Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

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Peter Wilcox
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Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Peter Wilcox »

A friend and fellow jammer that I've built several electrics for wants me to build him a dreadnought. He's a fair player but knows nothing about how guitars are put together, but wants a "top of the line" handbuilt acoustic. I've told him I'm not the guy to build it, but he wants me to anyway - so be it (after disclaimers.) I've built several acoustic instruments including 2 dreadnoughts, but I use cheap hardware and electronics (if needed), and not being a knowledgeable player myself I have no experience with good parts.

The back and sides are Australian lacewood, top is spruce, neck is mahogany- pretty much set in stone. He wants gold colored hardware.

Things I'm thinking of:
Tuning machines Gotoh 510, 21:1 gear ratio
Gold EVO fret wire
Black bone bridge pins
Honduran rosewood, ebony or osage orange bridge and fret board
? Herringbone purfling, maple binding
I'll make the rosette - not sure yet what materials/colors
? endpin and strap button, or 2 gold strap buttons

I have no clue what pickup/preamp configuration - I prefer one set into the side because it's easy to change the battery, but one hidden under the sound hole edge looks better, but the battery is in a bag inside the guitar and it looks like you have to really slack the strings (or unstring it) to change it. One that has a piezo and microphone with blend option would be nice.

Any suggestions regarding types/brands/aesthetics appreciated. Money is no object. :D
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Bob Gramann
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Bob Gramann »

That reads like it is going to be a really nice guitar. We’re in the realm of opinion here: I would think it a shame to violate the side of a really fine guitar with ephemeral electronics. Whatever electronics you use won’t be state of the art in 20 years and then there will be a hole in the guitar that doesn’t match whatever is the best then. I prefer to put a minimally invasive pickup like the K&K Mini in the guitar and have all of the electronics on the outside—if he plays electric, he probably already has a stomp box preamp. The other benefit of simple is that it works and has a low probability of failure. I used to run a monthly show. Many times we had an extra long sound check while the artist tried to make whatever active system he had in his guitar work while we swapped out all of our gear to prove it was his guitar that was the problem. Simple is good.

Steven Smith
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Steven Smith »

K&K mini is good advice, I've used them in several guitars and I play out every week. I use a Red Eye preamp. Sound guys like what they get too. Only disadvantage is the K&K will pick up top noise if the player has a tendency to tap the top - I had to retrain myself a bit but it wasn't a big deal.

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Barry Daniels »

I don't think osage orange B&F would look like a high end guitar. Yeah it has great acoustics but looks on the cheap side. Go with rosewood or ebony; I prefer the former.

If you really want to dress up the guitar use some colored, multiline purfling around all the elements, including both sides of the binding. Bound fretboard is a good touch too.

I agree with Bob and Steven on not putting preamp in side of guitar. I only use K&K.
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Alan Carruth »

Osage darkens up considerably if you fume it with household ammonia. It can get to about the value (but not the color) of mahogany with a day or so in a plastic bag with a container of the stuff. It darkens with age anyway, but this speeds it up a lot.

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Barry Daniels »

I've seen fumed osage orange, and it still is unappealing to me.
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Simon Magennis
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Simon Magennis »

Peter Wilcox wrote:
Fri May 29, 2020 9:00 pm
... but wants a "top of the line" handbuilt acoustic ... Money is no object. :D
Well that's good news. I suppose he does realise that "top of the line" acoustics cost US$25K-US$35K and more for special requests. (Symogyi and similar)

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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Peter Wilcox »

Simon Magennis wrote:
Sat May 30, 2020 3:08 pm
Peter Wilcox wrote:
Fri May 29, 2020 9:00 pm
... but wants a "top of the line" handbuilt acoustic ... Money is no object. :D
Well that's good news. I suppose he does realise that "top of the line" acoustics cost US$25K-US$35K and more for special requests. (Symogyi and similar)
I told him that. The bad news is that if it's built by me it's not going to be anywhere near "top of the line," (but hopefully "good enough"), and the good news is that I don't charge for my labor so it will just be the cost of the materials and overhead. I figure it's a nice way to finance my hobby. :D

Regarding the osage orange, I already have it and thought it might complement the lacewood color. I'll try taking a pic of them juxtaposed to see how it looks (the osage oxidized and the lacewood wetted.)
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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Peter Wilcox »

Here's the pic - Honduran rosewood on the left, osage on the right. That surface probably has 8 years or more air exposure, so not sure how long a freshly cut board will take to darken - maybe use ammonia as Alan notes above.
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lacewood,-rosewood,-osage.jpg
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Brian Evans
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Brian Evans »

Not a big fan of the osage, I'm sorry to say. I'd probably go rosewood on a fretboard. I like the 501 tuners, there are other higher end choices and one of the things that blings out a big guitar are custom wood knobs. For me, and it's just my opinion, if you need to have a control panel in the side of an acoustic, just buy a Takamine. I hate the control panels.

Freeman Keller
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Freeman Keller »

Peter, I have to chime in on this. First, and this is really important, include your customer in these decisions. Don't make any assumptions - just simply ask to make sure. I ripped a very nice fretboard off of a very nice neck because my customer said "that isn't what I wanted for markers...."

What I am hearing from your parts list is a lot of different woods that may or may not work together. I have a little philosophy on all of my guitars to choose a theme and carry it thru the entire build. I have seen many beautiful guitars with one one kind of back, something else on the head, a lovely rosette of something and binding of something else. Colors that clash or don't get carried thru. I see at least five different woods in your list and several parts haven't been defined yet.

As far as the individual parts - whether or not they deserve the price, Waverlies have that perception of being the best. I use them because of that unless I am looking for a particular special look. The Evo wire will look good with gold hardware, you might consider doing your inlay in gold MOP to go along. If you are trying to make a fashion statement with black bone pins then might as well make the saddle and nut out of black bone too. I would use unbleached bone but thats what I put in everything.

Pickups are a mater of choice for the player - both UST's and soundboard transducers work well and can be installed without cutting holes in the sides. I like K&K but I would leave that choice to the owner. Give it your best finish and provide a good quality case. Post pictures when you build it.

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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Peter Wilcox »

Well, I guess there's no love for osage orange here :lol: - that's fine.

Freeman, he definitely has to approve everything before construction starts. For continuity I'll be putting the lacewood on the headstock too. I thought the osage color was more consistent, at least the piece I have, though I like contrast if it works. I'm unsure about the binding, bridge pins and endpin or strap button(s). I'll figure out the rosette when everything else is pretty well set. I'll see if he's OK with open back tuners, though I like closed (my first cheapie guitar when I was young had 3 on a strip open, and they've seemed cheap ever since.) I mainly want them to work well, last long and look good.

The K&K pickups look good - I see they can come with their own preamp and a mic too - any thoughts?

Thanks everybody for your input - keep it coming.
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Freeman Keller
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Freeman Keller »

I hope I didn't sound really critical, it just looked like a lot of competing colors and textures. I always match the head plate to either the back and sides or occasionally to the fretboard and bridge. I've used the back and side wood in a rosette and I've also made rosettes out of the same wood as the binding and other trim bits (heel cap, end graft...). I think its a nice touch to bind everything the same - body, head, fretboard - and maybe use a piece of your binding for the center seam of the back (or nothing)

My personal feeling about herringbone is that it looks good on the one guitar that is named after it, otherwise natta. But I think that it I had someone that wanted herringbone purfling I would probably use it in the rosette.

Most good quality tuners work well. Your question was what is the best, money no object. I have only installed K&K's as passive pups - they need to be run thru an external preamp or DI. They are easy to add to an already built guitar so you don't have to make that choice now. Most of the UST's are fairly easy to install also and most have the electronics in the sound hole. If you think you might do that get your p/u and make sure you don't have a little soundhole brace in the way. Also if you do a UST make sure the bottom of the slot is dead flat - I installed one in a custom guitar where the builder had made two passes when routing the slot and there was a bump in the middle - took forever to get it balanced.

Sounds like a fun project and you are lucky to have a friend who entrusts you with it. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

With the few commissions I have done I have the customer choose and supply the tuners - that is usually the single most expensive item on the guitar, so if they later decide they don't like them they can't blame me. I've used both Waverly open backs and Gotoh 510's. The Gotohs seemed smoother, but definitely are more modern looking. Both are nice. With an ebony fretboard and bridge and pins you might suggest ebony tuning knobs.
Most people who want "top of the line" have ideas as to what constitutes "top of the line". I would go with his choices as much as practicable. Historically ebony fretboards were considered to be part of a high end guitar. Because of scarcity BRW fretboards have acquired magical tonal powers and have gained an equal footing with some people.
As to herringbone. I was considering using it around the edge of the latest guitar I am building. But then I thought "I didn't use it anywhere else - I should have at least used some in the rosette. It might look odd". When I looked at pictures of the old 40's herringbone Martins they didn't use it in the rosette or anywhere else! So I'm still on the fence about it. And herringbone has been used by a number of makers on a number of different guitars ( I have an old parlor guitar with herringbone purfling around the edge).
Electronics are also a personal choice and one I am not familiar with. I usually suggest they consult with someone who is familiar with them and have them install them. Since you have experience working on electric instruments you may feel more confident doing the work.
I like to offer the buyer "first refusal" as an option. If they really don't like the finished product they don't have to take it. That being the case I limit choices to the materials I have on hand (but I do have a reasonable selection of nice materials). That way I haven't bought materials I wouldn't buy and am no more invested in it than I already am (they may have to "eat" the price of the tuners until it sells) . I feel I can build as fine of a guitar as I am capable of building with the materials I have (some materials are better than others for some types of instruments than others, so I select accordingly.
I have never had someone refuse an instrument, but even when building for a friend, I want them to have that option.
I always charge something for my work. It is a hobby, so the remuneration is nothing to write home about. Still, I don't want to "pay" to do work for someone else. I will consider small acts of charity for those who need it.
So much for my blathering, good luck with the "commission", and remember - always have fun!

Carl Dickinson
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Carl Dickinson »

I've done a couple of builds where I have used the same material for the sides as well as binding. The binding was set off by B/W/B purfling on bottom and top/back. I thought it looked pretty cool. Inside purfling on the top could be pretty fancy. Also neck material was used for the fingerboard binding. It looked like the fingerboard was inset into the neck.
I agree that a common theme of maybe three or four materials have worked best for my amateur attempts.
Check out what JJB Electonics has to offer, like K&K (with reasonable pricing), or http://jamesmayengineering.com/ for a high line transducer pickup.
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Barry Daniels
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Barry Daniels »

Some people think an expensive guitar should have a lot of shell. I sometimes install a thin strip of abalone around the top binding and rosette. And, of course, a headstock inlay or logo of shell and other materials.
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Bryan Bear
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Bryan Bear »

I"m late to the party but. . .

I made a guitar with an Osage fretboard and bridge. It has been out in the light, has darkened and is no longer yellow. The look definitely is not for everyone. I like it (I made it for myself) but it probably isn't what most would expect to see. It has a WRC so there isn't a whole lot of contrast. It works because it has walnut back and sides so the whole thing feels warm in a monochromatic way. I would guess most people would be in the look if they weren't sold on trying it out in the first place.
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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Peter Wilcox »

Thanks for all your thoughts and advice - a lot for me to think about. Although I'd like every build to be a learning experience, in this case I'd rather do a good job using what I know how to do, rather than a poor job trying something too difficult. Any more suggestions welcome.
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Barry Daniels
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Barry Daniels »

I would recommend a traditional neck heel (bolt on or dovetail). I know you are mostly doing your heel-less necks, but that will not be acceptable on a "high-end" acoustic, IMHO.
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Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Need advice on "high end" parts for dreadnaught

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Peter Wilcox wrote:
Fri Jun 05, 2020 11:44 am
Thanks for all your thoughts and advice - a lot for me to think about. Although I'd like every build to be a learning experience, in this case I'd rather do a good job using what I know how to do, rather than a poor job trying something too difficult. Any more suggestions welcome.
I think you have given yourself the best advice. It is better to do Simple well than Fancy poorly.
Osage might make a nice binding and tail wedge and binding on the fretboard if you are doing that. With the busy-ness of the lacewood a plain binding might look nice.

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