Contemporary Acoustic Guitar Design and Build - Foreword to the 2nd Edition


Charles Fox, Guitar Maker


Among the few perks of growing old is the satisfaction of viewing the long arc of something that matters to you; watching it grow from birth to maturity, from fragile seed to rooted tree now itself bearing seeds.  This excellent publication from Australia, Contemporary Acoustic Guitar Design and Build by Trevor Gore and Gerard Gilet, is a pleasure to me along those lines, for reasons I'll share with you, to explain why I'm so proud of these authors and their accomplishment. 


As recently as the 1960s in Australia as in North America there was no tradition of independent artisans handcrafting guitars.  The occasional lone guitar maker notwithstanding, the craft was generally unknown.  In the mid/late '60s however, empowered by the time’s zeitgeist and inspired by the music, a number of us who would become the first generation of today's popular guitar making culture spontaneously began building our own guitars.  By the early '70s I had established a school in New England where hundreds of others were introduced to the craft, and among our earliest students from around the world were some intrepid young men from Australia, who travelled to our far corner of a distant continent to discover how they might go about building their own guitars.  Among them were Robin Moyes, Jim Williams and Teen Goh, from whom the co-author of these books Gerard Gilet learned the basics of guitar making.  Those pioneering craftsmen, young men in full and entirely on fire, returned home to help lay the foundation for what is now, forty years later, one of the most fertile and influential guitar building centres in the world.  Thus, my long term interest in their story and my satisfaction with how it’s turned out.  


Fifty years ago, just the passion and creative energy that we early independent luthiers brought to our work was enough to set the guitar on a path of rapid change and refinement, and only a couple decades later the instrument was transformed, made finer in every respect.  But for all that, it felt then as though we'd pushed the emerging modern guitar about as far forward as was possible on the strength of inspired intuition alone.  The low hanging fruit was gone and the next big steps would require the skills of more technically literate builders; folks for whom full time curiosity, data gathering, objective analysis (i.e. the tools of a deeper understanding) would come more naturally and be brought to the workbench.  In fact, since then the field has seen an influx of new guitar makers with solid backgrounds in science, engineering and other technology – and without a doubt, the craft of lutherie has become more considered and nuanced.  


And that brings us finally to these landmark volumes from Gore and Gilet, which I regard as the strongest evidence and highest expression so far of the maturing state of our craft.  Landmark is not too strong a term for what these books are and what they represent.  Between these covers you will find nothing less than a complete guide to the contents of an ideally prepared luthiers mind.  Please read that sentence again, slowly.  This is exactly what you want, and you can begin wielding this valuable knowledge almost immediately instead of waiting a lifetime to attain it.  You need merely to create in your psyche a mental cupboard labelled ‘Luthiers Mind’ and deliberately install the contents of these books therein.  The hard work has all been done and you have only to study the material to the point of comprehension to enjoy a level of ownership of your craft that‘s been hardly possible until now.    


A quick scan through these volumes’ extensive Table of Contents will explain why I’ll avoid getting into specifics.  There’s much more here than I could fairly cover in a description of any length, but the word comprehensive would feature prominently in any such attempt.  Instead, I’ll just say a bit about each of these two volumes and then leave you to it.


The Design volume is unlike anything else on the subject; a great example of science and craft so well blended, on the page as, doubtless, in the person of Trevor Gore, the lead author of this half of the work.  UK born and educated, Gore brings to the craft exactly that uber-qualified background in science and engineering that we are seeing more of recently.  And now thanks to his efforts to understand his craft and to share that understanding through this undertaking, we have available to us a complete treatment of the physics-based principles and facts that govern the essential qualities of the guitar – what they are and how to control them to create an instrument of real musical value.  Readers without a technical background be forewarned.  You’ll encounter lots of math and formulas, but they needn’t give you pause.  Everything is explained clearly and, as always when reading an unfamiliar science, it helps to look to the opening paragraph for an outline of what’s to come, then to the concluding summary, and then read the paper or chapter in light of that overview.  In this case the important thing to know is that the emphasis is always on practical application, not theory.  The math and formulas are included to establish Gore’s credibility with his technical peers, but he writes for all of us, explaining the guitar's invisible domain, that finely calibrated inner realm of physical values, structural relationships, and acoustic behaviours that are there to be understood and controlled.   In short, you’ll find here an organised understanding of the elements, principles, facts and processes upon which our craft is based.


The Build volume is principally the work of veteran luthier Gerard Gilet, and like its companion book, it would have been a serious gift to our craft all on its own.  Without it, we would still enjoy an overabundance of instructional guides to the handcrafting of guitars, but few of them, if any, present the guitar construction process as an integrated, systematic set of procedures with a clear line of internal logic running through it.  The building methodology presented in this book is just that.  Beginning luthiers could start right here, embrace it whole, and be both on very solid ground and well ahead of the game.  Experienced guitar makers will find in this volume a wealth of useful ideas, processes and solutions to problems that will enhance their current routines.  The numerous jigs and other shop-made tools presented here are all easy to build, clear in their application, and the value of their contribution to the quality of the work is obvious.  An approach as logical and accessible as this could not come to us from a person still young in the craft.  Its elegant simplicity is a distillation of Gilet's lifetime of work at the bench.  The volume's ultimate value though, lies in its demonstrating the concrete application of its sister volume's more conceptual material.  What might seem abstract and less easy to grasp in the Design volume is brought right down to earth in the Build volume, made real and literally graspable on the bench top.  


These two volumes are quite different from one another, representing as they do such polar dimensions of the craft, the conceptual and the concrete.  And, they are utterly complimentary in the whole that they make up together, representing as they do the necessary unity of those two realms.  I can only imagine that the authors themselves are reflected in these qualities.  Their work will advance our craft by no small amount and I say to them, thank you.


Charles Fox, Guitar Maker


American School of Lutherie

Charles Fox Guitars



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