Frank Hartung – Going With the Flow-Carving
By Melz Durston
Republished from our German Issue. Click here to purchase in print.
Here at Guitar Connoisseur we are dedicated to telling the stories of local, international and small, boutique luthiers. In doing so, we hope to raise their profiles whilst also encouraging readers to support local crafts-persons. You never know what hidden knowledge these luthiers have; and similar to smaller music venues, untainted by commercial constraints – the experience is likely to be that little bit more human. No security checks, and no intimidating doormen to deal with.
Germany is often associated with a musical reputation that would get any discerning electronica-come-psychedelic-rock fan foaming at the mouth. With the likes of Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and heavier metal bands such as the Scorpions and Rammstein to come out of this once thought of, the nucleus of the world – nothing here is left to chance.
This includes the work of German-based luthier, Frank Hartung. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, Frank has been hand-crafting electric guitars for his clients who span the globe. Originally, trained on-the-job as an expert carpenter, Hartung developed a keen sense of the unique properties of different woods early on – and as a result, he was in the perfect position to transfer this knowledge into the sphere of musical instruments. Having established his own business, earlier as Forge Guitars, he now trades under his own name, Frank Hartung Guitars.
So what ultimately turned Hartung’s attentions away from his family trade of carpentry towards the more niche area of guitar luthiery? Hartung explained the buzz he got out of the first finished self-designed guitar that he successfully sold: “Looking back, I am very happy to have discovered guitar making for myself. It certainly gives me satisfaction to hold a guitar in my hands that I built by myself.” In 2001, Hartung finished his first boutique-built guitar, and since then, those memories have been a strong driving force in Hartung’s work over the past decade: “They gave my life a completely new drift.”
It seems that “going with the flow” is exactly what has lead Hartung to holding his place as one of Germany’s most renowned guitar makers. He tells GC, “Experienced (guitar) luthiers just know if a guitar is ‘right’, and that is something you learn over many years of work.” Added to this intuition, Hartung regularly incorporates the technique of “Flow-Carving” into his designs. Developed in 2002, predominantly as an appearance-enhancing feature, it not only looks the part but it also accentuates the natural contours of the guitar whilst adding a certain punch to the tone. So what exactly is Flow-Carving? “The natural binding flows into the layers of the guitar’s top and creates a stark contrast to the finish. The narrow midsection of the body also enhances the attack of the guitar and is very fertile for the development of harmonics,“ explains Hartung. Gaining a trademark name for himself, this distinct feature is typical of the Hartung design, along with his UTF (Under Top Fortification) neck joint approach and custom resonance capturing hardware designs from aluminum truss rods & bridges down to his own ferrules.
Hartung prides himself on his attention to detail and self-reliance. He builds mostly from scratch, seeing each guitar through from its initial conception to the final, glossed model. With pick-ups coming from renowned German coil winders like Haussel, Kloppman, and Gerold, Hartung adapts each build to each of his clients’ wishes, and is always on the look-out for innovative new designs: “I closely collaborate with my customers, and specific wishes are the rule rather than the exception.” Not long ago, he established the Diavolo CC which featured a series of Ace cards along the fret-board. Hartung adds “I came up with the idea for the inlays because I thought this was kind of cool.” We think so, too. The autonomy and creativity that this profession seems to afford, is almost like a sky’s the- limit measuring stick – and that can only be a good thing.
Limited edition models – Bursting Moon and Glowing Moon – were inspired by mythical literature, and feature intricate engravings by Anja Dammenhayn. Hartung tells GC, “The guitar was the brainchild of German guitarist extraordinaire Jan Schamberger (aka Jeremy Scoot) who provided a lot of ideas for the guitars. He also implements things such as randomized LED-lighting or fog bombs in his stage performances.”
The Embrace model has been purchased by Billy Idol guitarist, Steve Stevens—also known for his guitar work on the score of Top Gun. Stevens has been quoted as referring to the instrument as, one of the sexiest guitars I have ever seen.
“I can tell you that it is not easy to master the balancing act of building a guitar that still owns the traditional aspects that we all love, and still provide some new impetus for the guitarist. The design is very eye-catching, the tone is full and well balanced, the playability is absolutely top-notch and, most importantly, every time you pick up the guitar, you can feel the dedication and absolute passion that it has been built with.” Frank tells GC. He has an intuitive feel for the unique qualities of different wood types, and makes a special point of choosing timber that will produce a resonant and clear resulting sound – “I always keep my eyes and ears wide open. I do the wood sourcing all by myself and whenever I get my hands on an exquisite piece of wood, I just have to buy it immediately! From time to time, I give some exotic woods a try, such as anigre, eucalyptus, or Movingui-Frise.” More exciting plans wait in the shadows including a double-necked acrylic design.
Although boutique, custom-built guitar companies might be smaller, harder to find and perhaps have less of the glamourous PR to push them forward, the one thing that many of these small-scale luthiers, including Frank Hartung, stand by – is loyalty, close relationships – and trust. If there are less layers to the process, and more transparency between the luthier and their customer, ultimately there is less that is out of the customer’s control. Hartung agrees: “I see plenty of advantages for small boutiques because you can approach your customers on a personal base. They feel that they are in good hands, and as a luthier, I can create a sort of personal relationship with them.” This is why boutique luthiers can gain a reputation for detail, quality and customization – and in doing so, Hartung has been able to stretch his reach much further afield than his native Germany. So, has he become a marketing/PR-junkie? Hartung definitely appreciates the benefits of social media – “Especially small luthiers like me can deliver tons of information and enable the global community to participate in my guitar building activities.” Yet, it is the tried-and-tested methods that always stick around: “Still, word-of-mouth of my satisfied customers is the strongest promotion for my business.”
This isn’t the only international link Hartung has either – with connections to Elmwood Amps in Sweden, he aims to foster good relations to form a symbiotic friendship within the hi-end gear field – “This creates synergy effects as my customers who are yet not aware of Elmwood are able to check out their amps.” It creates a positive cycle, and customers discover skilled craft from all corners of the globe – and all branches of the live music trade. Frank adds, “This is a win-win-situation for both of us.”
So what’s in the cards for the small boutique luthier? Design your own reality, trust your instincts and always go with YOUR flow!
To learn more about Frank Hartung guitars please visit: hartung-guitars.com
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