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nobo 11-17-2015 11:50 AM

Time for another Kostal build thread … Modified Dreadnought
“One guitar to rule them all”

I have too many guitars. There, I said it.

Of course, we all know that’s an outrageous thing to say. I duly take it back. I mean, I’m not even sure it’s possible! No, the number I have (carefully undisclosed) is probably ok. I just don’t have the right selection/variety of guitars within the number! (Were I starting again today, my collection would be very different – but that’s a whole other story.)

But the notion of “one guitar to rule them all” was one planted by Michael Watts and Pierre Bensusan (apologies for the name drops!) and somewhat stuck. I’d heard Pierre’s thoughts on this at his seminar back in 2008. So when my wife asked Pierre a few weeks ago what the right number of guitars was, I knew I was in trouble. The answer? “One”.

(Pierre’s famously relatively guitar monogamous – if you can be “relatively monogamous”! In my defence though, he does have currently have 3 Lowdens, a harp guitar and a parlour guitar (and I think a nylon string or two, perhaps); and a number of other guitars have been through his hands over the years. He also conceded that you might want other guitars for other styles, so that’s a good excuse for a baritone, a twelve string, a harp guitar, a small bodied guitar, a tenor guitar; then there’s nylon string and cross-ever instruments; and we haven’t even mentioned basses and electrics…).

I can certainly see the logic to having one stellar instrument that you know intimately. A main guitar. The “go to” instrument. And one, dare I say it, that may even render redundant a number (if not all … but let’s not get too crazy) of my other six string, standard scale acoustics. "One guitar to rule them all" was my thinking when I bought my first “serious” acoustic (a Larrivee LV-09) – which at the time I thought was going to be the "one and only" (thank you Chesney). It's certainly got some good things going for it - it can handle very low action, looks great, cleanly built, records well and it's balanced, etc. And it was a huge step up from what I was playing before that (Takamine G230). But ultimately proved to be but the start of a journey and an increasing appreciation of small shop and single luthier builds. And it was that continued search for "the one" that ultimately led me to Jason.

So, not much pressure on him then to build "the one guitar to rule them all"! ;)

In fact, it was Michael’s "The Tree" Kostal MD build here on AGF that prompted me to contact Jason directly back in March 2011.

None of the high end (say £4k+) guitars I’d played at that point were sufficiently seductive to make me think about spending that sort of money - with the exception of a very tasty Wingert Model E (perfectly straight, quartersawn BRW from around 1812, German spruce top, huge 50 or 52mm nut and 62mm or more string spacing at the nut). That guitar, however, was very much not for sale!

But when I first played Michael Watts’ MD (#32), it spoke to me in a way no other instrument had. All other considerations could be cast aside. It was about “that” sound. It was just so distinctive - quite unlike any other guitar I’d heard at that point.

I had to be sure I wasn’t imagining things. So – with many thanks to Michael Watts – I had the opportunity to pit most of my guitars against #32. Whilst there’s an element of apples and oranges, and it was hardly a level playing field in terms of price points, I was left in no doubt that I would not be happy until there was a Kostal in the collection!

That decision, for me, was considerably more instinctive that I’m used to. Normally I spend ages researching all the options, trying them out, deliberating prices, etc. Very much a “maximiser” rather than a “satisficer”, as Prof Barry Schwartz would have it. But Michael’s Kostal just felt right. Well, it sounded “right”; that neck is like a baseball bat!

Price was a factor, however, and this gave me pause for thought. Even at Jason’s prices back then, with duty, VAT and shipping factored in, this was a huge amount for me to spend, particularly in one go on one instrument – or indeed at all (with only a few exceptions, I’ve always bought second-hand). But I figured if I sold a few guitars (haven’t quite got round to that - I’ll know better which ones once the Kostal arrives…), put aside some money each month by standing order, and started cycling to work to save on the season ticket, I’d be able to make it happen.

So in late 2011, with a (deserved!) rise in Jason's prices imminent, I took the plunge and placed a deposit…

Coming next – The Specs

All the best, and with best wishes to Jason on his big birthday today,


ericcsong 11-17-2015 12:22 PM

Can't wait for this one! :)

nobo 11-17-2015 12:59 PM


Originally Posted by ericcsong (Post 4717923)
Can't wait for this one! :)

Me neither! :D

I've really enjoyed your build threads and Kostal Komparison recordings, Eric - all sorts of fun and inspiration. Thank you!

vicov 11-17-2015 04:35 PM

At last!!! Congratulations Dan.


nobo 11-18-2015 01:00 PM

A few months to go yet... but if it's as good as your OM, I'll be a very happy man and it'll be totally worth the waiting!

nobo 11-18-2015 01:16 PM


I’d always thought that if I was to order the “one guitar to rule them all”, it would be a rib- and arm-bevelled, fan fretted and possibly sound ported - yet otherwise visually restrained - beast; a “Healdsberg special”, if you will. I knew from the outset that those options weren't on offer, and that was ok with me because it was my love of the sound - and the playability - of the Kostal's I'd played that was paramount (plus they look fantastic!).

Body size

The thread title = massive spoiler. But here’s some of the thinking that led me to that conclusion.

As someone who favours the sound of large guitars, the Modified Dreadnought (MD) seemed like the obvious choice. However, Steve H’s Kostal OM (and, more recently, Vicov's) gave me serious pause for thought (thank you both for letting me sully them with my paws!); as have Jason’s wonderfully sweet Jumbos (though unlike those OMs, I’ve not had the pleasure of them in the flesh). The OM is the more balanced and integrated all-rounder, but the MD’s bass and power is just so seductive.

As someone with a very light right hand and who plays generally pretty mellifluous stuff – I thought the growl of the MD would be a nice counterpoint (a bit like Michael Stavrou’s approach to mic’ing – chose a mic of opposite “hardness” to the source: so a very soft source should have a very hard mic, and vice-versa).

Whilst I generally (but not always) steer away from the slappy/tappy stuff, my playing and compositions are broadly in the modern fingerstyle camp. Given the heritage of the MD – designed with that genre (if you can call it such a thing) in mind, I figured if I was only ever going to buy one Somogyi apprentice guitar, it just had to be an MD. So, decision made!

Sound port…?

Whilst I do like the feedback a sound port gives to a player, that don’t seem to fit with the Somogyi “air pump” model; and when playing live, they seem to open you up to a higher risk of feedback (such was Andy McKee’s experience; and Mr Greenfield no longer seems to offer them). In any case, it’s not as if the Kostals I’ve played lack volume or feedback to the player; quite the contrary (although their dispersion patterns can be quite different, depending on what was specified). So that was something I could happily live without.

Fan frets … ?

As for fan frets, when I first spoke to Jason about them, he was offering them as an option (25-26' standard spread, a wide spread would require another new bracing pattern; I don't think he does any more, but anyone interest might want to check). I wasn't sure that I could justify the extra cost, particularly if I was after a different or more radical spread. And I wasn't left with the impression that Jason thought this would necessarily result in a better sounding guitar. I thought best to follow the chef’s guidance on that, given his wisdom and experience, plus it's his dish! In any case, Jason's MDs seem capable of handling low tunings well (including down to a B in the bass), despite the relatively short 25.25” scale.

I also wasn’t sure how they’d work aesthetically on a Kostal – to my eyes, they seem to suit some builds well but not others. Given Jason’s output – I’ve yet to see an instrument of his that didn’t look fantastic – if anyone could make this work, I’m sure Jason could.

Still, I’ve lived without fan frets so far, and figured it’s not something I’d miss. So I'm afraid I've not bucked the trend and gone for what might have been the first fan fretted Kostal.


I do enjoy a the comfort of a good arm-cage – and even rib-cage - bevel (and/or bevelled binding, like Tom Doer’s). These weren’t on the table, again I think primarily for sonic reasons. Jason does, however, offer a Manzer-style wedge. Whilst to my mind they serve slightly different purposes (both would be ideal), on a big guitar like the MD, the wedge seemed pretty much essential to me. I’m already finding my Lowden Os and Lowden Baritone pretty big, and fear that’ll only become more of a struggle as the years advance!

The rest of the specs

… were pretty straightforward:
  • Wide and slim neck (47mm nut, ideally 60mm string spacing at the bridge – though that may need to be tucked in a bit as Jason’s current design has a maximum width for the fingerboard at the body join).
  • Nice flat-ish fretboard - 20' radius is Jason's standard, so that's fine.
  • Gold Gotoh 510 21:1 ratio with ebony buttons
  • An endgraft that won't be ruined if I decide to put a second end pin in it. Possibly for a DPA 4060 mic or two, wired to a separate endpin - or maybe something else ... I'm just thinking future proofing here. The main endpin will be for a K&K PWM, and will have the option to wire in a Seymour Duncan SA-6 MagMic for live situations which need the additional feedback resistance (even if putting a magnetic in such a responsive guitar is a bit criminal! But it won't live there permanently...).
  • Kostal dots – The glow in the dark fret markers are back! Whilst I often play with my eyes closed when I’m really focussed, these are just too much fun! And not something I thought I’d regret, given this salutary warning … !
  • Cutaway (essential for my playing, and they just look great on the MD too)
  • Generally understated elegance, when it comes to aesthetics, which Jason does so well – so no wild/brightly coloured rosette, no fretboard markers or extra inlays (beyond the standard coachline) – and keeping the colour palette fairly limited. So:
    - Ebony trim all over (neck, binding, heel cap, and headstock front and back)
    - Ebony inner sides (to tie all that trim together – in much the same way that repetition of the cutaway, headstock and heel cap curve link up, and the carving of the bridge and the headstock echo each other – some of Jason’s standard - and incredibly tasteful - touches!).
    - I had real job here talking Jason out of the "Hello Kitty" headstock inlay, 3mm thick Dayglo Pink finish on everything and a bigsby trem. I think Justonwo must be a bad influence...
  • Woods for the back and sides and the top – well, that’s a whole different topic … and one for a separate post!

All the best,


Wolfram 11-19-2015 03:09 AM

Congratulations Dan!

I'll be enjoying watching this thread - Jason builds a truly fantastic guitar, and there's nothing else with a voice quite like a Modified Dread.

I'd be very interested in what you have chosen with Jason for the top, back and sides.


steveh 11-19-2015 01:11 PM


Originally Posted by nobo (Post 4719245)
SpecificationsHowever, Steve H’s Kostal OM (and, more recently, Vicov's) gave me serious pause for thought (thank you both for letting me sully them with my paws!)

The pleasure was all mine Dan, especially since you can clearly play.

The OM or MD question is vexed and one that I'd find more difficult to answer after having had both for a couple of years. I thought the MD would be a bit too rich for everyday noodling after work, which is what I do (like most of us I suspect), but - hey - it seems I like foie gras every day!

So, that "one" guitar to rule them all. Hmmmm. Difficult, especially if the OM was like Vics...


nobo 11-19-2015 01:20 PM

Thanks Steve! Very kind of you sir!

So, maybe two guitars to rule them all? :D Eric couldn't resist that second Kostal either! I'm sensing a trend here...

Oh yeah, plus a baritone. I can only begin to imagine what a Kostal baritone would sound like. Jason - let me be your willing prototype victim!

And how bout a harp guitar whilst we're at it?

And an OO.

Ah, I'm in trouble again...



nobo 11-19-2015 01:43 PM


Originally Posted by Wolfram Slides (Post 4719930)
Congratulations Dan!

I'd be very interested in what you have chosen with Jason for the top, back and sides.


Hi David,

Good to hear from you. Ask and ye shall receive …



In the MD, I was looking for something that would be a bit of an all-rounder – not so much in terms of musical style, but in that it’ll be used for recording, playing live (amplified, the vast majority of the time) and entertaining myself, etc. So not quite as clear cut as Michael Watt’s preference to prioritise projection, or Steve H’s preference to focus on the player’s experience and so a more diffuse sound that hangs around.

Top wood

I figured best to start with the top, since that’s the major tonal driver.

The two guitars of mine that see probably 95% of the action – when I’m not playing the baritone – are both cedar topped: a McIlroy A25c custom (cedar/Kew black walnut with 47mm nut width and 60mm string spacing at the bridge) and a Lowden O35cx (cedar/EIR with fingerstyle neck – to 45mm nut, 60mm string spacing).

So, were we going to see (rather unusually) a cedar topped Kostal MD?

As someone with a very light right (picking) hand, and who likes a warm sound, I’d always assumed cedar was right for me. In those guitars, it may well be. But I find that cedar can sometimes be (very much depending on the builder) a little dark, even mushy. It also seems not quite to have the dynamic complexity that good spruce have: it’s not necessarily (or just) a lack of headroom, it’s that there may be less tonal variation and nuance (even when you're just working the lower volume end of the instrument); it also seems to offer better clarity and separation.

I’m pretty certain that all the Kostals I’ve played have German spruce tops. And they all sounded fantastic. Whilst I’m sure Jason could make a great sounding guitar out of almost anything, I figured I was on safe ground with German, which – to my ears - offer some of the overtone/harmonic complexity of cedar with all the best sonic (and structural) qualities of spruce.

Jason’s also big fan, and it features on many (perhaps even the majority) of his builds – so he knows it well. So that made the decision quite straightforward.

Back and sides

A more complex question.

I thought it’d be best to get some hands-on experience and talk to the master. Steve H (who at that stage I’d never met) very kindly allowed me to impose myself not only on his house but on his OM and MD to compare body sizes and back and sides woods. I was also very fortunate to get the opportunity to compare Michael Watts’ The Tree MD with another MD in wenge at The North American Guitar’s HQ – and Skype Jason from there about my thought. It’s got to be a pretty rare to be able play two Kostals in the same room (though it seems owners of one find it hard to resist the temptation of a second, so that’s increasingly common!). I’m very grateful to Steve and Michael for giving me that very special opportunity.


I do love the sound of a mahogany guitar. It records easily and takes reverb well. It sounds “woody” (for what that’s worth!). Lovely mid-range, but with some growl and bark. But it’s quite a specific sound, quite “dry” (i.e. not much built-in reverb), and perhaps a bit inflexible for the “one guitar to rule them all”. It can also be a bit plane in the looks department.

The Tree would be great – not least because it addresses much of those issues. I wouldn’t have any hesitation with that – particularly given my experience with Michael Watts’ beautiful, and beautiful sounding, #32 – but for the huge uplift it’d inevitably entail.

I was to afraid to even ask…!

Vitreous woods

That huge, reverby, overtone-laden, rich, crystalline sound with sustain that goes on for days on the Kostal’s I’ve played with vitreous woods (two wenge MDs, two rosewood OMs) was beguiling. It’s a bit different to what I’d normally go for – which is a little “woodier” (by which I guess I mean a bit warmer and less glassy/metallic, with slightly more prominent mid) and with perhaps a touch more clarity. Some of the Brazillian guitars I’ve played seem have more of that woodiness and warmth - but at a huge price, and with additional headaches getting across the pond to the UK. Wenge and some of the rosewoods (Jason has some stunning EIR in his stash) were still contenders, but I think maybe I was looking at something in the middle.

Split the difference?

So, what’s the half-way house? And might that be worth thinking about?

Having had the same dilemma with other guitars, I’ve ended up with walnut: I’ve somehow managed to end up with 2 McIlroys A25c - one in claro, and a custom one in black walnut from Kew in England) and a Lowden baritone (Bastogne/Sitka).

Koa or antipodean blackwood might also have fitted the bill.

Walnut can look stunning, seems fairly neutral is well-balanced across the spectrum tonally: a good compromise between the rosewood and hog characteristics, keeping some woodiness and balance, without being as growly in the lower mids and dry as mahogany and without the extreme complexity, wetness, mid-scooped glassiness of some rosewoods. It also seems to be good value, project well, and to have a pretty quick response (more so, to my ears, than rosewood) and great clarity.

So what’s not to like?

I guess my hesitation was that it might be a bit of a compromise, and that whilst walnut can be very clear, it can sometimes be a bit characterless (dare I say insipid?). I didn’t think that’d be much of a risk on a Kostal: Jason’s building style never fails to produce a gorgeous, deep bass and a complex, overtone rich sound with its own in-built reverb. I can imagine walnut working brilliantly here – in much the same way that I found Jason’s sonic signature really worked with mahogany on #32.

But I'd never played a walnut Kostal (though there is one in France), so didn't have any means of confirming my suspicions.

In the end, I thought it’d be best to get Jason's input, as he's the one in the know – so promptly deluged his inbox with my rambling missives on the subject, and then spoke to him via Skype.

He said he had something in mind. And would email me in a bit...

Argh, the suspense …!

ericcsong 11-19-2015 01:56 PM

I would have loved to see a cedar Kostal! Maybe that'll be my #3 ;) And Walnut is an awesome tonewood and super pretty! :)

jdelin86 11-19-2015 09:34 PM

Very cool thread Dan! Interesting to hear how all the build decisions are made, especially when the brief is 'build me my dream guitar'!

We'll have to get Mr Watts to arrange some kind of baby shower as I think our due dates are very similar.

Enjoy the third trimester!


steveh 11-20-2015 01:48 AM


Originally Posted by jdelin86 (Post 4720972)
Enjoy the third trimester!

Given the length of Jason's list, this is more like the third stage of delivery.


jdelin86 11-20-2015 06:03 AM

Haha, in that case...


nobo 11-20-2015 11:56 AM


Originally Posted by jdelin86 (Post 4720972)
Very cool thread Dan! Interesting to hear how all the build decisions are made, especially when the brief is 'build me my dream guitar'!

We'll have to get Mr Watts to arrange some kind of baby shower as I think our due dates are very similar.

Enjoy the third trimester!


Thanks Joel. Glad you're finding it interesting.

Totally game for the baby shower... Though it may have to be "chez moi", as I'm not sure how mobile I'll be: it's funny you should mention the third trimester, as that's exactly the stage my wife is at.

I think Burne Jnr is going to win the new arrivals race - and the fight for my time, love and affection!

I'll make sure my MD isn't neglected in the long run: it'll be nicely matured by the time I get to spend some quality time with it in about, well, 18 to 30 years from now!!!

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