The workshop

Bracing and voicing

All guitar makers owe a debt to CF Martin for the X bracing plus other soundboard bracing that have become a part of most steel string guitars. Most makers like to interpret those features in their own ways, but it would be wrong to claim that a minor modification is actually a radical departure.

The features that I incorporate into my instruments come from the application of engineering and scientific principles to wooden components, and I regard that as adding to work done by earlier instrument makers in the same way as they found ways of improving even earlier designs.

Rather than carve away the centre section of every brace on the soundboard - scalloping, which simply weakens and lightens the structure and mostly benefits bass response and attack, I try to be more thoughtful about the shape and style of each brace. The idea is to adjust the stress in all parts of the soundboard to encourage response over a wider spectrum, rather than to turn a guitar into a tuned drum.

As science has been applied to the guitars structure, some weak and vulnerable areas of the design have become apparent. The usual top brace above the soundhole supports the string tension in much the same way as an acrobats weight is supported in the crucifix position, or when doing the splits resting on two chairs, not stable or strong, and asking for trouble. Arranging the bracing in two angled legs compares to the firm stable stance taken by a weight lifter, or to the engineering design of bridges and trestles. Together with support on the underside of the fingerboard tongue, this helps transfer string tension to wider areas and to the guitar sides rather than to the edges of the soundhole.

The soundhole itself removes wood from an area that is already particularly weak and highly stressed. Adding reinforcement to the soundhole edges in the form of a patch or doughnut is an idea actually taken from Spanish tradition, but should be regarded as essential in a steel string guitar.

By sensible design, we can achieve the same stability with less weight, or greater stability with the same weight, and this frees up the design in other areas so the maker can look for even more improvements.