By Steve Rider
The man from Japan, Michihiro Matsuda, was born and raised on the distant archipelago nation. Guitar playing and handcrafting were always a part of his life. At age 29 he decided to venture forth into the world, moving to the United States to attend the famous Roberto Venn School of Lutherie in Arizona. After six months of training, he moved to Oakland, California to work under internationally renowned luthier Ervin Somogyi. He apprenticed with Somogyi for three years, developing his original style.
The master luthier had this to say of his former student, “Michi is really a phenomenon. There isn’t anyone else like him. He has a beautiful sense of line with design. His work is remarkably original.”
During Michihiro’s time apprenticing with Ervin Somogyi, he also began working at the renowned Gryphon Guitars repairing vintage and modern instruments. Co-founder Frank Ford speaks highly of Matsuda’s work, saying that he has been shown contours in guitars that he didn’t know were there before Michihiro showed them to him. Matsuda works from a very solid base of traditional methodology which allows him the foundation to explore and experiment each time he builds. He strives to combine these traditional methods with creative and innovative designs, taking his time on each individual instrument. Michihiro builds only ten to twelve guitars a year, putting his personal touch and originality into each and every work.
Innovative design is his hallmark. His typical rosette is anything but typical, combining super sleek and pencil-thin inlays with curving blocks of wood and mother of pearl. Most sport multiple, broken rings and an asymmetrical beauty all their own. Unique shapes and contours change his neck heels from structural necessity to elements of interest and enjoyable art. All the while, there is an unswerving commitment to utility and tone. The treble notes sing out and echo slightly, enhancing the player’s work, while bass notes are clear and punchy. One model has a split headstock, where the bass string can be adjusted independently using a floating nut. Some models are simply impossible to describe, and must be seen personally.
The Matsuda Mini custom parlor size features a scorched Italian spruce top, Cambodian rosewood sides and back, stained Mahogany neck, Mahogany inlaid Maple headstock, Wenge fingerboard and bridge, Gotoh stealth tuner, and handmade buttons resembling those used on traditional Japanese instruments. Michihiro shares this piece of his philosophy with us on his site:
“The guitar is the tool of the performer. Good guitars enable anybody to express themselves musically and artistically. But I start to think that guitars are not just the tool to make music, they are more than that. In the process of making the guitar, the wood becomes a musical instrument. I am the person who puts the voice into the guitar, and with my creative visual and sonic design choices, I am expressing myself artistically as well. My custom instruments not only meet the technical needs of the player; they are also personal creative works from my imagination. It is my hope that my artistic influence will inspire guitarists to even greater creative heights.”