Loïc Bortot: “My interest in design started way before I even thought about woodworking”

By Steve Rider

Photos by: Francis Fontaine

Guitar Connoisseur: You were born in France and now live in Quebec, Canada. What brought you to The New World?

Loïc Bortot: In 2011, at the age of 22, I was facing a crossroads in my life. I was no longer interested in pursuing a long college education, wasn’t making much money and had a boring job in a factory. I was playing the guitar at the time and figured I wanted to try guitar making. I was pretty open-minded about where I had to go to learn the basics of this craft. Unfortunately (but maybe for the best), there are very few training courses and apprenticeships offered in France, so after a long search for guitar making courses all around the world, I decided to apply to the National Lutherie School of Quebec City.

There were many advantages to go to this particular school and I had been attracted to this region for a long time. Now I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

GC: How old were you when you started taking an interest in woodworking and design?

LB: My interest in design started way before I even thought about woodworking. When I was a kid, I was drawing, painting, making some sort of pictorial art all the time. My interest and love for woodworking
came way later. In fact, I had never worked with wood before starting my training in Quebec City. But it took only a short time before I fell in love with it, and even became obsessed with guitar making.

GC: Is it true you considered a career as a car designer at one point? What changed your course to acoustic instruments?

LB: Yes, my dream job when I was a kid was to become a car designer at Pininfarina (the guys who designed Ferraris). I remember I could spend hours trying to draw the next fictional model of Ferrari I had in my head. To me, car design is a very complex and refined form of art and engineering, even more so today with the new cutting-edge technologies. I truly think that some high-performance cars that are produced today are mind-blowing masterpieces in terms of aerodynamics, aesthetics, etc. and that we are living in a very exciting car design era for those who are interested in it. I just wish they put more effort into sustainable sources of energy rather than trying to extend the era of fossil fuels. I didn’t have the chance to become a car designer because schools in that field are very expensive and extremely competitive. Additionally, I think my mind is not quite scientific enough – plus I couldn’t stand to be working on computers all day. Guitar making gives me the same thrill that car design did and in a way, it has similar design challenges. You have to produce a functional tool that has a good sound, is comfortable and beautiful. In that regard, guitar making is more than art; it is also engineering and architecture, which makes it really fascinating. What I love even more about it, is that I get to build, finish and sell my instruments myself, which gives me insight on what I have to consider when I get back to the drawing board.

GC: What has influenced your design aesthetic?

LB: There are probably more things than I am aware of that influence my aesthetics. I appreciate the fluid, tensed and broken lines that can be found in the early Gothic architecture (11th -12th centuries).

There is a specific kind of balance and proportions that architects were using at the time, which I have in the back of my head when I draw a guitar. I like the Scandinavian pictorial art style, but more generally, I think I can find some inspiring things in every artistic period. I have pretty defined tastes in terms of proportions and shapes, that makes me know quickly if a guitar shape works for me or not. Of course, there are many of today’s guitar makers who are great inspirations to me and who are leading examples, not only for their aesthetics but also for the philosophy behind their work. This is one of the things I also love about lutherie, it is that most builders are inspired by one another and are pushing the envelope together in their own way. This is what makes the field very dynamic and thrilling today; what Paul Heumiller calls “the Golden Age” of guitar making.

GC: How would you describe your style?

LB: It is pretty tough for me to put a name on it. I see it truly as a mix of modern and classic building styles. Apart from the Moonchild model, all the models I am offering right now are based on the Martin or Gibson standard body sizes. For instance, to create the Mistral model, which is my OM sized model, I took the body dimensions from the Martin OM as references, but I reworked its shape, modified its lines and curves so they fit more with my own tastes.

Let me explain my approach towards the 3 most important aspects of a guitar: In terms of sound, my guitars are very much focused on fingerstyle playing. It means I want a good balance between low, mid and top ranges. I also want a guitar that produces a complex tone; I love guitars that have lots of harmonics and overtones coming through it when you hit a note, and I want a long-lasting sustain.

To achieve this, I need to build my guitars in a certain way. For the top, my approach is focused mainly on stiffness to weight ratio. I try to obtain light tops that are also stiff enough to last for decades. I also want the back of my guitars to be responsive and to work in relation to the top. Throughout the process of building a guitar, I note every single piece of data that I can gather such as, top/back/box frequencies at different stages, top deflection, weight, wood density, thicknesses, etc. Now I am starting to have a pretty good database, which helps me to continuously improve. I combine this scientific side with a more intuitive and sensitive approach. So, every time I build a guitar, I kind of train myself feeling the top stiffness and listening to the tap tone, to try to develop my ability to analyze my work in a more sensitive way.

The other structural elements of my guitars are built to last. I build fairly heavy scarf jointed mahogany necks reinforced with carbon fiber and a truss rod. I also want the side rim of my guitars to be very stiff, so I make my own solid laminated linings. My neck assembly method is a bolted tenon mortise joint. I put a solid mahogany block inside the box under the fretboard, so the neck will never wrap down into the top.

In terms of aesthetics, I like sobriety, but I also like complex and fine details, so I try to find a balance between both. When I build a guitar, I kind of choose an aesthetic theme for it. Most of the time, its complexity depends on my client’s wishes. I generally prefer going with fewer different wood species on a guitar to remain within the same color scheme. I love to explore on what I can do with the wood, just by cutting it or arranging it in different ways. My visual signature has been evolving quickly during my first 2 to 3 years of activity. I think it is pretty defined right now, but I will keep it evolving for my entire career. I have to confess, I really love spending hours making tricky aesthetic features, inlays, rosettes, etc.

To conclude on this, I would say that the most exciting thing for me as a guitar maker is that it is an endless learning process; many builders have told me, even after 30 plus years of experience, that they are still discovering things. I think it is necessary to keep the passion alive.

GC: What role has music played in your life?

LB: I was lucky enough to grow up with good music in my ears. My parents, and more particularly my father, made me discover some objectively great music, mostly 60s-70s rock’n’roll and blues. So, all the great classics like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Jethro Tull, Hendrix, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and many others, are almost written into my DNA at this point. On my own, I have continued to expand my musical library. I listen to pretty much any kind of music today: electronic, classical, roots reggae, hip-hop, rock, fingerstyle guitar – I am convinced that music plays an important role in my work as a luthier. I always work with music in the background; it is one of the things that help me keep up my pace (the other is coffee). I also play some music; guitar, bass, piano, drum, just for jamming with friends and having fun.

GC: Can you tell us about your time at the National Lutherie School of Quebec City?

LB: It was an incredibly enjoyable time. I remember my time at the National Lutherie School of Quebec City with great nostalgia and gratitude. In my opinion, it is one of the best and most complete lutherie schools you can find in the world for the price. One of the most underrated too. It is a French-speaking 3-year program where you build 4 guitars, and you learn all the basics you need to startup as a luthier; from conception to the build, finish and repair. You also have more general studies like art, art history, marketing and material characteristics. During the program, I was mentored by experienced guitar builders who gave me the knowledge I needed to start. I keep a close relationship with the school, as I am currently employed part-time as a technician. I made a bunch of great friends there, whose common motivation is lutherie, which results in a very exciting synergy.

GC: In your bio, you express your affection for that city. What does it mean to you to base your career in Quebec?

LB: My choice to stay in Quebec City was very obvious, even before completing my training. As I was becoming more and more familiar with the lutherie community and seeing how things were working
around the globe in this field, I couldn’t even think about starting my career in France. The market there is very tough, especially for the kind of guitars I am building, and taxes on small businesses are tremendously burdensome. Furthermore, I can clearly see that the market for flat top acoustic guitars in North America is very dynamic and evolves quickly. I am blown away by the number of very talented
luthiers on this continent, and by how open-minded clients and builders are about guitars. I chose to stay in Quebec City in particular because I find it to be a peaceful and pleasant place to live in. There is a cool neighborhood life there, most people are pretty relaxed and rentals are cheap. I am satisfied with my life in Quebec City, but it doesn’t mean I am not considering moving at some point. I miss France a lot for family, friends, and places that I know, so I might be moving back there one day when the time is right.

GC: You graduated in 2014, winning the excellence award for the Moonchild model guitar. What has your career been like over the past four years?

LB: Right after my graduation, I got the opportunity to rent a working space in a famous lutherie workshop called “Atelier de lutherie Moustache”. I worked here for one year before setting up my own workshop. I learned a lot working with those guys and it gave me the time I needed to purchase all the basic equipment to start on my own. Also right after my graduation, I got offered to work as a technician at the Lutherie School in Quebec City, which I gladly accepted. Besides that, I was working as a repairman in a local guitar shop. I worked there for 2 years under the management of the very experienced luthier Hubert Labbé. I think gaining experience in guitar repair is crucial for any builder. It helps to refine your understanding of how to set up a guitar properly and efficiently, as well as to learn tricks that can save you a lot of time down the line.

In the summer of 2015, I set up my own shop. I was lucky enough to find a huge apartment for a fair rental price, with a large clean basement. I purchased the basic machinery and I already had most of the hand tools I needed. I started making all the benches, jigs, shelves, bending machine, binding routing arm, etc., to be able to start production. It took me about 4 months to be all set. Now I have built approximately 15 guitars, averaging 3 to 4 a year. I am currently in the process of increasing those numbers. My main focus during my first years of production has been to develop a proper model lineup
for Bouchereau Guitars, now I am offering 4 different models that are suitable for any kind of player.

The first guitar show I attended was the 2016 Ottawa Guitar Show organized by the respected luthier Mike Sankey. It was a very engaging first experience and a good way to put my name on the map. After that, I attended the Woodstock Invitational Luthier Showcase, where I got to meet with Paul and Scott of Dream Guitars. They went back home with one of my instruments and sold it pretty quickly, so I immediately built another one for them. I am glad to be working with those guys. The following year I attended more guitar showcases that turned out to be pretty successful for me, which makes me confident about the direction I am heading towards.

Today, I am present on the social media platforms and I have my website, where clients can reach out to me easily. I offer a wide choice of lovely tonewood, as well as a lot of aesthetic and ergonomic options, so I am all set to take pretty much any custom request.

GC: Where do you see yourself and Bouchereau Guitars heading from here?

LB: 2018 seems set to be a very exciting year for me and my brand. I have a couple of guitars currently in the making, coming in hot for the La Conner Guitar Festival. I am planning to attend even more shows in the years to come, not only in North America but also in Europe and Asia. I have many special build ideas in my mind and on paper that will materialize when the time comes. The next special project will most likely be a baritone model. The guitars I build are exclusively flat top acoustics for now. I just love this kind of guitar, for the feeling, the sound, the ergonomics and for the infinite design possibilities it offers. As I mentioned before, North America is a very exciting place to be for an acoustic guitar builder.

Nonetheless, I am also very much attracted by archtop guitars. While not being a jazz player at all, I am still very excited to try building one. However, I will not begin before getting some hindsight from a more experienced luthier in that domain. Stay tuned, for there might be some advancement in that regard in the near future. Despite the difficulties, I am pretty happy with where I am now. I feel like there are many ways I can go from here, my love for the craft is stronger than ever, and I hope with all my heart, that my work will touch guitar lovers all around the world.

To learn more please visit: bouchereau-guitars.com

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