The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Construction and repair of Classical Guitar and related instruments
Dan Kellaway

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Dan Kellaway » Thu May 15, 2008 12:03 pm

Michael.N. wrote: Lute makers virtually to a man try to replicate historical instruments as they were first conceived. The same can be said for makers of Harps. I think we all know what type of instruments violinists are using, a design that was developed in 17th century Cremona, altered slightly in the mid 19 th century and has remained the same ever since. There have been plenty of people throughout the intervening years that claimed to have designed and made a 'better instrument' though. Ultimately it all comes down to personal preference. You like such guitars, I like some of them and dislike others whereas some people hate them with a passion.
And do you seriously believe that people like me are stilting the development of the guitar? Thanks, I didn't know I had that much power.
Firstly on the subject of Lute makers I have this to say:
The makers of today no doubt make them according to the original plans because when Peter Biffin disobeyed orders from above and made lutes with lattice bracing his lutes were embraced as absolutely fabulous. Until someone in Europe fell over and broke one in half, only to find , shock horror, that it WASN'T ORIGINAL. O My God how terribly shocking!!!! But I tell you that what was more shocking was that the guy ceased making these brilliant lutes that everyone with an ear was enjoying so much and had a nervous breakdown. That was a travesty in modern instrument making. But that's why modern lute makers are so sh%t scared of pushing the boundaries.

Don't talk about harps or violins Michael. These are evolved instruments largely because they have been developed over centuries but in the case of the violin the makers that pushed those boundaries did it in the sixteenth century. I suppose that because it was so long ago you must consider that what they did must be legitimate. And then in the nineteenth century the clowns that brought us romantic music had to have everything louder so they abandoned lutes and guitars and harpsichords and recorders and trombo marinas and crumhorns and many other worthy instruments. They f%$cked with the violin , increasing the tension on the strings by changing the neck angle and increasing the string length, which involved removing and replacing the bass bar, and for that reason there are few baroque violins that haven't been messed with.[I have a very interesting violin book by Ed Herron Allen called "Violin Making as it was and is" which describes in gory detail how to ruin a Baroque violin]
But where's the guitar in all this? Consigned to the back blocks and not taken seriously as a concert instrument. Why? Because it didn't sound any good in those days.
And that's why Torres was such a hit. He brought the guitar into the the 20th century by his innovations. He evolved the instrument from a piddly little parlour twiddle to something that could make a more adequate sound. But that was only the very beginning. The guitar was only recently taken up by Segovia and then Bream as something to fascinate the masses. In so doing it has been the beginning of the evolution of the instrument.
For luthiers of this decade to be involved with innovation is an honour and a pleasure and for those who prefer to remain in the dark ages I feel really sorry for them. They have not understood what the modern classical guitar stands for.
It is a new instrument with elements of antiquity but it has not yet reached it's full potential which the violin did so many years ago. It requires to be developed further for the sake of humanity.
This is what makes modern luthiery exciting.

jfdana

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by jfdana » Thu May 15, 2008 1:33 pm

Your statement that those who build "traditional" guitars "prefer to remain in the dark ages" does seem both limiting and condescending. One of the joys of modern guitarmaking (at least from a player's viewpoint) is that there are so many remarkable instruments being made in different styles. Let's not confuse taste with value nor assume that the many dedicated luthiers working in the Torres/Hauser/Romanillos tradition (or however you wish to consider it) "have not understood what the modern classical guitar stands for."

One hopes that the community of luthiers and guitarists is open to diversity, which would include all interested in the guitar.

And I suppose humanity will rise or fall on factors unrelated to carbon fibre.

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Michael.N.
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Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Michael.N. » Thu May 15, 2008 3:02 pm

'Firstly on the subject of Lute makers I have this to say:
The makers of today no doubt make them according to the original plans because when Peter Biffin disobeyed orders from above and made lutes with lattice bracing his lutes were embraced as absolutely fabulous. Until someone in Europe fell over and broke one in half, only to find , shock horror, that it WASN'T ORIGINAL. O My God how terribly shocking!!!! But I tell you that what was more shocking was that the guy ceased making these brilliant lutes that everyone with an ear was enjoying so much and had a nervous breakdown. That was a travesty in modern instrument making. But that's why modern lute makers are so sh%t scared of pushing the boundaries.'

I don't quite get this. Are you suggesting that the lute community are responsible for his demise?
And what exactly do you want a lute to sound like? What do you want them to do exactly? Make a Lute that doesn't sound like a Lute?
Historicalguitars.

Dan Kellaway

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Dan Kellaway » Thu May 15, 2008 3:07 pm

jfdana wrote:Your statement that those who build "traditional" guitars "prefer to remain in the dark ages" does seem both limiting and condescending. One of the joys of modern guitarmaking (at least from a player's viewpoint) is that there are so many remarkable instruments being made in different styles. Let's not confuse taste with value nor assume that the many dedicated luthiers working in the Torres/Hauser/Romanillos tradition (or however you wish to consider it) "have not understood what the modern classical guitar stands for."

One hopes that the community of luthiers and guitarists is open to diversity, which would include all interested in the guitar.

And I suppose humanity will rise or fall on factors unrelated to carbon fibre.
You totally misquote me.
Here's what I said:"For luthiers of this decade to be involved with innovation is an honour and a pleasure and for those who prefer to remain in the dark ages I feel really sorry for them. They have not understood what the modern classical guitar stands for."
I did not mention carbon fibre and nor do I use it. Luthiers can develop using Torres/etc. methods but they will forever be searching for improvement just as we all are if we are really trying. So I could just repeat what I said but you probably wouldn't understand any more on the second run. I guess you can consider that I am condescending to you as you obviously require special treatment.

I tell you this though: I am getting very sick of being misquoted and misunderstood. I am beginning to wonder about the intelligence of the average poster that wants to assail me here and I'm not that keen on the marketing strategy. If people can't read and comprehend I can't see the use of feeding them with useless information.
If anyone supports me I'd be really pleased to hear a voice in the wilderness.

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James Lister
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Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by James Lister » Thu May 15, 2008 3:17 pm

"Variety is the spice of life"

Personally, I'm just glad that there is no defined "ideal" or "perfect" guitar. That is what I find interesting and exciting about classical guitar making.

James
James Lister, luthier, Sheffield UK

Dan Kellaway

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Dan Kellaway » Thu May 15, 2008 3:26 pm

Michael.N. wrote:'Firstly on the subject of Lute makers I have this to say:
The makers of today no doubt make them according to the original plans because when Peter Biffin disobeyed orders from above and made lutes with lattice bracing his lutes were embraced as absolutely fabulous. Until someone in Europe fell over and broke one in half, only to find , shock horror, that it WASN'T ORIGINAL. O My God how terribly shocking!!!! But I tell you that what was more shocking was that the guy ceased making these brilliant lutes that everyone with an ear was enjoying so much and had a nervous breakdown. That was a travesty in modern instrument making. But that's why modern lute makers are so sh%t scared of pushing the boundaries.'

I don't quite get this. Are you suggesting that the lute community are responsible for his demise?
And what exactly do you want a lute to sound like? What do you want them to do exactly? Make a Lute that doesn't sound like a Lute?
I wouldn't expect you to 'get it' Michael. The guy was pushing the boundaries of the lute and everyone loved it until they found out it wasn't 'original'. O Dear what would happen if someone made a lute sound better? Would that mean that it no longer sounded like a lute?
I feel really sorry for people who are so caught up in tradition that there is no room for change. But what you fail to remember is that just 20 years ago no-one was making lutes as good as they are made today. Why you ask? Because the knowledge of how they were made has evolved? No I think we get better at it after we've been doing it for awhile. But they made lutes for several hundred years so they must have got better at it?
Unfortunately what we know of lutes comes from a very limited number of historical instruments so for those that want to remain in the dark ages I say I am really sorry for you. You need to surface and have a good breath of fresh air every once in a while.
Dream of being a NEW lute maker. Imagine being Hans Frei or Duiffoprucher or Tielke or just plain old Jack Jones from Illinois.
Yes it's a very dangerous concept for some.

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Michael.N.
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Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Michael.N. » Thu May 15, 2008 4:03 pm

Well I presume that if he really had made a better Lute they would have continued to sell. Do you seriously think that there was a conspiracy NOT to buy his Lutes? After all he only has to sell 10 or 12 per year and he is practically in full time employment. That's a very small number if he was the only guy making this new fantastic sounding Lute.
Actually for your information the real reason we are now making Lutes better than we were 20 years ago is because people took the trouble of examining historical Lutes in Museums. People like Lundberg who examined and measured the Lutes of Europe in practically every Museum. Up until then the vast majority of modern Lutes were way too heavily constructed, quite different from historic practices.
Of course your idea of 'better' isn't the same as others. Have you ever considered that possibility? And what exactly is this better sounding Lute?
Last edited by Michael.N. on Thu May 15, 2008 5:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Historicalguitars.

jfdana

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by jfdana » Thu May 15, 2008 9:48 pm

If I'm trying to make a point, and people seem not to be understanding me, I find it useful to consider how I might better explain myself. Insulting the intelligence of my audience has not proved helpful.

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Alexandru Marian
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Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Alexandru Marian » Thu May 15, 2008 10:32 pm

Nicely put James. We are fortunate not to be nearly as constricted to a set of narrow rules as violin makers are. I am happy to report that myself while having a traditionalist inclination can appreciate a good double top/doubleside / triple back whatever, as long as it sounds good. A Smallman is a bit harder to ingest but Williams is a good player :) The player matters most in the end.

Dan, if I may ask, what thickness is your triple back? More like a traditional one, or thick, as in say 4mm. Thanks. At some point I'd like to try a brace-less back with a lamination of rw and cypress.

Dan Kellaway

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Dan Kellaway » Fri May 16, 2008 12:02 am

AlexM wrote:Nicely put James. We are fortunate not to be nearly as constricted to a set of narrow rules as violin makers are. I am happy to report that myself while having a traditionalist inclination can appreciate a good double top/doubleside / triple back whatever, as long as it sounds good. A Smallman is a bit harder to ingest but Williams is a good player :) The player matters most in the end.

Dan, if I may ask, what thickness is your triple back? More like a traditional one, or thick, as in say 4mm. Thanks. At some point I'd like to try a brace-less back with a lamination of rw and cypress.
In order to press the timber into the mould without cracking the core has to be about 1 1/2mm and each veneer is 1/2mm so it ends up at 2 1/2mm. I'm using western red cedar for the core but cypress would be a nice idea. You might get away with slightly thicker depending on the shape of your mould. So to get a final thickness of 4ml requires another layer which some of the boys have arranged with the grain at right angles. It really needs to be this thick if you go braceless and want no apparent vibration occurring in the back. However I suggest that even then there is enough vibration occuring in the midrange that will cause some cancellations. That's why braces are a good idea because apart from stiffening the back, they divide it into shorter sections which are above the midrange area of vibration and the effect is enhanced production of midrange output. This has the illusion of creating more volume but mainly it provides a warmer and fuller sound. Even small increases in volume are worth having and it's worth remembering that to double the volume is an exponential step that will most likely never happen. Actual DB levels between good guitars and fantastic guitars are probably quite small but the difference to our ears is most noticable when by comparison, one instrument produces all or most frequency ranges with equal strength and clarity whereas another has a few spots that are lacking or uneven. Because of these things in the concert hall projection becomes a very important factor. It's like the way a trained actors voice will be heard clearly in all parts of a large hall without amplification. Achieving this with a guitar requires extreme clarity and purity of note production and this is in large part achieved by the construction of the back and sides. And of course in the end the player is the most important of all. My impressions of the Smallman phenomenon have been coloured initially by playing the first one that he sold to John Williams only hours before John received it. I had obviously never heard anything like it before and it was a truly exceptional instrument. The even response was astounding and the volume was staggering. Especially as the best guitar I'd played before that was a clapped out Fleta. Then to hear John Williams in concert was absolutely amazing. But I have rarely been so impressed since then and have heard many playing those types of guitars that in my opinion could have done with a better instrument.
But that's my biased opinion as I am chasing a different sound that includes more Spruce sounds. It has to be a subjective choice for players to go with what makes them feel good and play better. So diversity is the name of the game and evolution is a wonderful thing to pursue in my opinion, both for makers and players.
With lutes I am aware that there has been an evolution of measurement of the old ones. I find that quite odd. For some reason they didn't manage to measure the instruments properly in the seventies. But now they can and have seen a whole lot more things about the way the old ones were made. They are evolving their understanding of what made a good lute all the time. But the thing is because it all happened so long ago and the soundboards are now relics of their new selves and the timber they were made from doesn't exist any more, we will actually never know what they truly sounded like, and further we now have nylgut strings which 'improve' the sound enormously. A beautiful sounding lute is a true joy and it's quite possible to make one that will speak clearly in a large hall but mostly you really have to get up close to have any listening satisfaction . I'd rather that it was a more common thing to hear a good lute but in Australia lute players have to have a real job because they'd starve otherwise. It may not be so bad elsewhere but I think it might be. What about making a popular new lute that's really loud and playable so it also could evolve? Now that'd be a challenge.

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Alexandru Marian
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Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Alexandru Marian » Fri May 16, 2008 12:29 am

Thanks! At first i was picturing a quite heavy armor like lamination, but it actually sounds like you make a light, and at the same time stiff plate. Stiff because of the multiple lamination and strong doming and light because of the cedar core. In theory it should help with the projection.

Myself I am in love with cypress classicals. Unlike a flamenco, the back is left thicker, at least 2.5mm, and with narrow and tall spruce braces, you get a light and stiff back. The one guitar I made so far is loud and feels alive (while being small) and I am not dreaming it, i compared it against a few expensive luthier guitars and it held its own quite well. When i finished it the back resonance was at a very high 330 Hz or so. Since then i lowered it a little by scalloping the center of the braces but with not much effect. I suppose you either keep it high and stiff, or lower it somewhere close to the top resonance. This should be much easier to do with a heavy rosewood back.

J.Sender

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by J.Sender » Fri Apr 17, 2009 9:27 am

I recently had a contreras 2008 10th anniversary double back model in my workshop and had the chance to take some measurements. The bracing is asymmetrical with 8 fan braces, (one central, 3 on the bass and 4 on the treble), 3 transverse braces forming a grid style system. He also used a 3mm high 5mm wide ring of continuous cedar around the edge of the soundboard as well as linings. The sides measure 6mm, yes 6mm thick and the back is at 12mm. This is obviously not a solid laminate but rosewood with a second cedar soundboard attached with an air space between. I would like to know if anyone knows more about this second top. If it is braced, tuned, the thickness etc... It has to said the sound of the guitar is enormous. Incredibly clear and precise for a cedar instrument with a profound sustain that shakes the floorboards. The musician claims it is the only guitar he can play with his daughter (she plays a baby grand piano). Very very interesting things are happening over there in Madrid...

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Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by dennyuu » Fri Apr 17, 2009 5:52 pm

At the McKnight Guitar website under Process he describes the building of what he calls a "HOLLOW BACK" guitar which employs "an outer back and an inner back".

He explains that the vibrations are dampened less when the guitar is held away from ones body "Classical players have known and used this technique for years but it has been slow to catch on in the steel string circles."

The article has a great pictorial of his process in building such a guitar.
Hey don't throw out that cigar box--
I can do something special with that

Efialtis

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by Efialtis » Sat Apr 18, 2009 3:50 pm

This has been a very interesting thread! Thanks' to all for their input as it has inspired me to do my own experimenting with multiple resonators of different tonewoods.

wbajzek

Re: The Mystery of Doubleback Guitars

Post by wbajzek » Sat Apr 18, 2009 5:20 pm

AlexM wrote:Myself I am in love with cypress classicals. Unlike a flamenco, the back is left thicker, at least 2.5mm, and with narrow and tall spruce braces, you get a light and stiff back. The one guitar I made so far is loud and feels alive (while being small) and I am not dreaming it, i compared it against a few expensive luthier guitars and it held its own quite well.
My favorite guitar ever was a cedar and cypress Ramirez 1AF. It was technically a flamenco guitar but the sound worked great for my classical stuff. If I had money to buy another luthier made guitar, that would probably be my choice.

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