I feel one of the nicest guitars I have built in my 30 year career was Creation series #5 – serial # 186… a beautiful Choptank custom made for my good friend Dr. Chujo. The instrument was a wonderful collaboration between a guitar lover and a guitar maker, along with the talented group of luthiers and inlay artists I have the pleasure to work with on a daily basis. Dr. Chujo is a wonderful Japanese man that has admired my work over the years and acted as an inspiration for not only this instrument, but a first of its kind Choptank “T”…. As an artist and Luthier it is the admiration from others that boost us up to different levels. Dr. Chujo’s passion for super high end instruments has certainly been a wonderful catalyst to ignite that flame!
The Creation Series Program – People may be familiar with my past history in designing and building high end instruments. My career as a luthier began 30 years ago w/ PRS guitars. I came from a finishing shop where we applied finishes on everything you could think of. We finished everything from furniture for the White House to Duct work in hospital air conditioning systems. I started w/ PRS guitars managing the finishing area, quickly became the production manager for the shop, became the prototype/artist guitar maker, started and grew the Private Stock department to 3 million plus in backorders and eventually became the Director of the R&D department, were I designed many models as well heading off new product development meetings and decisions. I started my own business along with Peter Wolf and Danny Dedo in 2009. Along with the many tasks in starting your own business, I wanted to take this prior experience and passion to another level by creating one off pieces that come from the heart …. True one off pieces never to be reproduced. I wanted an instrument buyer to feel 100% confident in their guitars uniqueness. Along with this confidence, they can also have a major part in the design theme if they choose…This particular build is a great example of how that theory can unfold.
The Conception – The” Mating Dance” Choptank began with a series of photos Dr. Chujo had given to our wonderful counterparts at Ishibashi Music in Japan. Peter and I had talked with Ishibashi about the Creation Series program while visiting Tokyo and working the Yokohama trade show. Dr.Chujo was very familiar with the guitars I had made in the past and owned quite a few pieces I had made while working with PRS. He gave Ishibashi a series of photographs to be used as the design basis for the instrument. In typical Japanese style no stone is unturned – There were photos of every angle. The photos were of beautiful Japanese Cranes. Dr.Chujo politely asked Ishibashi to get my take on the photos… I was instantly drawn to the colors that were on the Cranes. Beautiful blues, greys, off whites and a little spot of red…. I could see the possibility in the design right away.. so I got back with them, gave it my thumbs up and we began the process.
The Wood – The first matter in the process was picking a top and a neck blank – I had a small stash of really killer east coast maple that Brad Hill had given me. Ironically a lot of these pieces come from the same area I go camping in West Virginia. We needed a very clean, white piece of wood that we could bring out the blues with. If the piece of wood is “brownish” in color it makes it very difficult to get “bluer” type hues… Dr.Chujo aksed me to use my judgement in picking the top. I felt like a really curly piece would work better than a “quilt” maple top. We went through the supply and picked a deep, medium size curl, really intense piece. I felt that the colors would work best with a nice light, one piece Swamp Ash back.
The Neck – A ridiculous curly rock maple blank was the choice for the neck, and again I looked for a “whiter” type piece to allow different color options. The fingerboard was still a mystery because we needed to get an inlay design going. I originally thought about Cocobolo, but that changed later. With the woods picked and the specifications layed out, I began the concept of the inlay. Jaime Aulson and I are very good friends and her work has always been top notch. I made an appointment to spend the day going over the inlay with her. It is always best to leave plenty of time to come up with new designs such as this. Jaime and I approached it with a very “open slate”. There was only the concept of the Japanese Cranes as the basis for the inlay design…. We pulled up some video of these Cranes to get a better idea of what they were about and how they acted in their natural settings. We found a scene of the performing a “Mating Dance”. A beautiful series of poses that they go through prior to the final mating… This was all being done on a background of snow. It was a wonderful backdrop to the colors that the birds naturally have. The Blues, greys, black and red stood out wonderfully against the “off white” background…. Snow has a wonderful slight “blueish” tint to it. We decided the best way to handle the scene was to have the 2 birds approaching each other from top of the fingerboard and bottom of the fingerboard to meet in the middle at the 12th fret where they would intertwine in a beautiful pose. So, the background was a bit of a puzzle to figure out. We could go with an Ebony board, which would have brought the inlays out beautifully as well, but I wanted to capture that light haze that you get on a semi cold, early spring or late winter day. A slight fog is what it is…. I came up with the idea of using a maple fingerboard since you spray finish on top of maple fingerboards. This allowed me to work colors into the fingerboard that would be protected under the finish. I originally thought about using a curly maple fingerboard, but realized that the less grain the better, so we decided to go with a flatsawn rock maple fingerboard. It worked wonderfully as I was able to slightly stain and tone it to match the hue that was naturally in the scene. I decided to use an ebony boarder instead adding shell purfling or BWB purfling because I did not want to take away from the scene, and also wanted it to represent Japanese art. They use very modest borders that only frame the scene rather than try to enhance the scene. We used a beautiful piece of curly maple as the headstock overlay to tie the headstock into the body.
The Body – The body is our Choptank. We decided to use the “Single Purf” option to split the top and allow us to stain the top in 2 different colors – This “purfling in the top” concept was something I came up with when laying in the bed fighting cancer. We had been putting the laminates on the tops of the guitars which allowed us to have a “2 guitars” in one look. I felt there must be a way of using the top that existed and splitting the top to achieve the same look we had with the laminates, without covering up the top. I did a drawing of what I had in mind. Danny came to my house because I was not able to come into the shop during this battle. We went over the concept and he masterfully programmed the concept. We did this on the first Creation Series guitar “The Black Pearl”. It worked wonderfully and has allowed us to come up with new innovative color schemes that people have not scene before and has also become a “trademark” of our business.
The Pickguard – It was a given we wanted to use a maple pickguard. We went over many ideas that included inlaying shell purfling , BWB purfling and others, but decided less was better. We decided to put ebony around the outside of the pickguard tto carry the theme of the fingerboard and headstock overlay. This also allowed us to make the pickguard look like it was a part of the fingerboard and tone it accordingly. The pickguard has a very “3D” look because of this.
The Build/ Finish/Assembly – We built the guitar as we normally do. The finish is where I had to come up with a scheme that would not take away from the beautiful inlays, and most importantly maintain the “minimalist/ Japanese” theme. I decided to go with a very subtle “greyish blue” to support the inlays. I wanted the curl to jump, so I stained the maple with a darker Blue/black mix. I sanded this out and stained the rest with a slight blue color enhancing the upper part a bit more, so there was 2 different sections. We finished the guitar as we normally do to a super high gloss, carefully prepared the fingerboard as to not “burn through” the color, and assembled the instrument. We got a special Creation Series case made and shipped the guitar to Tokyo. Ishibashi used the guitar for some tradeshow events along with magazine articles. Dr. Chujo received the guitar and all is well!
Have a look at our current issue of “American Guitars”
Featured Interviews with Joe Bonamassa, and Greg Howe as well as Luthiers Gabriel Currie from EchoPark Guitars, John Monteleone, and a look at Benedetto Guitars after 48 years by CEO Howard Paul. The Photographers Vault by Derek Brad of his shoot of Joe Bonamassa at the State Theatre.