Even though his guitars command top dollar and his wait list is several years long, luthier Jason Kostal isn’t done learning his craft. In fact, as we hear on today’s Fretboard Journal Podcast, Kostal just flew to Europe to attend an inlay master class with Grit Laskin. We talk to Kostal about the course, Laskin’s approach to teaching and whether he’ll use his newfound inlay skills on his own guitar creations.
Beyond describing his class with Laskin, Kostal also tells us a bit about his build philosophy, how his business is doing and the state of boutique guitarmaking in general.
Kostal is a tireless learner and easily one of the most fascinating builders around: Before becoming a full-time luthier, he graduated from West Point, served in the Army, earned an MBA from Emory and did his time working for a Fortune 500 company. Eventually, he found himself at Roberto-Venn in Phoenix, apprenticing for Ervin Somagyi (who will be featured in issue 36 of the Journal) and starting his own guitar company.
This episode is sponsored by D’Addario’s new Nickel Bronze Wound strings: nickelbronze.daddario.com
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On this week’s podcast we talk to Walter Carter of Carter Vintage Guitars about one of the store’s latest acquisitions, a May 1958 Gibson Les Paul that could safely be called the first ‘Burst. This prototype guitar came from the factory with a three-piece top and a “Special” finish, which just happened to be the same yellow to cherry red sunburst pattern that would be found on all those iconic 1959-1960 Les Pauls. Carter tells us about this unique instrument, how he found it (or it found him) and, yes, the price he’s asking.
Carter is an invaluable resource when it comes to all things fretted, so we also ask him about some of the recent sales trends he’s seen in vintage instruments, what guitar markets seem soft and more.
For 105th episode, we talk to two of the many guitarmakers who built instruments for Prince over his career. Roger Sadowsky tells the entertaining story of how he built Prince's "Ejacucasters" and Andy Beech of D'Haitre Guitars describes the dozens of guitars he built for the late music star and some of the abuse they went through after years of rigorous touring. If you have your own Prince guitar story, we'd love to hear about it. Drop us a line!
This episode is sponsored by D'Addario.
Today we talk to Grant Gordy and Joe Walsh, two rising stars in the world of bluegrass and Americana music. Both artists are members of Darrol Anger's Mr.Sun, but during the recording of this podcast, they were touring as a guitar/mandolin duo. Gordy talks to us about the vintage Martin guitar he just purchased from Chicago Music Exchange and Walsh talks to us about how he chose his new Nugget mandolin from luthier Mike Kemnitzer.
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For years, Eric Daw has been the in-house repairman at Seattle’s acclaimed Emerald City Guitars. On today’s episode, we talk to Eric about his work at the store, his love for vintage guitars and a lot more. Eric also talks about his own Pin-Up Custom Guitars creations and his latest project, the Fret Files podcast.
Ronin electric guitars are instantly recognizable thanks to their unmistakable Foilbucker and Stratofoil pickups. Dig a little bit deeper and you'll also discover that these guitars have another unique characteristic – they’re all made out of reclaimed old growth redwood. On today’s podcast, we talk with John Reed of Ronin about their creations, why they’re using redwood for their guitar bodies and how those distinctive pickups came to be. We also hear from guitarist Dan Phelps on what it’s like to play these guitars in a variety of settings. Ronins may be best known as the guitar of choice for audio experimenter David Torn but, as you'll hear, they can be used in a wide variety of settings. All told, it's a fun chat about woods, guitarmaking, the magic behind goldfoil pickups and more.
Luthier T. Drew Heinonen will soon be building us a custom OM style guitar. On this episode, we talk to Drew about the time he spent at Jim Olson's shop, his philosophy when it comes to CNC machines, thoughts on tone woods and more. We also hear from TJ Thompson on what, in his estimation, makes for a great OM-style guitar.
This is the second episode of our OM guitar build. We'll be checking in with Drew over the next several months to hear how about the build process and more.
This episode is sponsored by Stewart-MacDonald.
We celebrate our 100th podcast episode by ordering a custom acoustic guitar! On this episode, we talk to luthier T. Drew Heinonen, who got his start working for Bourgeois Guitars and acclaimed guitarmaker James Olson. Heinonen is now building guitars under his own name and will be making an OM style guitar for us over the next several months.
We’ll be checking in with Heinonen every couple of weeks on our podcast to discuss the guitar build, make decisions about its appointments and hear about all the steps and hair-pulling that a luthier goes through during an instrument build. We’ll also be posting photos of the process on fretboardjournal.com and on our Facebook page.
A huge thanks to all of our listeners and podcast subscribers for tuning in to our show.
Before he devoted himself to making electric guitars, luthier Scott Walker spent years setting dovetail neck joints at the Santa Cruz Guitar Company. With Walker’s most recent creation, the Katana, he gets to combine the two chapters of his life in a unique way. The Katana is a unique, stripped-down electric by Walker’s standards and it has a memorable party trick – it has a Japanese-style joint that bonds the neck to the body without glue, bolts or screws. The instrument itself is purposeful and simple: one-piece body and one-piece neck, no tone or volume controls.
On this week’s podcast, we talk to Walker about the guitar, the challenges he had making it and the prospect of this kind of joint working in an acoustic instrument. Walker is always on the vanguard of guitar construction techniques (you may remember our feature on him in the Fretboard Journal #27) and this instrument is no exception.
Read more about the Katana on Scott’s website.
Vintage guitar enthusiasts are quick to point out the differences between various makers, tone woods and construction techniques. But can you identify with just your ears what you’re actually hearing? That was the premise behind Matt Munisteri’s Blindfold Guitar Challenge at the 2015 Fretboard Summit. We assembled a variety of vintage instruments for Munisteri to play behind a thin curtain while the audience had to guess what they were actually hearing.
This set features some great playing by Munisteri (who could make any guitar sound fantastic) and some thought-provoking commentary on the merits of various collectible instruments. At various points, Munisteri is also joined by Bill Frisell, Eric Schoenberg and Michael John Simmons.
Though ran out of time before Munisteri could play through all of the guitars we collected backstage, we’re happy to announce we’ll be throwing the next Fretboard Summit October 14-16, 2016 at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo Inn. With any luck, we’ll make the blindfold guitar challenge an annual tradition and have a whole new batch of vintage guitars for Munisteri to try out in California. Go to www.fretboardsummit.com for details and ticket information.
Luthier TJ Thompson returns to our podcast to tell us a bit about his new website, proluthiertools.com. On the site, TJ is selling some of the exacting tools and guitar parts he’s developed over the last few decades repairing vintage Martin guitars, including bar fret stock, belly and pyramid bridges and more.
TJ also tells us about a few of the projects that have crossed his workbench recently, his use of technology in fixing old guitars and more. Whether or not you have an old Martin guitar or need these tools, it’s fascinating to hear about their development from one of the world’s finest luthiers.
Some choice sound bites from TJ heard in this conversation:
“The only thing I abhor more than self-promotion is advertising.”
“[The California neck reset] is the only repair that I can’t really reverse.”
“I thought I could just solve this problem up front before people glue the wrong bridges on with the wrong footprint.”
“A lot of people think that you’re supposed to use a quarter sawn piece of wood for a bridge blank. Although it looks nice in that cut, they almost always split through the pin holes and eventually the saddle slot splits, too.”
“It looked like Breaking Bad over here. I had my Walter White outfit on: The goggles, the gloves, the smock, the whole thing...”
For more information, go to proluthiertools.com.
Special thanks to our friends at D’Addario for sponsoring this episode.
For our 96th podcast, we talk to Josh Rosenthal of Tompkins Square records. In its first decade, Tompkins Square has released dozens of essential albums for guitar lovers, including the Imaginational Anthem series, records by E.C. Ball, Max Ochs, Roscoe Holcomb and others.
On this podcast, we chat with Rosenthal about how this label started, his love for acoustic guitar music and why he decided to celebrate the label's tenth anniversary with a custom guitar commission from builder Trevor Healy. It's a fun chat with one of the true visionaries of the modern music industry.
Bridge plates, neck resets, refinishes… these are the issues that cause sleepless nights for many vintage guitar enthusiasts. On November 7, 2015 at the first Fretboard Summit, Mass Street Music’s Jim Baggett addressed some of these issues and many more during a panel discussion with Mark Stutman (Folkway Music), Jay Hostetler (Stewart-MacDonald), Richard Johnston (Gryphon Stringed Instruments) and Eric Schoenberg.
During this 45 minute talk, the group discusses how guitar restoration has evolved over the years, some of the misinformation that can be found on guitar forums and how to best discuss repair work with your local luthier. Whether you have a priceless collection of pre-war Martins or just a ‘60s guitar that needs a little TLC, this is enlightening and unfiltered discussion with some of the true experts of the acoustic guitar world.
There is only one musician in the world who can sing the praises of bluegrass legend Don Stover, describe the merits of vintage Sunn amps and tell you that he’s working on a suite of 12-tone music for tuba and banjo all in one 20 minute conversation. That man is banjo legend and experimenter Danny Barnes.
For our 93rd podcast, we talk to Seattle musician Eli West, who is just about to wrap up a Kickstarter campaign to fund his first solo record. West is a prolific musician, perhaps best known for his work in Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. His forthcoming solo album features a host of guest performers, including Bill Frisell and Dori Freeman.
We talk shop with West about the album, his background and also the acoustic and electric gear he’s been using both on the road and in the studio.
Support Eli West’s Kickstarter here:
The first-ever Fretboard Summit was filled with magical music performances and informative lectures but one clear highlight was this session featuring Joe Henry and David Crosby discussing the art of record production. This candid, hour-long conversation started with Henry asking Crosby about If I Could Only Remember My Name One, but it quickly stretched far beyond that topic and hit upon inspiration, timelessness and the pitfalls that an artist can make inside the studio. They also fielded questions from some of the Summit attendees in attendance.
The term “living legend” gets tossed around a lot these days, but Seattle’s Michael Gurian certainly fits the bill. Gurian is currently in his 55th year of building instruments and instrument parts. Long before today’s boutique guitar movement, he was hand-crafting guitars for players such as Bob Dylan, David Lindley and Paul Simon.
Today, Gurian helms a factory on a floating barge in Seattle where he and his small staff fabricate purfling, bridge pins and inlays for several well-known guitar makers. During this interview, he talks about his role in the lutherie community, his plans to build instruments again and his love for the oud.
Every time we check in with musician Julian Lage, he seems to have a cool new project brewing. For our 90th podcast, we talk to the ridiculously talented guitarist about his forthcoming electric guitar trio, his recent purchase of a Blackguard Tele, the recording of his stellar solo acoustic album World’s Fair and his plans for November’s Fretboard Summit.
The Fretboard Summit takes place November 6-8, 2015 at the Costanoa resort in California and includes performances by Lage and Chris Eldridge, Bill Frisell, Blake Mills, Matt Munisteri, Bryan Sutton, Joe Henry and David Crosby. Tickets are selling fast but are still available at www.fretboardsummit.com/home
Most modern electric guitar builders focus on classic Fender and Gibson designs but Anthony Paine of Harvester Guitars is inspired by the unusual: Wandre guitars of the ‘50s and ‘60s and Travis Bean instruments of the ‘70s. On our 89th podcast, we talk to Paine from his Melbourne, Australia workshop to hear about his background in design, how he painstakingly makes aluminum-necked instruments and how social media has expanded his customer base. To see more of these unique, bespoke instruments, follow Harvester Guitars via their website, Facebook or Instagram.
Sam Jones is easily one of the most in-demand photographers working today: he’s well-known for his trademark shots of George Clooney, President Obama and numerous other A-List celebrities. Jones is also the director behind the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued and the host of Off Camera, an interview series currently airing on DirecTV.
For our 87th podcast, we talk Dobro and steel guitars with famed musician Cindy Cashdollar. Cashdollar walks us through some of her favorite instruments, including the Lap King guitar she brought to our session, explains how certain guitars seem to favor certain tunings and tells us about the huge impact that John Fahey's Of Rivers and Religion had on her guitar playing. We also talk to her about her role on the legendary Time Out of Mind sessions with Bob Dylan.
In the late 1970s, Preston Thompson moved from Texas to Vermont to learn the art of lutherie at Charles Fox’s School of the Guitar Research & Design Center. He’d eventually spend time at Randy Wood’s legendary Pickin’ Parlor before returning to Fox’s school, setting up his own shop and working for numerous flatpicking legends, including Charles Sawtelle and Peter Rowan.
Thompson now resides in Bend, Oregon. After a long stint away from guitarmaking to serve as a Director of Marketing at a local golf resort, he has started making guitars again. Operating out of a small shop in Sisters, Oregon, Thompson and his team are busier than ever crafting guitars inspired by vintage Martins. This year, he expects to make around 75 instruments.
From a tiny workshop in East LA, the small staff of Guadalupe Custom Strings create string sets not only for acoustic and electric guitarists but also for mariachi, jarocho, bajosexto and arpa players (to name a few). On this Fretboard Journal podcast, we talk to Guadalupe’s Gabriel Tenorio about how he became a full-time string maker and why handmade, RoundCore strings are so important to their customers. We also learn about the company’s connection to the band Los Lobos (founding member Fransisco Gonzalez started Guadalupe).
Roger Siminoff has always been a tinkerer. At 21, he designed and built a prototype offset press for his family’s printing business. When the music bug hit, Siminoff began building instruments, including banjos, pedal steels and, eventually, mandolins. Today, he is considered one of the foremost authorities on mandolin and banjo construction as well as the physics of musical instruments. He teaches classes and clinics, supplies many makers with banjo and mandolin parts and sells mandolin and mandola kits. He also has a deep history in publishing, both with his own book projects (both music and boat-related) and for his work with Pickin’ and Frets magazine. On today’s podcast, Siminoff talks about all of that as well as his latest project, Straight Up Strings. Straight Up Strings are strings Siminoff designed specifically for mandolins and banjos with traditional bridges. Roger tells us what makes these strings unique and the many years of R&D that went into their creation. In addition to chatting with Siminoff, we also hear about the just-announced Fretboard Summit from Fretboard Journal publisher Jason Verlinde. The event takes places November 6-8, 2015 and will be a unique weekend for guitar fanatics, filled with some of the magazine’s favorite artists, luthiers and speakers. http://siminoff.net https://www.fretboardjournal.com/summit
Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers stops by the Fretboard Journal to talk about his love for John Hartford, how his recording sessions with Thile and company come to be and a lot more. We also talk about his current lineup of acoustic guitars and ask when a Chris Eldridge solo album will be available. It’s a 20 minute chat with one of the world’s finest flatpickers. Special note: Eldridge will be featured at the first-ever Fretboard Summit, taking place November 6-8, 2015.