It is a Lusso electric model with a 17" body which
is 3 1/4" deep, and a 25 1/2"scale. The hand carved
top is of Colorado Blue Spruce which tapers from 3/4"
thick in the pickup area to 3/8" down the center.
The parallel struts are carved out of the top and it has a built-in pickup. The volume and
tone controls are also cut into the body. The back and sides are maple and the F-holes, neck and fingerboard are
bound with grained ivoroid binding. The tailpiece, pick-guard, fingerboard, bridge, truss
rod cover and pickup surround are made of ebony. The headstock has an ebony front plate
and ebony/maple/ebony rear veneer, with a diamond solitaire inlay front and rear.
The neck is thicker on this guitar, similar to the necks
on 50's Gibsons and Guilds, which is my personal preference. It is also graphite
reinforced, with adjustable truss rod. The ebony fingerboard has mother of pearl block
inlays and side dots.
Finding a luthier that would really listen to my thoughts, rather than having
to settle with a modified pre-existing model, was the real key to success. It is a
collaboration of ideas between Jim and myself that has produced this instrument which is
extremely innovative, e.g. in having the thick top and the parallel struts carved out of
the top. These ideas may not be so unusual, but Jim's idea with
the back is something quite special. The back of the guitar is what takes the stress of
the string tension and also plays an important part in generating the tone of the guitar.
Therefore it is doing two jobs, but cannot do both efficiently. Jim, in his studies, came
across the idea of adding a stabilizing strut between the heel and the tail block,
situated close to the back. The strut then absorbs the string tension, allowing the back to vibrate
freely and act as it should do in producing tone.
Jim was losing a lot of sleep worrying about this guitar, as it was not only
different to those he had built before, but broke all the rules that a luthier sets out
for himself. The big day came and the guitar was ready for stringing.
To begin with, Jim strung the guitar up without the electrics, and to his
amazement it was as loud as any of the acoustics he had built. The electrics were
installed and the guitar was still loud acoustically. Another interesting point was that
when tuning the guitar with a tuner, as
each string came into pitch the needle stayed static, no wavering.
Electrically the guitar gives a very thick sound and is very
balanced across the strings.
In my opinion and everyone who has played the guitar, it has a very solid
feel and fantastic sound. A truly great instrument!
Luthier's Sidenote: 07/Feb/98
It is very important to listen to what the customer has to say, or perhaps, does not
say about instruments he has owned that worked well for him or had traits that presented
problems. Many players have trouble communicating with the luthier and visa-versa,
which is only natural given the different disciplines and backgrounds of each, so it is
important at the planning stage to establish common ground and listen carefully.
In Trefor's case, he had come across several guitars in his past that had
traits he admired, as well as problems he wished to avoid. His Koontz had many great
traits including a rather thick top, but suffered from neck stability problems when on the
road. He also liked the Knight archtop in his past, which had 'carved in place' rather
than 'glued in' parallel bracing, and produced wonderful tone. His L5 from the early
50's had great balance and a neck profile that felt just right to his taste. Also,
electric performance with minimal feedback was of paramount importance. Armed with
Trefor's input, I could then proceed with the design phase.
The difficulty would be in creating an instrument that could stand up to
the travels of a working artist, produce great electric tone, and look traditional on the
outside. I additionally set the personal challenge of creating a pleasant acoustic tone
which seemingly went against logic considering the extremes of a very thick parallel
braced top and top cut-in pickup and controls.
I wanted to also produce a neck with
long term stability as well as improve sustain. This pointed to carving the back plate
very thick or adding braces along it's center to support the lower portion of the neck
block. However, my only chance to improve the acoustics would be to free up the back,
which is responsible for warming up the midrange and producing the bass tones.
I would have to find a way to displace the load carrying task of the back,
in order to maximize it's tone producing function. I recalled that the Larson Brothers
devised a somewhat complicated means using metal bars to position and stabilize the necks
in their Prairie State flat-top instruments, and were awarded a patent in 1930 for their
efforts. 1 felt a more simple approach could work with this instrument, and used a maple
strut to anchor the bottom of the neck block to the tail block. Floating free just below
the strut, the back would now be relieved from much of it's load bearing duty, and I was
free to tap-response optimize (tap tune) the 20 year old domestic maple back.
To my delight, the guitar is both warm with good projection acoustically,
and accepts any increase in attack without breaking up. The neck has proven to have great
sustain and remained in tune thru a 3 set gig on its debut performance, Tuesday of LA
NAMM Guitar week at Papashon, less than I week after it's initial stringing up.
My thanks to Mr. Trefor Owen, for sharing his design ideas with me, as
well as taking a chance with a new luthier.
James L. Mapson
Just Jazz Guitar - May 1998