I started building guitars almost by accident. I had been repairing instruments for over 15 years when I made the decision to build my first acoustic guitar. For years, friends and customers had been trying to convince me to start building, but I was content with repairing and restoring instruments. I was very busy, making a living, and really enjoying the work, so why start building? What made me decide to become a Luthier? I guess you could say it was necessity.
I have been fascinated with guitars since grade school. Restoring and repairing them has been very interesting and fulfilling. I especially loved higher-end repairs such as neck re sets, replacing tops, and the major restoration projects that sometimes called for me to practically disassemble the entire instrument before I put it back together better than ever. However, many customers felt that they needed a guitar builder to do this higher level of work. I have always disagreed. A builder does not necessarily make a talented and trusted repair craftsman, who has disassembled hundreds of guitar makes and models, fabricated replacement parts, repaired cracked or broken tops, bracing, and bodies, and returned the instrument looking and playing “perfectly.” Instead of trying to convince these customers I was worthy of the work, I decided to build a guitar to show them I was capable. During the process of that first build, two things happened. First, I fell in love with the work. I couldn’t stop thinking about building guitars, and my repair work schedule suffered as a result. I was hooked. Secondly, many customers who saw my first acoustic asked how they could get one. I had no idea what to tell them. Fortunately, I have some very patient customers. I basically learned the process of ordering, pricing, scheduling, and, of course, building Boswell guitars, with the help of interested clients. Boswell Guitars, begun by necessity, became a new vocation.
I have no interest in running a high-volume guitar production company. My goal is to make the most finely crafted, detailed, and tonally proud acoustic guitars I can possibly make. To do so, I use the finest materials available. I will not settle for the average materials a larger company has to regularly use to meet a production schedule. After I get to know each client, find out their playing style, and the looks and features they want, I have a picture of the instrument that will best suit them. If the materials can’t deliver what I am after, they are either discarded, or saved for a different picture. There is no standard model. Each one is unique. Why would any two Boswell guitars be the same when every player is different? As a hand builder, that’s the luxury I have: to be able to craft each instrument specifically for each player. I want to provide a guitar that will inspire even the most discerning players, compliment their playing, and accompany them into new musical territory.
One question people seem to ask me often is “what makes your guitars different?” It’s a question that at first I had a hard time answering. Over time though, and with the help from customers playing my guitars, I have been able to identify what these differences are, and the techniques that help to achieve them.
As I mentioned before, I learned everything about guitar building from the guitar repair work that I performed over the last 20 years. With all of that experience, I know acoustic instruments inside and out...literally. So, when it came to making my own guitars, I knew what I wanted to do. Players were always after that vintage sound. The classic and most obvious examples are the Martin guitars from the late 1930’s up to the mid 1940’s. What was so different about these guitars? A lot actually. They were all built by hand, not by machines, and they had access to the best materials possible (I cringe thinking about what builders threw away back then!). These two seemingly small things, make for a huge difference in the completed guitar. Production guitars today are concerned with quantity, consistency, and something that may work against them most of all: building against warranty concerns. Through the ages, guitar manufacturers have dramatically changed the way they build. Thicker, less responsive, heavier. In the late 1930’s, builders were concerned with only one thing: making the best sounding guitar they possibly could. This is exactly how I feel today. Every single piece is tested, examined, and plugged into the constantly evolving equation that, when solved, is the final product for a specific person. I want to, or maybe I should say, I have to use the best materials out there. I need the guitar to be light and strong. Each one must respond playfully to light finger-style and soft strumming, and then jump out at you with power when strummed more aggressively or flat-picked. The tone has to have the same subtle characteristics at full volume that it does when played softly. String to string articulation and separation, balance, focus, and a sound that envelops the player.
I am absolutely a wood junky. I’m always thinking about wood, always looking for wood, always talking about wood. Old growth material is hands-down the best, and what I try to use exclusively, but it is getting harder and harder to come by. It’s expensive when it’s the real deal, and most importantly, when it’s legal (all of the wood I use is CITES documented when necessary). It looks like the stuff Martin wanted to use on an OM-45 in the 1930’s. This old wood is very stable. It has gone through any changes it is going to go through, and it’s ready to use. The resins have crystalized naturally over time, and the cellular structure is no longer absorbing or giving off water like younger wood does. I can confidently build thinner, lighter, and more responsive guitars with this level of material. The tap tone is staggering. Whether it’s rosewood, koa, or mahogany, when you tap on it, the fundamental is strong and glassy, and it sustains on and on. If I can’t build with materials of this level, I would rather just not build.
I use hot hide glue between every glued surface, unless it’s a plastic to wood joint, like in the case of traditional plastic binding (which I rarely use since I prefer wood binding). I truly believe that anyone who says hide glue has no significant effect on the tone of the instrument just hasn’t thought it all the way through (to put it nicely). When you look at it from an engineering perspective, it goes like this: Wood glue dries in a plastic state, and is even susceptible to something known as “creep”, where two objects glued together with a load applied will slowly slide, even when fully cured. Hide glue dries glass-like. Why would I use something plastic-like at every connection when I want the structure to vibrate and resonate as much as possible? The glass-like cured state of hide glue increases the sustain and decay rate in a very noticeable way. Hide glue is harder to work with, and requires some special setup and skill, but in the end, is a vital part to the equation.
Building a fantastic sounding, looking, feeling, and of course playing guitar is the goal. Again, I started out in the repair world, so knowing how a guitar is supposed to be put together in order to play well is something I have a deep understanding of. After literally hundreds of neck resets, and thousands of setups, fret jobs, nuts, saddles, etc...it has become engrained. Boswell guitars sound amazing, and play amazing as well.
I build my guitars by hand, in small batches of two to three guitars at a time. I only use the finest materials I can find, and my search for those materials never stops. I take every possible unknown into consideration, and if it has the potential to make the guitar sound better, I’m going to use it. I am a craftsman. I don’t rush anything. I’m not in this to break any records, and I’m certainly not re inventing the wheel. So, what makes my guitars different? Simply put, I’m trying to build the absolute best guitar there is every time I step into my shop.
Boswell Guitars, 15 NW Franklin, Unit B, Bend, OR 97701. (541) 719-1289.