Bracing. Bracing and soundboard character, I am convinced, are the main factors in how a guitar sounds. As I am selecting a top for a new build, I tap the wood to get an idea of its sound. Does it chime? Does it say “Bongggg”? Does it have one note, or several? These qualities will carry through to the final instrument. Some tops look gorgeous, but they sound terrible. This is sad but true. And of course some ugly ducklings are really amazing. These can be used for instruments that receive a sunburst, or alternately can teach us that symmetry and consistency of texture are not the only qualities that are beautiful. I like to see a little grain sometimes. And bracing – bracing is an controversial topic. Every luthier has his own idea. The truth is there is no fixed or correct way to brace a guitar, as long as it is structurally sound. Bracing design is an area in which a luthier can express himself, tailoring the sound of the instrument to meet the performance requirements and the uniqueness of the wood.
I recently finished Treebeard (the working title for this ziricote parlor), and sent him off to his new home. I finished this particular instrument with a French Polish. French Polish is so beautiful. It’s inherently imperfect because it is applied by hand, and is too thin and delicate to buff out to absolute perfection like Nitrocellulose Lacquer. But this imperfection – I’m not talking about drips and holidays here – is lovely. You can see the maker’s hand in a French Polish finish; if you want an instrument that is clearly not an assembly-line job, French Polish is the way to go. Plus it sounds wonderful. The finish is thin enough that the wood is free to vibrate as it should. If lacquer is a well-tailored suit, French polish is a Speedo (that’s a terrible analogy, but there it is).
I also just acquired about 50 sets of very old, well-seasoned Cocobolo. This stuff is quartersawn, full of “landscape” figure and so dark it could easily be mistaken for Brazilian Rosewood. In my opinion, Cocobolo is about the best sounding wood there is. It’s hard and dense, and full of natural oils. Cocobolo guitars have amazing reverb and sustain that expands and soars like sound in a giant cathedral.