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Old 10-26-2020, 06:28 PM
iim7V7IM7's Avatar
iim7V7IM7 iim7V7IM7 is offline
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: An Exit Off the Turnpike in New Jersey
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Default MARK BLANCHARD Bristlecone [Italian Spruce | Brazilian Rosewood]

This is my second commissioned steel string flattop from Crowley Lake, CA luthier Mark Blanchard. We don’t see a lot of his work here on AGF, but I would encourage you to follow along here and watch this build thread to learn more about Mark’s guitars. They are unique in their timbre and are among the best that I have played.

Mark started building his own line of custom guitars in 1994. Over the years, he has had workshops in both Montana and in three different locations in California (he is now located up in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Crowley Lake, CA). About five years ago, Mark built me a fantastic European Spruce | Madagascar Rosewood, 00 sized, 12-fret to the body guitar (his Pinyon model) which I simply adore.

Mark has a fairly unique approach to building guitars whose voicing relies heavily on his use of Chladni techniques to achieve consistency in his guitars. Mark has note books documenting nearly every guitar that he has built. This is how he knows how to interpret the patterns. Here is a link to an excellent presentation that is available for sale on his website that he made on the subject 13-years ago at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival back in 2007 (it is not free, but it is quite comprehensive).

Mark is also a very inventive person. He designed, patented and manufactures a novel double acting truss rod that he uses and also sells to many luthiers.

Here’s the patent for those who are interested.

In my experience, aside from being responsive to touch and balanced across the strings, the signature timbral characteristic of Mark’s guitars are the weight or “fatness” of their trebles. The playability and workmanship of his instruments is also top tier.

For this commission, Mark is building me custom version of his Bristlecone model. This is 14-fret to the body guitar that is slightly wider at the lower bout (+1/4”) and deeper at the neck (+1/4”) than a CF Martin Orchestra (OM) Model. He also uses a slightly smaller sound hole diameter than an OM (-1/8” diameter) which slight lowers the air resonance of the body. Given its size and versatility, it is unsurprisingly his most popular model over the years. Here is a photo of a recent Bristlecone that he made so you can see itd shape.

This will be Mark’s 135th guitar. Here are the specifications for my build:

Upper Bout: 11”
Lower Bout: 15-1/4”
Body Length: 19-1/2”
Neck Depth: 3-1/2”
End Depth: 4-1/8”
Sound Hole Diameter: 3-3/4”
Back Radius: 12’ R
Top Radius: 30’ R dish / 47’ R rims
Scale Length: 25-1/4”
Fretboard Radius: 14” to 18” R
Nut Width: 1-3/4”
String Spacing: 2-1/4”

Headstock: Paddle Head
Neck Profile: C with a shoulder
Cutaway: Continuous Contour Venetian
Manzer Wedge: Yes, 1”, 3-1/2” to 4-1/2” Depth @ Lower Bout

Top: Italian Alpine Spruce
Back & Sides: Brazilian Rosewood
Neck: One-piece Honduran Mahogany
Fretboard: Gaboon Ebony
Bridge: Belly, Gaboon Ebony
Headstock Veneer: Brazilian Rosewood
Bindings/Back Strip/End Graft: Macassar Ebony
Purflings: Curly Koa with Black Fiber
Rosette: Brazilian Rosewood with Curly Koa with Black Fiber purflings
Pickguard: Transparent, Polyester Film
Side Position Markers: MOP
Headplate Veneer Inlay: Abalone “B”
Bridge Pins: Gaboon Ebony
Finish: Nitrocellulose Lacquer

Tuning Machines: Gotoh 510 Minis with Custom Macassar Ebony Buttons
Frets: Jescar EVO .043” x .080”
Truss Rod: Blanchard, Stainless Steel, Double Acting
Case: Hoffee, Brown Exterior/Green Interior


Mark selects top sets from his wood locker based upon a target ratio of long-grain to short-grain stiffness based upon the lower bout size of the model that he is constructing. He has found that there is a limit to what he can adjust for through plate thickness/contouring, top dish radius and bracing pattern/profile; so he wants to start off by selecting sets within a target stiffness ratio that has resulted in success in past guitars.

He uses Chladni methods throughout his build process, but initially it is used to ascertain this stiffness ratio and needs to have the top set cut to shape in order to understand this. So he glues up top sets up and start with his largest model profile evaluate and if the ratio based on the patterns is not where he wants them, he cuts the top down to his next smaller size until the long grain and cross grain stiffness come into a target range. So the this pre-work occurs before a particular commission is started. It is how he organizes tops in his shop. Mark has a saying that he believes “the tone is in the top”.

He also selects top sets for clients based upon their density based on their playing style and strength of attack. I play with both a heavy pick and my fingers but my attack is somewhat light. Guitars always somewhat being compromises, I needed to ask myself is “sensitivity-responsiveness” most important or was “headroom”? For me, responsiveness and dynamics were more important than headroom when playing solo at home.

Based on my playing style, Mark selected a set of Italian Alpine Spruce (Norway Spruce, aka Picea abies). He sourced this set through luthier David Morse two decades ago so it is well seasoned and stable at this point. What is important is that it had the correct long grain to cross grain stiffness ratio for making a Bristlecone and was a density of about 6.5 g/cubic inch which Mark thought would suit my playing style.


For the back and sides we looked at some lovely sets of Honduran Mahogany, Koa, Macassar Ebony and Ziricote. But in the end we chose an aesthetically plain, beautifully quarter-sawn set of Brazilian Rosewood. There are two darkened stripe patterns towards the inside of the plates. As a size reference, the pattern drawn on this set is for his Tamarack model which is 15-5/8”; so these are 8+” pieces and the Bristlecone is only 15-1/4” he will need to make some inside/outside pattern adjustment decisions.

The rim sets appear to go from quarter-sawn to rift/flat sawn with the typical odd fillable worm hole; but are about 5” wide. Because the guitar’s taper from neck to end (3-1/4” to 4-1/8”) and that it will also incorporate a 1” Manzer Wedge across the lower bout (3-1/2” on the low E side to 4-1/2” on the high E side), much of the non quatersawn (less physically stable) wood will be able to removed. Mark will use the wood oriented towards the backset

Mark starts by bending the rims because if he breaks them he would need to select an alternative back and side set. Here are the Brazilian Rosewood sides trimmed to an oversized dimension with parallel edges about 4-5/8” left somewhat thick (about 0.095”) for rigidity.

Mark also slots, tapers and binds his fretboard because he needs to know the exact width of the fretboard at the body junction at the 14th fret along with the thickness of the rims in order to properly dimension the neck block.

I will post photos in this thread as Mark sends them to me as he builds the guitar. I am not expecting it be delivered for another 5-6 months in April, 2021.
A bunch of nice archtops, flattops, a gypsy & nylon strings…

Last edited by iim7V7IM7; 11-08-2020 at 06:49 AM. Reason: Changed the choice of top set
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