The Invisible Guitar
We makers all want to make the perfect guitar but of course it doesn't exist on its own. Having chased this goal for many years I have come to the conclusion that it's not just about the guitar but also the player. The two are inextricably linked.
Several times I have had the experience of building a guitar and asking accomplished players to play it and let me know what they thought of it. I noticed that two guitarists could play the same instrument and one could love it while the other didn't get on with it at all. Another thing I had observed was that when someone picked up one of my guitars for the first time to try it there would be a settling in period where the player, maybe subconsciously, worked out how the guitar wanted to be played. After a while they would often click with the guitar and suddenly start to really get into the music. It seemed to be a process of them assimilating the way the guitar responded to their techniques and their consequent adjustment of those techniques until everything was flowing in a musical way.
This led me to think about the importance of the relationship between player and instrument. I believe that the guitar has to become an extension of the player. As with any tool wielded by a skilled person the musician needs to be able to bypass the technology and get straight to the goal (music).
An example of this principle many of us are familiar with is driving a car. When you've been driving long enough for it not to feel like a novelty any more, you turn on the engine and decide where 'you' are going to go and when 'you' will turn left or stop. You won't be aware of putting your foot on the clutch and changing gear or turning the steering wheel unless the vehicle is not working properly. Instead of feeling like you are operating a machine to get from A to B you think 'I am going from A to B.' You completely identify with the car. In other words the car is an extension of the driver and he/she is most of the time unaware of it.
So it should be with a musician and their instrument. What this means to me as a guitar maker is that the guitars I make need to be tactile and responsive so that they inspire the player to connect directly with the music without having to think about the technology of the guitar itself.
To this end I use tactile finishes - usually oil or French polish - so that the player feels like they are handling a piece of wood rather than a hard shiny surface. I think this really helps the player feel connected to the guitar. I also try and make the instrument as ergonomic as possible so that the player is not distracted by uncomfortably sharp edges, whether around the body, neck or heel.
In terms of sound the guitar has to translate the nuances of the player's technique into sound so it has to be sufficiently responsive and to pick up the subtlest of changes in the picking fingers.