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Old 03-28-2020, 08:59 AM
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Michael Watts Michael Watts is offline
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Default And Now For Something Completely Different! - A Fingerstyle Archtop by Thierry André

Hello everyone,

I hope you'll enjoy this build thread about a unique instrument that will be a stark contrast to those I've posted in the past...

A little background

For the last few months I have been exploring the idea of using an archtop guitar for certain solo fingerstyle pieces I've written. The archtop is perhaps the one member of the guitar family that I find most visually and sonically gorgeous but up until recently knew least about.

Thinking back, I guess my first serious contact with the concept of an acoustic fingerstyle archtop was at Stefan Sobell's workshop when I visited him to film an episode for the first series of Luthier Stories. The instrument in this case was the very first Sobell guitar and you can see it in action right here.



If you'd like to see the full episode with Stefan then you can check it out here too



Since that day I've had the pleasure of playing some very beautiful examples of archtop luthiery from 100-year old Gibsons like this L1



To extraordinary art pieces like Linda Manzer's Iceberg built for the Group of Seven guitar project and inspired by the works of the painter Lawren Harris



These brief encounters inspired me to experiment more with this style of guitar and Gibson Guitars, arguably one of the original creators of the archtop guitar, very kindly loaned me an L5 for a recording session which frankly raised more questions than it answered!



Seeking further insight I called up Colorado fingerstyle archtop virtuoso Sean McGowan to get his advice.



I honestly hadn't intended this thread to kick off with such an intense YouTube session but as the majority of us will be indoors for the foreseeable future (to the AGF'ers on the frontline of medical services and other vital areas around the world I can only give my heartfelt thanks and hope that you'll stay safe) you might enjoy a more measured and detailed approach.

The Luthier

Those of you who have followed my build threads over the years will be more than familiar with the results of my decade-long partnership with Jason Kostal in Phoenix Az. That is, of course, still going strong and I am still really looking forward to demonstrating Jason's impeccable work (along with that of Rory Dowling of Taran Guitars and Rosie Heydenrych of Turnstone Guitars) at the Grand Finale of the Holy Grail Guitar Show in Berlin at some point this year.

At the time of writing there has been no official notice of postponement of that show but with the restrictions placed on international travel until safety can be guaranteed it is, sadly, a reasonable assumption that the originally planned time-line will need to be revised considering the high number of transatlantic exhibitors.

Right now there are worse problems to have.

Now, as with other guitar exhibitions of this nature, The Holy Grail Show imposes an entirely sensible limit on the number of luthiers each artist can play for and although I'd fielded several inquiries I was still one short of my regulation four.

It was then that I received a message from a Thierry André, a Quebec-based luthier whose work has baffled, challenged, and inspired me for many years.

Here he is. See what I mean?



I think the first example I saw of Thierry's work was in Ervin Somogyi's book The Responsive Guitar where he shares "A Sampling of Contemporary Work Worth Sharing". Thierry's guitar is on the bottom left.



That's certainly eye-catching!

Over the years I have seen Thierry André exhibit his instruments at numerous guitar shows all over the world and his sense of design has always fascinated me. There seem to be influences from all over the world involved here from organic natural shapes and African primitivism to Cubist sculpture and lines from the Middle East. Perhaps even more importantly to me, the quality of Thierry's work is often breathtakingly sophisticated.

Here are some of my favourite examples. Each instrument is a unique piece and named accordingly.

This is "Sun, Moon and Vibrations".



Here's a side view showing the extended body.



This is "PO"



and seen from the back



Like all good build threads this one will lull you into a false sense of security with this more familiar "Old School Archtop" design



Before hitting you with "Cluster"



and "Raga Guitar"



In his initial message Thierry mentioned that he wanted to build an archtop guitar specifically for me to play at the show. He'd done some preliminary work on the instrument's design but was interested in this being a player-luthier collaboration. I was very happy to accept!

It was Thierry's birthday yesterday and as a present to him I have started this thread. As you might imagine his clientele consists mostly of art collectors and commissions from galleries but I hope you'll also find the process as fascinating as I have so far.

I'll leave you for the moment with the regulation picture of a luthier covered in sawdust staring at a piece of wood.



Until next time!

Michael

NB. I have cleared this thread with the AGF mods who have graciously allowed me to post this even though the guitar is being built for me to play, not to own.
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Last edited by Michael Watts; 04-16-2020 at 10:48 AM.
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Old 03-28-2020, 10:09 AM
GeoffStGermaine GeoffStGermaine is offline
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WOW! Very much looking forward to seeing this instrument come to life. I've admired Thierry's work for many years.
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Old 03-30-2020, 06:29 PM
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Courtesy bump.
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Old 03-30-2020, 07:03 PM
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Glad to see this back up! Can't wait for more!
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Old 03-30-2020, 07:14 PM
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Wow, this is going to be a fun ride!
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Old 03-30-2020, 10:25 PM
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Wow, Michael, your narrative and pictures kind of knocked the wind out of me-- in a GOOD way. I bought Ervin's Responsive Guitar books shortly after they were published, and that photo of the Thierry Andre' guitar with the Shrek-ears always mesmerizes me when I look at it. I've long wondered about the person and the mind behind that astonishing piece. There's a completely unique and extraordinary artistic intellect at work there.

Thank You for posting this. Thank you for bringing Thierry closer to Terra Firma here! I'll breathlessly be waiting for further installments.
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Old 03-31-2020, 01:48 AM
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You seem so sure you’re NOT going to keep it.... [emoji12]
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Old 03-31-2020, 04:26 AM
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I have never heard of this luthier and his works certainly look fresh and different so I am looking forward to this thread. Michael, what kind of tone is Andre shooting for in this new build? Is it some fusion of the acoustic and archtop tonalities?
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Old 03-31-2020, 04:56 AM
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The Larson Brothers wonderful “built under tension” instruments with their gently arched tops and backs deserve a mention.
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Old 03-31-2020, 07:39 AM
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I think a couple of soul-brothers to Thierry Andre are Michihiro Matsuda, who has made quite a number of out-of-this-world guitars, and needs no introduction here; and also William Eaton, the long-time Director of the Roberto Venn School of Lutherie
William Eaton has also made many instruments that smash through the barriers of convention, and he's also a fine musician in the cosmic/etheric, so-called "New Age" idiom. If you're not familiar with this man and his work, check out the link.
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Old 04-02-2020, 12:45 AM
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Michael Watts Michael Watts is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GeoffStGermaine View Post
WOW! Very much looking forward to seeing this instrument come to life. I've admired Thierry's work for many years.
Thanks Geoff! It has been a fascinating process so far and I've got lots to share with you in the next incoming instalment !

Quote:
Originally Posted by Acousticado View Post
Courtesy bump.
Much appreciated!

Quote:
Originally Posted by ericcsong View Post
Glad to see this back up! Can't wait for more!
Thank you Eric! I hope you'll enjoy this as much as I've enjoyed your build threads over the years!

Quote:
Originally Posted by SprintBob View Post
Wow, this is going to be a fun ride!
I concur

Quote:
Originally Posted by theEdwinson View Post
Wow, Michael, your narrative and pictures kind of knocked the wind out of me-- in a GOOD way. I bought Ervin's Responsive Guitar books shortly after they were published, and that photo of the Thierry Andre' guitar with the Shrek-ears always mesmerizes me when I look at it. I've long wondered about the person and the mind behind that astonishing piece. There's a completely unique and extraordinary artistic intellect at work there.

Thank You for posting this. Thank you for bringing Thierry closer to Terra Firma here! I'll breathlessly be waiting for further installments.
Thanks for joining us Steve! As a fearless individualist in the field of acoustic guitar design I hope there'll be plenty for you to enjoy here. Can I also just repeat how happy I am that your guitar made it safe to its new home in the UK. That was quite an emotional rollercoaster!

Stay safe everybody!

Michael
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Old 04-02-2020, 12:56 AM
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Michael Watts Michael Watts is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flat5 View Post
You seem so sure you’re NOT going to keep it.... [emoji12]
Ha ha! The joy of this one is in the collaborative process. When I do get one to one with it there will be a risk I'll be seen heading for the horizon with it in my sticky little hands...

Quote:
Originally Posted by gitarro View Post
I have never heard of this luthier and his works certainly look fresh and different so I am looking forward to this thread. Michael, what kind of tone is Andre shooting for in this new build? Is it some fusion of the acoustic and archtop tonalities?
Thierry certainly flies under the radar to some extent. Unless you're specifically looking for something outré and iconoclastic then he's unlikely to pop up in the conversation.

I'll go deep into the tonal aspects of this guitar in later posts as that is certainly part of the process where the collaborative nature of the build goes deepest.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Parlorman View Post
The Larson Brothers wonderful “built under tension” instruments with their gently arched tops and backs deserve a mention.
That's a very good point actually, sadly my own experience with those beautiful instruments is limited. I'm hoping that will change!

Quote:
Originally Posted by theEdwinson View Post
I think a couple of soul-brothers to Thierry Andre are Michihiro Matsuda, who has made quite a number of out-of-this-world guitars, and needs no introduction here; and also William Eaton, the long-time Director of the Roberto Venn School of Lutherie
William Eaton has also made many instruments that smash through the barriers of convention, and he's also a fine musician in the cosmic/etheric, so-called "New Age" idiom. If you're not familiar with this man and his work, check out the link.
I don't think you can have a conversation of this kind without mentioning Michi Matsuda. He is an absolute genius, have you seen the build he is doing at the moment? Please check out his Instagram, it's breathtaking!

William Eaton is certainly another important name in this field, I would also include Fred Carlson and Steve Klein to some extent. That said, I struggle to think of anyone else going in Thierry's direction.

If you'd like to know more about my thoughts on guitar design (as well as a load of other things) you can check out this live-streamed interview I did with the fantastic DA Musical radio station in Berlin. I don't talk about this project in the interview as I'm saving the good stuff for you guys but I certainly go into some detail about my Kostal guitars.

I hope you enjoy it!



All the best

Michael
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Old 04-02-2020, 09:11 AM
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theEdwinson theEdwinson is offline
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Good call, Michael, I thought about Fred Carlson right after I posted that comment, but got busy with something else. Though this is Thierry Andre's story here, people like him, who possess the type of creative genius that can completely redefine an art form like luthierie, are as rare and wonderful as unicorns, and it's fascinating to meet them. HERE is a little side trip over to YouTube, showing Fred Carlson, demonstrating his paradigm-smashing "Taproot" guitar/harp/sympitar. Totally mind blowing.

That's my comment below, saying that Fred is over 1500 years old, from a higher race than us humans.
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Old 04-03-2020, 01:00 AM
Flat5 Flat5 is offline
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Default And Now For Something Completely Different! - A Fingerstyle Archtop by Thierry André

I’m really looking forward to seeing how all this rolls out!

You want to focus on tone, you said. How does your experience in flattops reflect on it?

You mean acoustic tone or electric? From your background, I would assume acoustic, first.

An archtop is a beautiful tool, totally different from a flattop in terms of sound.
So, you have this “ideal” set of qualities in a flattop: let’s assume that your Kostal MDW is the paradigm here. You know exactly what that guitar does -in fact you did spec it out together with Jason.

An archtop is going to differ from that in so many ways, is going to change your way of playing in so many ways.

I guess the tricky part for me would be: how do you spec out an archtop in a way that’s not just “try to emulate my Kostal sound”.

Does that make sense?
What’s your ideal of a fingerstyle archtop tone? What’s the real challenge here?

G
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Old 04-03-2020, 03:21 AM
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Michael Watts Michael Watts is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theEdwinson View Post
Good call, Michael, I thought about Fred Carlson right after I posted that comment, but got busy with something else. Though this is Thierry Andre's story here, people like him, who possess the type of creative genius that can completely redefine an art form like luthierie, are as rare and wonderful as unicorns, and it's fascinating to meet them. HERE is a little side trip over to YouTube, showing Fred Carlson, demonstrating his paradigm-smashing "Taproot" guitar/harp/sympitar. Totally mind blowing.

That's my comment below, saying that Fred is over 1500 years old, from a higher race than us humans.
So you're not going to believe this Steve but I was having a chat with Thierry overnight and he mentioned that after 5 years at the Braund guitar making school under Andre Brunet he received a grant from Quebec's Conseil des Arts et des Lettres, which meant he could go and study in California. Which he did. With none other than Fred Carlson!

I had no idea but that makes so much sense doesn't it?

Now, in 1980 I was three years old and just discovering the guitar (mostly by dragging my father's instrument around by the strings sadly...) but the good people at Bournemouth & Poole College of arts here in the UK were busy filming the great classical guitar luthier José Romanillos. Thierry told me that the opening quote 'There is a divine right for people to be independent' has inspired him for as long as he remembers and sent me these links.

The film was re-mastered by Gourmet Guitars and it's a beautiful piece of work. As someone who's made one or two videos in Luthiers' workshops over the years I found it fascinating and really quite moving.





All the best

Michael
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Last edited by Michael Watts; 04-03-2020 at 03:34 AM.
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