’ve done a good job.  The Gotohs are very interesting from a couple of standpoints. Their mechanics are very good with no perceptible backlash. In this they fall somewhere between Schaller and Waverly. The other point of interest is that they’ve standardized the dimensions to almost identical as Waverlys. One could always start off with Gotohs and, if desired, could switch to Waverlys later on. A handy marketing move, I must say.  The Schallers and Gotohs are both priced lower than Waverly and, as such, should have no problem capturing a place in the "vintage look" market.

There are, of course many other tuners on the market including some hand-made custom tuners such as Alessi, but I’ve limited my discussion to products I’ve personally had experience with. Happy tuning!

My Thoughts on Guitar Building

I've seen a lot of changes in the guitar making world since building my first instrument back in 1974. At that time there were no personal computers and the idea of a world wide web would have sounded not only amazing but the stuff of science fiction. When I started out there were only a handful of books on the subject and these were not easy to find. I did devour the few that I came across and this, besides meeting Jean Larrivee in 1975, was the extent of my access to established knowledge on the subject. I learned by studying quality instruments but mostly by trial and error. I like to say that I've made every mistake possible at least once. I also like to say that making the same mistake more than once is not a good thing! Learning this way can be painful but I've always felt that by approaching the learning process in this way you not only learn a positive way to build but more importantly whit's done this way. The knowledge base is deepened past merely doing things because someone else has done it before. 

From day one I have been a one person shop, also known as a solo builder. This was a personal choice and has worked out best for me. I realize that there are more than a few established builders who always work with assistants or apprentices and I respect that approach though this approach never felt like a good fit for me. I have always felt that I wanted to be 100% responsible for both the good and the bad (hopefully not much of the latter!). When a customer orders one of my guitars he or she knows that it is built entirely by me with no outside help. This brings me to another point. In the current world of guitar making there is extensive use of CNC technology to make guitar parts on computer assisted routing machines. The upside of this is that highly accurate parts can be made by almost anyone but this also leads to another thought. In some cases the skills may be more in the programming of the CNC than in the traditional woodworking skills of guitar making. I for one love the traditions of my craft and still find great satisfaction in pushing the limits of my knowledge and skills. As of now my only use of a CNC is to have my B and Beneteau logos made by an outside company, very ably by the talented Mark Kett, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. To be clear I have utmost respect for builders who have learned the craft the traditional way and have now decided to branch into using a CNC. They've payed their dues and have the depth of knowledge to back it up.

It's extremely rewarding to know that I get as much of a thrill out of guitar building today as I did when I started out. I think the reason for this is that our craft is so deep and encompasses so many skill sets that we can never master it. There is always much more to learn and what in life can be better than that? This is what keeps me motivated and excited. Not a week goes by that I don't learn something to add to my knowledge base. I have never lost sight of the fact that I am truly blessed to be doing something for a living that I would gladly pursue as a hobby.


Maple Guitars

I find myself building and promoting, or is that promoting and building more maple guitars recently. I’ve really come to love this wood in its many figured varieties. Flamed or curly maple, birdseye and quilted maple allhave their own unique visual characteristics.  It took me a long time to warm up to the idea of maple as a guitar wood, but now I really enjoy working with it. I guess in the early days, you could say I was a bit of a purist, using only Mahogany and Rosewood. In recent years, though, I’ve become increasingly interested in using good alternative tonewoods, such as Padouk, Sapele, Honduran Rosewood and, of course, Maple.

Another appealing aspect of maple is in the range of effects that can be achieved with it. Because of Maple's natural canvas-like tint, staining can produce a wide range of appealing shades as well as traditional and non traditional sunburst finishes. For those who prefer not to mess with mother nature, you can’t beat the pure beauty of natural figured maple. It really is a very versatile wood.

Though I still use and respect Rosewood as a superb tonewood for guitars, I’m very glad to see the acceptance of these alternatives to the guitar maker's arsenal. Variety can only make this fascinating world even better!


ben_0891.jpg