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by John Monteleone

previously published in American Lutherie #91, 2007

See also,
“There’s a Hole in the Bucket” by Cyndy Burton
“Herr Helmholtz’ Tube” by Mike Doolin
“Three Holes are Better than One” by Robert Ruck

Archtop builder John Monteleone is famous for his avant-garde approach to these instruments. He explains how sideports came into his mix.

The concept of incorporating the use of alternative soundholes in the side of my guitars came to me at an early age when I had built my first acoustic guitar, back around 1963. I would place my ear on the side of the guitar and wonder how I could make the guitar sound just like that. I figured that the only thing preventing me was the side of the guitar itself.

Even then I knew that you couldn’t just cut out a hole into the side of the instrument without inviting structural failure. There had to be some kind of reinforcement to permit it to happen. How could I make this happen on my guitar?

Some years went by before I actually got to revisit this idea and to address the best and most precise method of execution. While still in my old workshop in the 1980s I had done several drawings for this system of side soundhole placement but never got to build it. Then in 1995 Scott Chinery put the challenge to me to come up with a way to hear the projection of the guitar in a better and more effective way for my contribution to his Blue Guitar Collection. Scott, unbeknownst to me and the other blue guitar makers, had also challenged a couple of the other luthiers during this time by planting this seed with them as well. It seemed to me the perfect invitation, if not an excuse, to explore this avenue of tonal possibility.

Experimentation of design is historically not novel to the idea of trying to make improvements to nearly all musical instruments. A visit to the US Patent and Trademark Office will provide a staggering volume of inventions for fretted instruments alone. Many ideas never made it to fruition. But it is wonderful to see the many recognizable ones that did.

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