Concept and „Philosophy“ of my Guitar Construction

The differences in sound and function of classical and flamenco guitars are enormous. The colour spectrum, response, dynamic range, balance, loudness, and projection are some of the variables that distinguish them. How are these achieved, and how can specific ideas be realised?

Acoustically treated the guitar forms a coupled oscillation system. The finger plucks the string and initiates the string vibration, this causes the neck and bridge/top vibration, and this in turn sets the surrounding air at the interior and exterior of the top in movement. Plate oscillations (top, back, sides), air chamber vibration (Helmholtz resonant frequency and others), string oscillations, and the resonant frequencies of each single component (braces, bars, linings, etc.) influence and interfere each other in a favourable or unfavourable manner. An aggravating factor is that the guitar as a polyphonic instrument should have the capacity to project up to 6 tones, fundamentals and harmonics, evenly and simultaneously, with only a single energy pulse per tone, the strike of the finger. (Compare with this a violin for example, which has to excite a maximum of 2 tones at the same time, with the help of a bow which can produce a permanent energy pulse).

In order to meet these unique requirements, guitar construction concentrates mainly on three areas, these being the selection and tuning of the wood, construction / design, and methodology. Each area encompasses an enormous quantity of parameters and options, and because of the coupling every change in detail can lead to an immense change of the whole.

About wood selection:
Where and how quickly a tree grows, when it is felled, how it is sawn, seasoned, and dried all contribute to the quality and suitability of its wood. Since each piece of wood is unique, it is clear that rather than adhering to a fixed building plan, variable dimensions, patterns, and methods must be in congruence for each instrument.

About construction / design:
The parts that make up the guitar body: soundboard, back, and sides are only 2 to 3 mm thick, but must withstand a string load of about 40 kilograms. For that reason guitar builders of the past have applied a myriad of static principles to their work in order to combine optimal vibrational freedom with stability and durability. These include for example internal strutting, arched surfaces, and deliberate prestresses. The ideas and concepts are amazingly varied and naturally produce a wide range of results.

About methodology:
What especially fascinates me is the lively sound characteristic of many guitars from Southern Spain. Aside from the areas wood selection and construction/ design mentioned above it is mainly methodology that influences this sound. There exist a great number of possible ways to fashion and glue together the 40 to 50 pieces which comprise a guitar. Each of these in combination results in a unique system which affects the statics, and with it the sound. For example it leads to physically different results if wood is treated by hand planes instead of power sanders, if pieces of wood are glued together with cord and wedges instead of bar clamps, or if laquer particles are compressed by hand polishing instead of simply sprayed on. The finished guitar however does not visibly show these differences in treatment. In Spain over generations builders have developed assembly methods very finely tuned to the instrument. This methodology harmonizes perfectly with the use of hide and bone glues and shellac polish and forms the basis of traditional Spanish guitar construction.

To describe in words the sound of an instrument has often proved difficult. For example, what do the terms „mellow, brilliant, or lively“ mean when applied to sound? Differences in hearing and taste also add to the confusion. The same sound might be termed „dark“ by one, or „muffled“ by another. The instrument must satisfy subjective criteria and individual playing style. As such, finding the fitting or ideal guitar can be a drawn-out, difficult process of trying-out and comparing. To this you are herewith cordially invited.
German Musical Instrument Prize 2008
category classical guitar, awarded to Sascha Nowak, Guitar Construction by the Ministry of Economics and Technology on 13.03.08 at the Franfurt Music Fair
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Festivals / Dates:
Internationale Gitarrenfestspiele Nuertingen
Meet me there from 30.07.08 to 02.08.08 at the guitar exhibition and try different models.
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Theme:
Concept and „Philosophy“ of my Guitar Construction

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Theme:
Care Tips for Guitar
Useful tips about strings, humidity, storage, tuning machines, etc.
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Theme:
Shellac
Information about origin, grades, care, etc.
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More Themes:
Intonation / Temperature /
Resonance Profile / Fourier-Analysis /
coming soon ...