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Review: The Responsive Guitar & Making the Responsive Guitar by Ervin Somogyi

Review: The Responsive Guitar & Making the Responsive Guitar by Ervin Somogyi

Reviewed by Roger Alan Skipper

Originally published in American Lutherie #102, 2010



The Responsive Guitar
ISBN 978-0-9823207-0-9

Making the Responsive Guitar
ISBN 978-0-9823207-1-6
Two-book hardback boxed set
Ervin Somogyi
Luthiers Press, 2009

To suggest that this two-book set is striking would be an understatement. Contained in this box is more than eight pounds of quality glossy paper, and a quick fanning reveals a large section of stunning color photographs, plus sharp black-and-white images and sharply detailed drawings throughout. Also of immediate note is the price: $140 per book, $280 for the set; that this is intended as a serious and significant work is clear. A bit of investigative work (this information is found in the introduction of one book, on the back cover of the other) reveals that The Responsive Guitar is the first of the set, with Making the Responsive Guitar an accompanying and subsequent tome.

The first book’s purpose and the author’s qualifications are clearly defined on the cover: “The Responsive Guitar is about the physics, dynamics, acoustics and construction of the guitar”; “Somogyi is arguably the premier maker, theoretician and expert of the modern acoustic guitar for his generation.” The last page of text is numbered 339, but the numbering doesn’t begin until approximately fifty pages in, after a logical and concise table of contents, a brief foreword by musician and recording artist Martin Simpson, and an introduction and acknowledgments page by the author. This is followed by thirty-two pages of professional color photographs of contemporary guitars of all descriptions — innovative, artful, minutely detailed, and divinely crafted — to quicken the pulse of any luthier. Only ten pages are of the author’s work, as he pays homage to other makers.

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Review: A Guitar Maker’s Manual by Jim Williams

Review: A Guitar Maker’s Manual by Jim Williams

Reviewed by Cyndy Burton

Originally published in American Lutherie #10, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



A Guitar Maker’s Manual
Jim Williams
Guitarcraft, 10 Albury St.,
Dudley, NSW 2290, Australia, 1986
$19.95 from Stewart-MacDonald (1999)

In 1976 I decided to make myself a guitar. I have no idea now what possessed me. The bottom-of-the-line Yamaha I was learning on sounded a bit thick, I guess — but I hadn’t yet witnessed Segovia, alive and in person, nor the wondrous and magical sound of Julian Bream. A friend loaned me Irving Sloane’s Classical Guitar Construction and I was off — off on a tremendously frustrating journey which led two years later to an intense and gratifying six-week course with William Cumpiano (Stringfellow Guitars, now in Amherst, Massachusetts) where I successfully completed my first nylon string guitar.

People learn best in different ways. For me, a very attentive and competent teacher was a requirement, but for some a how-to-do-it book may suffice or may be the only choice available.

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Review: A Guitar Maker’s Manual by Jim Williams

Reviewed by Cyndy Burton

Originally published in American Lutherie #10, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



A Guitar Maker’s Manual
Jim Williams
Guitarcraft, 10 Albury St.,
Dudley, NSW 2290, Australia, 1986
$19.95 from Stewart-MacDonald (1999)

In 1976 I decided to make myself a guitar. I have no idea now what possessed me. The bottom-of-the-line Yamaha I was learning on sounded a bit thick, I guess — but I hadn’t yet witnessed Segovia, alive and in person, nor the wondrous and magical sound of Julian Bream. A friend loaned me Irving Sloane’s Classical Guitar Construction and I was off — off on a tremendously frustrating journey which led two years later to an intense and gratifying six-week course with William Cumpiano (Stringfellow Guitars, now in Amherst, Massachusetts) where I successfully completed my first nylon string guitar.

People learn best in different ways. For me, a very attentive and competent teacher was a requirement, but for some a how-to-do-it book may suffice or may be the only choice available.

Reading Jim Williams’ A Guitar Maker’s Manual has brought back those memories for me, but the question one must ask of this book is, “Can a person make an adequate first guitar, either classical or steel string, from this book?” I guess the answer is, “maybe.” Although Sloane’s book was the only one I could lay my hands on in 1976, today’s aspiring guitar maker has many choices, some pretty good, some not. I’m not up on all of these, but if I were starting out again, and had no access to a good teacher, I’d study all the books I could buy or borrow, and this one would be an important addition.

The large workbook format, (almost 8 1/2" × 12" size), about 160 photos and diagrams, and a spiral binding to allow the book to lie flat and open on the bench, are great advantages. Having clear diagrams of workable jigs, including a “go-stick (what we call go-bar) board” and a side-bending jig similar to the one available from Luthier’s Mercantile, as well as actual-size drawings of a steel string and classical guitar, which are folded neatly in an envelope attached to the back cover, are invaluable.

This is a nuts-and-bolts approach; a straight, let’s-get-to-it method book. No words are wasted on theory or philosophy, a fact which some people will find disturbing. The analogy of a good basic cookbook comes to mind. And, as with a good cookbook, the final results of specific recipes are often dependent on the experience, competence, and sensitivity of the cook, rather than just the list of ingredients and directions for combining them.

Writing a how-to-do-it guitar book is a monumental task. To build a successful guitar literally hundreds of steps must be carried out with some degree of accuracy, and for certain ones, there is no margin for error (bridge placement, for example). This book will certainly serve as a step-by-step guide and a source of ideas. The potential for frustration and a very negative experience is always present. But this book probably significantly betters your chances for a successful outcome.

I would like to see more space spent on the details that affect setup and, ultimately, playability. For example, in this method the fingerboard thickness is not tapered except a small amount on the bass side on classicals, so saddle height must be quite extreme (string more than 12MM off the top of a classical) to compensate. In addition, no under- or over-bridge cauls are used for gluing on the bridge. A novice gluing on her or his first bridge might, with overzealous clamping, split the top. I think more detail on the really crucial steps is needed.

To conclude, I’d like to recommend this book, but with some reservations. It is an unpretentious, straightforward approach which will guide a novice, and with a little luck and maybe a little help from a guitar maker friend, a successful instrument can be made.

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Review: Violin-Making as It Was, and Is by Ed. Heron-Allen

Review: Violin Making as It Was, and Is by Ed. Heron-Allen

Reviewed by Kirk A. Janowiak

Originally published in American Lutherie #4, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Violin Making as It was, and Is
Ed. Heron-Allen
Ward Lock Limited Publishers, 1884
Distributed by Sterling Publishing Co., New York, 1984
Out of print (1999)

Some years ago, I discovered this title in a catalog for luthiers. I noted that it was first published in 1884, and promptly filed the title away in the back of my mind as one of those “quaint, historical classics” that I might acquire later, after I had purchased all of the more practical books on the craft. Now, having finally acquired the book, I am pleased to say that I was greatly mistaken about the practical value of this book. While it is a “quaint, historical classic,” it is also a comprehensive and valuable treatise on the history, design, and construction of the traditional violin.

Heron-Allen submitted this book to fill the void he saw in his time (mid- to late 1800s) regarding the history and construction of the traditional violin. He had originally published much of the material in serial form in the periodical Amateur Work Illustrated (1882–1884). With this work, he corrected, embellished, and further refined his material. He also added a section of history and lore.

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Review: The Fine Guitar by José Oribe

Review: The Fine Guitar by José Oribe

Reviewed by C.F. Casey

Originally published in American Lutherie #9, 1987 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



The Fine Guitar
José Oribe
Mel Bay
Music stores or amazon.com, $19.95

First off, let it be said that this is not a “how-to” book; it gives very little specific information on Oribe’s building procedures. To be fair, this was not the book’s intent; as Aaron Shearer says in his foreword, the book deals with “What to think about relative to creating an exceptionally fine guitar” (emphasis Shearer’s). Oribe talks about his years of experience as a luthier, and dwells on the attitudes, theories, and various generalizations that this experience has led him to. Under the headings of materials, soundboard, scale, adhesives, finish, setup, and strings, he conveys a lot of useful...tips isn’t quite the right word; perhaps attitudes.

Oribe has a clear, lucid style, all the more surprising when you consider that a lot of what he’s discussing is intangible.

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Review: The Strad Facsimile — An Illustrated Guide to Violin Making by Edwin John Ward

Review: The Strad Facsimile — An Illustrated Guide to Violin Making by Edwin John Ward

Reviewed by Frederick Battershell

Originally published in American Lutherie #2, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2001



The Strad Facsimile — An Illustrated Guide to Violin Making
Edwin John Ward
S.E. Ward, Kaneohe, Hawaii, 1984
Out of print (1999)

Reviewing any book can be a formidable task. Reviewing a book about violin construction can be downright hazardous! Consider for a moment the possible dangers: irreversible brain damage from attempting to understand the logic of the author; hearing loss from attempts by the reviewer at duplicating the electronic plate-tuning tricks so beloved of some contemporary makers; and last, but certainly not least, near blindness from trying to read the incredibly small type of some of these books. Fortunately, the work of a book reviewer isn’t always this bad. Every now and then, a book is written that appears to be a serious attempt at communicating basic knowledge about a subject to its reader. The Strad Facsimile — An Illustrated Guide To Violin Making by Edwin John Ward is just such a book.

The Strad Facsimile is a straightforward, but somewhat concise attempt at describing exactly how Edwin John Ward goes about constructing a Strad pattern violin. This book does have some limitations. It assumes the reader has a good grasp of basic hand-woodworking skills. It does not provide the reader with any information on comparative methods of violin making. The reader is left to do his/her own research into the alternative schools of violin-making technique.

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