(Reprinted from Larry's posting in AcousticGuitarForum.com)
Some of you may remember me from the rather long winded postings about my Bay Area guitar adventures of this past winter. It does give a rather good initial context as to how I've come to now own a wonderful Bruce Sexauer built guitar. Here's a link to that thread if you've not read it and are curious.
In a nutshell that trip was my first real contact with the upper tiers of the guitar building world in terms of playing instruments of that quality and managing to meet one of that tiers' top shelf residents in Ervin Somogyi...(OK..that analogy's been pretty much used up now..!)
In retrospect one of the more interesting experiences was that of the perhaps 25 or so extremely beautiful, well made, high priced instruments I played over a 3 day period, a very small number shined the brightest to me...and in each case, multiple guitars of these builders work did so..It would be tempting to chalk that up to all the many factors that could influence why a particular guitar might sound good or better on any particular day, but my instincts told me that was not really the case here..
Of course it's true that I sampled guitars from only a handful of the better known boutique builders out there, but I was coming to the conclusion that some of them, for whatever reasons, are just better at it...I look forward to sampling guitars from more of those other builders and inevitably expanding upon this list, but for now, "I had my guys"...(I'm looking forward to adding some gals in the future.).!
Anyway...those particular luthiers were Sergei de Jonge, Jim Merrill, Howard Klepper, Bruce Sexauer, and Ervin Somogyi. I briefly described my experiences with their guitars in the series of postings referenced above. I've decided it might be helpful to actually provide links to the specific guitars I was so enamored with. So here they are:
Sergei de Jonge 00-18:
Jim Merrill OM-18:
Howard Klepper 12 fret 000:
Bruce Sexauer built Schoenberg 000 pernambuco:
Ervin Somogyi Modified Dreadnought
So now it was time to start doing some serious investigation into these particular luthiers and see where that might lead...
I almost bought a used de Jonge...There was, and may still be, a beautiful Sergei de Jonge creation that was listed on one of the guitar forums for sale...I had been keeping my eye on a few de Jonge's that had come up for sale but couldn't help noticing that they took what I felt was an inordinate amount of time and steep price drops to sell..I suspect that means absolutely nothing in terms of the quality of the instruments, but if I was going to dip my toes into this more pricey atmosphere, I wanted at least some confirmation from the marketplace that this builder's guitars were consistently and over time well thought of...Perhaps it meant that the two extraordinary de Jonges I played at Gryphon Strings in Palo Alto were indicative of an instrument-specific nature to the used market's valuation of his guitars...?
With no clear answer in that regard, I put my search for a de Jonge on hold and next took a look at the available Merrill guitars. There aren't many...but the fact that even the used ones were selling for close to their new price and seemed to go quickly was very encouraging. Jim Merrill's builds are acknowledged by many to be some of the best of the vintage style builders school...managing to capture all the visual/structural/sonic glory of the holy grail guitars from the golden era of Martin and Gibson. The wonderful Merrill OM-18 that I played in Eric Schoenberg's shop certainly confirmed that reputation to me. But, seeing as I already own a couple of guitars based on or directly a part of those traditions, I decided to put my Merrill quest on temporary hold as well...!
I actually looked and found some used Ervin Somogyi guitars out there, but they were just so far out of my price range that I put those in my dream hold category. I know I want to somehow/someday own a guitar that is very closely aligned with and influenced by Ervin's aesthetic so I did expand my search to include a couple of his apprentices who are now building on their own...I hope to get one of their instruments in the not too distant future...I have my eye on one in particular..so we'll see how that plays out...!
So this left Howard Klepper and Bruce Sexauer..and here it gets really interesting...!
There are a few acoustic guitar oriented forums (this obviously being one of them) that attract a good number of well known luthiers as frequent poster/contributors, and the level of overall discourse tends to be of a fairly high level. As the starting point of my research I did some deep digging into the postings of and information about the luthiers I was interested in on those sites. I'm aware that a great deal of information and opinion passed off as factual on internet forums is best taken with a healthy amount of skepticism. That being said, I believe if you do enough investigation and look for multiple confirmations of information and/or opinion one can get a pretty good handle on almost anything from the better of these forums.
So as I was doing these searches I couldn't help noticing how rich, well written, strongly opinionated, and frequently quite funny the various posts by both Howard Klepper and Bruce Sexauer were. They are each frequent contributors and I found myself marveling at how much these guys knew about the intricacies of their craft..and how deep into the details they were.
Now I'm not saying that some of the other notable posters weren't equally as prolific or as knowledgeable, but many of the discussions would involve multiple back and forths between Howard and Bruce, to a point where I could almost sense a separate conversation emerging...
So in my mind anyway I'm starting to think there's a connection of some sort here..I mean both of these builders guitars clearly resonated with me...(pun very much intended)....and then I discover that both of their shops are very close to each other just north of San Francisco, and they frequently get together to try out, offer opinions, and comment on their respective builds..I was detecting not quite a rivalry but more of a professional competitiveness fueled by mutual admiration and respect. Kind of like those classic Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Celtics/Lakers games...but with a couple of much shorter participants..and a whole lot less money on the line...and not as many people watching...well..OK..maybe that's not so great of an analogy...!
I also couldn't help noticing and admiring the fact that both of them were fairly clear in letting it be known that they thought their guitars were of extreme high quality sonically, structurally, and aesthetically. In one's case by subtle inference, and in the other's in explicit and oft-mentioned terms...Now I appreciate as much as the next person, the quietly confident artists who let their work do all the talking, occaisionally offering an "aw shucks" humility when directly asked about their work. But ya gotta love a badass who knows he/she's a badass, will tell you when the subject comes up...and can easily back it up...preferably in a nice way...!
Ok..now I really had my guys...!
Part 2 coming very soon..!
|Copyright Larry Clyman 2010|
This website and most of it's
contents are the property of Bruce Sexauer. Please seek permission for
reuse. C1997 - 2010