German spruce and Brazilian rosewood New World Classic
This was the first I built. It sounded so good I immediately started on a second, the Douglas Fir and Brazilian rosewood NWC in the news item below.
This guitar is a little mellower. Still with more clarity and bite than I’m used to hearing from flat-tops, but a little gentler and warmer than my standard curved top New World. Now well played in, it’s a guitar I would have loved when I played the (unamplified) UK folk clubs – around fifty years ago now. Perfect bass to treble balance, nice solid treble, distinct and warm bass it would have been my perfect accompaniment guitar. It could suit a lot of players today.
Built from reclaimed wood that sat on my shelves for fifteen years but originally will have been cut decades and decades ago, possibly when the Brazilian forest was first occupied by settlers. The Brazilian rosewood back is featured in the article ‘Joining thicknessed backs’ towards the end of ‘Brazilian rosewood for sale’ https://www.sobellguitars.com/brazilian-rosewood-for-sale/. As well as colourful and pretty, it has the true Brazilian tap tone that gives that special Brazilian rosewood sound.
The soundboard is German spruce. It’s also been sitting on my shelf for over ten years, and has the slight colour variation of really old wood.
Photos and more details on my Available Now page https://www.sobellguitars.com/available-now/ .
Last year I built two experimental New World guitars. The first was Brazilian rosewood and German spruce but with a conventional flat top rather than my long serving curved top. This sounded excellent, a mellower version of my guitar sound. It occurred to me that all those decades ago when I played the UK folk clubs, how much I would have loved a guitar like this.
I’m calling this model my New World Classic.
I immediately started on another, also with Brazilian rosewood back and sides but with a Douglas Fir soundboard. I came across Douglas Fir around 25 years ago, and was struck by its stiffness, light weight and lovely colour. I built one very nice New World (standard curved top) around 15 years ago, but other matters took my attention and Douglas Fir was shuffled onto the back burner.
However, looking at it again recently, this seemed the perfect opportunity to use it, its lovely appearance helping the decision. I’m happy I did, this is also a lovely sounding guitar.
Jonny testing the recording setup
Louis and Jonny setting up to record Douglas Fir New World
I’ve known Jonny Moss ever since he bought a Martin Simpson model around ten years ago, later replaced by his current Steinbeck model. As well as being an outstanding guitarist, Jonny teaches and records; more details on his website www.jonnymossguitar.com. When I called to ask him about recording equipment to make sound clips, he kindly offered to both record and video the two guitars as well as my German spruce and Africa Blackwood Model 2D. I accepted immediately.
Jonny and son Louis recorded clips of all three; here they are.
Douglas Fir and Brazilian rosewood NW
‘e’ by Andrew York. Guitar tuned DADF#BD, capo 5th fret (pictured)
German spruce and Brazilian rosewood NW
‘AJ’s Boogie’ by Mark Thomson. Guitar tuned DADGAD, capo 2nd fret
German spruce and African Blackwood 2D
‘House of the Rising Sun’ arranged by Mark Thomson. Guitar tuned CGCFGC, no capo.
Both guitars have beautiful Brazilian rosewood back and sides chosen for their ring as well as looks. They are fully CITES certified, certification passes to the purchasers so that the guitars can be legally sold or exported in the future.
Both are built to my latest Signature model specification and finished by Dave Wilson to his unsurpassed standards.
The UK price is £10,000, just a little higher than the equivalent African Blackwood model. The price includes Hiscox case and CITES certification. Price to the US including export certificate, case and shipping is $16,000.
For more information email me: email@example.com or telephone my workshop on +44 (0) 1434 673567 .
Douglas Fir New World Classic guitar
|Back and sides:||Brazilian rosewood|
|Bridge:||Ebony with two piece bone saddle|
|Binding:||Black Rocklite with red, gold and green purfling|
|Trim:||Arrowhead edging with red line|
|Body Width:||402mm (15.8″)|
|Body Length:||495mm (19.5”)|
|Max body depth:||95mm (3.7”)|
|F/b width at nut:||1.75″ (45 mm), others optional|
Click on photos for larger image
Ever since building my first ‘flat-top’ guitar in the early 1980s, all have had a slightly curved soundboard: flat wood pulled over curved braces. But in mid 2020 I built three experimental guitars, one a Martin Simpson model and two New World models, all of which had truly flat soundboards. In other respects the soundboard design and bracing were unchanged.
A guitar takes a while to find its voice. Both New Worlds opened out nicely and sound lovely. But I didn’t love the MS.
Why would two sound excellent and one not so good? Every piece of wood is different, different size guitars react differently to the same bracing system, and there are always variations between even ostensibly identical instruments. Maybe just bad luck that one wasn’t so good. Maybe good luck that two were excellent.
The old soundboard and dusty end of the fingerboard have been removed, leaving the top lining and the neck extension visible. The Wengé neck extension was reluctant to release the soundboard and suffered minor damage which will be sorted later. The body end of the truss rod is just visible.
In any case, after looking at, playing and wondering about the flat-top MS model, almost on an impulse I cut off the soundboard so as to replace it; I had a ready built curved soundboard I’d rejected for use on a new instrument (because of a tiny and almost invisible cosmetic flaw) which I could use.
Because my neck joint is built in to the body, removing the neck isn’t an option, which makes top replacement more complicated. But here goes.
The soundboard clamped on while the glue dries – I love these wooden cam clamps.
First I cut off the soundboard; I had no interest in re-using it so was ruthless and totally destroyed it. I then cut the fingerboard at the 14th fret, removing and saving the end section to re-fit later.
Next job was to offer the new soundboard to the sides. Because the original was flat and the new one curved, I scribed the sides and cut them down to allow it to sit precisely flush all round; it’s important that it fits exactly without needing to be pulled down by clamping.
I run white tape around the body to show the scribed line clearly. I also have to check the new soundboard meets the cut fingerboard at exactly the right level.
A guitar body without its soundboard has lost its rigidity, so the neck can move up or down to a considerable degree. With the soundboard fitted, the neck is fixed relative to the soundboard.
Since it must sit at the precise angle for the strings to meet the bridge at the right height, getting the neck correctly positioned before gluing on the soundboard was vital. It took a while before I was satisfied it lined up correctly.
Then I could glue on the replacement soundboard.
The soundboard trimmed to body size. The area above the neck extension had been removed before fitting.
The neck extension has been locked firmly against the soundboard, and the space above it filled with another piece of spruce. It sits proud but will be leveled when the glue is dry; the neck and body are now rigidly connected and everything is ready for binding.
I rout the binding and trim ledges with the ledge routing jig; the neck made life difficult and didn’t allow the jig to rout right up to it. So the last inch or so both sides I cut by hand. The neck also complicated fitting the neck end of the binding, which has to be fed between the soundboard and end of the neck.
The ledges complete, the binding and two piece trim have been bent to shape on the bender. I’ve mitred the tail end of the bindings to join up with the back trim, and all have been cut to exact length. I was now ready to bind.
The bindings and trim are glued and firmly bound with garish tape. This could be the colour James Joyce described as ‘a scrotum tightening shade of green’.
The waist is clamped up, and the ends of the binding are also clamped down. Now I’ll leave it to dry overnight.
The red and black trim, Birdsfoot inlay and Santos rosewood binding are now sealed and scraped back. I’ve reshaped the underneath of the fingerboard extension so the frets line up perfectly with the rest of the fingerboard and glued it in place with a specially constructed ebony caul.
This will be left overnight, then I’ll fit the 14th fret and make sure the fingerboard join is neat and tidy.
Ebony bridge blank
Bridge shaped and matched to soundboard curve, holes and saddle slots cut
Looking perfect, now ready for Dave and the spraybooth. The taped off bridge area can just be seen, the tape will be removed after lacquering so the bridge glues onto bare wood.
It’s almost exactly 34 years since Dave Wilson started finishing my guitars. He started at Overwater Guitars (whose spray-booth I shared) on the 4th January 1987 and was taught by Overwater finisher Jack Clark (who later made my mandolin, cittern and guitar cases).
Dave learnt fast; he’s a perfectionist, constantly assessing and working on finishing techniques. He has come to terms with all the many changes in lacquer over the years, including the big switch to 2007 compliant lacquer in (surprisingly) 2007 and adapted his techniques to get the best out of each. His is a combination of skill, experience and always taking the necessary time; I have never seen better finishes than those he is producing now.
Many years ago he set up on his own, finishing for UK (and some foreign) builders including many of the very best in the country. And his reputation for refinishing is outstanding, to the point where his regular customers rave about him.
In the 35 years working together, we’ve become firm friends. Dave’s a chatty man and we talk about cars, bikes, instruments, family, customers and just about anything going on in the world around us.
I have never even considered going elswhere for finishing. Dave is simply the best.
When taking a packet to my home last week, the delivery man asked Liz if this is the same Sobell as the guitar maker he delivers to in Whitley Chapel.
Liz told him yes. Then he told her his mate was into guitars and had read in a magazine that Stefan Sobell is one of the top ten builders in the world.
Clearly an excellent magazine, with at least one very perceptive journalist. Can anyone tell me which magazine it is?
Much loved 2020 African Blackwood and German spruce 2D with Santos rosewood binding
I have built many D guitars since building my first in 2004. This first was based on my Model 1 redesigned as a 12 fret to the body standard guitar with two extra frets added to the nut. So giving a long scale 14 fret to the body guitar tuned a tone lower than standard.
Fitting a capo to the second fret turns it into a standard guitar; standard pitch with standard strings at standard tension, with 12 frets remaining to the body. It’s a truly versatile guitar.
In 2013 Maurice Condie asked me to build him a D guitar on a Model 2 body, as this was already a 12 fret to the body model. This was an excellent suggestion, and my current D guitars are built to this design.
In 2018 Darrell Scott was visiting the UK and asked me if I had anything interesting to show him. I showed him a figured Sitka and African Blackwood Model 2D, thinking this would amuse but not seriously interest him. He fell in love with it instantly and took it away with him.
Earlier this year I wanted to hear how a slightly shallower D guitar would sound. I built it with African Blackwood back and sides and a German spruce soundboard. This has turned out to be my favourite; I’ve hung on to it and play it every day. Yes, the nut is a long way away, and as I’m short with a limited reach it’s a bit of a stretch for me. But I’m used to it now and it’s worth it: a wonderful rich dark sound, clear and strong in both treble and bass.
I love it so much that while I don’t have a commission for one, I’ve just finished an Anniversary version, with dark Brazilian rosewood back and sides and an aged German spruce soundboard. It’s currently in the spray-booth; I’m impatient to have it back and play it. Here are a couple of photos showing it ready for lacquer.
Martin Simpson playing the original Model 1 based D guitar in 2004
Maurice Condie with his brainchild, the first Model 2D in 2013. He says now ‘It is still, in my opinion, the best guitar I have ever played (once you get used to the long stretches)’.
Darrell Scott in 2018 playing the Model 2D he took back to the US
Here the bridge is just resting in place and will be attached after the guitar has been lacquered. The soundboard comes from Bavarian supplier Stefan Gleissner and is one of his special reserve stock. Selected for their perfect grain and tone, these have been air dried for between ten and twenty years.
The back and sides are Brazilian rosewood from Inca Trade. Inca Trade Brazilian rosewood was all reclaimed from ancient houses and furniture. Other than saying it is ancient there is no way of knowing how long ago it was felled.
Here is my prototype Anniversary model. Final soundboard sanding exposed a tiny dark knot, so after some head scratching I decided to inlay a half size ebony headstock logo into the soundboard to conceal it. The dark logo in pale wood echoes the pale logo in the dark headstock wood. So making a virtue of necessity.
Having done this, I like it a lot, so am offering it as an option on all future Anniversary guitars.
I am now taking orders for 40th Anniversary guitars, as announced in my previous post. I will be building twelve in total, four are spoken for so I can take orders for another eight.
Anniversary guitars can be any of my current flat-top models, with options for soundboard wood, neck wood and binding/trim. All will be built with my CITES compliant Brazilian rosewood, and certification will accompany every guitar.
Please contact me for details and to discuss specifications.
Telephone +44 (0) 1434 673567
Anniversary logo in Birdseye Maple
1981 Arch-top guitar. Still in perfect condition.
I’m now coming up to the 40th anniversary of my first guitar, an arch-top I built in the summer of 1981.
So I’ve decided to build a series of Anniversary guitars over the next two years.
These will be built to order from my personal stock of Brazilian rosewood which is now up to date with current CITES requirements.
Anniversary guitars can be any of my current models, will have a choice of soundboard and neck woods and a choice of three binding/trim combinations. The tuners will be Gohtoh 1:21 ratio 510s, in my view the best available.
Apart from being built from selected best timber, every Anniversary model will have my first ever headstock logo, as shown in the photo.
This is an inlay of highly figured Birdseye maple in the form of a stylised letter S, running down the headstock between the tuners. The headstock shown is not yet lacquered, just wiped over with shellac to bring out the colours.
I originally intended to build just six guitars, but while not having publicised them, I’ve mentioned them to a few people and already had considerable interest. So I have decided to build a run of eleven Anniversary models in addition to the prototype New World already built, making a total of twelve.
Over the next two years I will concentrate on Anniversary guitars and will not be building my standard range. I still love building and am happy that my current guitars are my best ever for build, finish and sound, but I’m at an age when I have accepted that I can’t go on forever. And while I hope to continue after completing the Anniversary models, I will have to decide on this when the time comes.