The Velvet Journey
By Christian Hatstatt / MAGNETO Guitars
Republished from the “Les Paul Reboot” issue Click here to purchase in Print
“Why did you do that? This means that anybody with a bandsaw can make a guitar!”
It is with these words that a famous competitor welcomed the newly launched LP back in 1952. The fact that a guitar brand started to make electric guitars in the form of a solid-body was not very welcome by the guitar industry, at a time when the arched-top hollow body guitar was the standard.
Some 60 years later, we see the solid body electric guitar phenomenon could not be stopped as it clearly served to define the sound of modern music from the 50s until these days. While on one hand, the “bolt-on neck” solid body guitars started to gain popularity, the main alternative was the set-neck, 24 ¾ scale guitar that started off with P90 pickups and eventually became the typical 2-Humbucker guitar known as the “LP”.
The LP is often described as the guitar with more sustain, midrange, and excellent behavior when played with overdriven amps, which is true. However, the original idea was not necessarily to make it an iconic instrument for Rock N Roll, as most musicians from the era played the instrument through clean sounding amps with very little effects in order to obtain classic and warm Jazz tones. Yes, we have to face it; the Humbucker was created to overcome the hum problems which came with the P90 and all single coil pickups.
While there is some truth in the first sentence of this article, that the birth of the solid body electric guitar also marked the beginning of mass production, the past decades have seen various luthiers from all over the world continuing to build LP-type or influenced guitars with a lot of attention to details that brings a whole new life into the original concept.
The true origins of the MAGNETO Velvet guitar started way before MAGNETO was even launched! Back in 2003 while working for Blade guitars, we were working on new design ideas for a 24 ¾ scale guitar. I was in charge of bringing the concept to life. We had a clear idea on the body shape but still needed to figure out the rest of the concept. To keep a long story short, as we were building the final prototype, we were struggling to get the right thickness of the body, and we ended up using a 45mm (1.77”) piece of Mahogany. We did not really care about the thickness at that time as we wanted to get a first idea of what the guitar would look like.
While the end result looked too thin for the eyes, we noticed 2 interesting points.
1) The guitar was lighter (well, that was not too hard to figure out!)
2) The tone of the instrument was different but did not lose any sustain. As a matter of fact, we found it very pleasing to the ears. Solid midrange but more presence and very snappy.
After this first prototype, the weight and thickness were changed. However, the end result of this first prototype impressed me so much that I decided I would follow up on these ideas whenever I had a chance to.
After starting the first designs for MAGNETO Guitars in 2008, I knew that I wanted a 24 ¾ scale, set-neck guitar as a third model of the MAGNETO range. The influence of the thinner body and the prototype work is done in 2003 served as a reference for the new Velvet guitar.
So, here we are, but what’s the real idea behind the Velvet? Well, to be honest, it is not part of our philosophy to just copy a standard. You can sure build one to perfection, but that would not be enough reason to make a new guitar model these days.
Reason #1: To stay true to the MAGNETO Philosophy in terms of tone, design, and integrity in the build.
There is a second reason, though. Truth is that during my years as a musician I could never feel 100% good when playing a real LP guitar. It has to do with many factors: habit, neck shape, weight, too much midrange etc., etc…
So the answers are here: Let us create an instrument with a more C-shaped neck and a lighter weight. Let us also try to make it more snappy in tone with a bit higher midrange and quack, to make it interesting when played in clean mode. All
these points would make it easier to switch from a Strat or Tele style guitar to a 2 HB guitar.
Now that we have defined the rules, time to work on the shape, on the body curves, the body mass, the neck mass, the headstock shape & mass. All these parameters interact and influence each other in a complex way.
Theories & Practice
While you probably expected that we start exploring the body, we intentionally started to talk about the neck in order to explain its influence on the overall tone.
The neck has a massive impact both on the sound and the feeling you have when playing the guitar. In other terms, the neck woods will produce intense vibrations.
You can experience this by simply playing the open strings on your guitar:
Simply by feeling with your fingers you will feel way more vibrations coming from the neck area than on the body. Something we rarely do is touch the headstock during the string vibrations, where you will feel even more resonance. It is an obvious fact that the impact of the neck & headstock on the overall tone of a solid-body electric guitar is quite important. So, we will basically start with one massive piece of carefully selected and well-seasoned mahogany.
Another aspect of this new guitar will be the headstock: first, it will have 3 tuners per side and will have a 17° angle to the fingerboard to ensure great string pressure on the nut resulting in greater vibration. Nothing new here as this had already been done on vintage guitars and proved to work the best for the tones we wanted to achieve. The headstock will receive a thin ebony cap in which the Magneto logo and the 3 Velvet stripes will be inlaid using mother-of-pearl.
Right on the other end, the bare neck will have a long tail that will be shaped to fit very tightly into the body where it will be solidly glued. It is called a set-in neck, and we will use a very traditional mortise and tenon joint. The goal is to connect body and neck in such a fashion so it becomes one single and tight unit.
Mass? Yes, mass is important but you do not want a neck to be too fat, just fair sized so it feels good to play. And the mass of the neck has to be in a certain balance to the body mass in order to reach the tones we are after. Also, we wanted he neck to feel comfortable for the typical start player so we used a typical C profile.
The fretboard is that other part of the guitar which has a major impact on the overall tone of your solid-body guitar. It is very easy to notice the tonal colors of rosewood versus maple or ebony. Our favorite fretboard wood is rosewood, East Indian rosewood, in our specific case.
Our new guitar will have block inlays, and its construction will require that we install the inlays and prepare the fret-slots prior to the installation of the fingerboard to the neck. As for all our guitars, we will go for our beloved 280mm (11 Inch) radius which will receive jumbo frets (6120 style 18% NS).
So we finally made it to the dialogue about the body of our new guitar. For the specific tone we wanted to achieve, we decided to go for a 1-piece mahogany with a 2-piece maple top. The depth of the mahogany combined with the high midrange flavor of the maple top will give it that focused and tight tone.
Well, here again, the wood combinations are nothing new, and we chose them specifically for their tonal characteristics. However, what is new on such a guitar type is a slightly thinner and lighter body that would enhance the overall midrange response, which is part of our signature tone. This is something we have already achieved on our Sonnet and T-Wave guitars.
The body will receive a nice cream top binding as will the fingerboard. The back of the body will have a 4mm radius edge.
After all that is done, we can start to route the neck pocket which is an important moment as it requires precision and respect of the center line. At the same time, we will do all routings on the back of the body for the electronic cavities.
We’ve reached the point where the neck is being joined to the body and it is a fact that the character of each part will influence the other in the complex transmission of vibrations. Just like humans; when a team of people has an overall positive influence on each other!
What about weight? Well so far we designed the guitar to avoid any kind of chambering in order to tweak the weight which also has an influence on tone, and we wanted to avoid that. So we are looking to have an instrument around or below the 4 kgs (8lb & 13 oz). Yet it still needs to be balanced when strapped around the body in order to keep the neck in the air. This was also taken care of during design, hence a special design of the body where we have put a bit more mass on the bottom of the guitar.
While we like to use nitrocellulose or urethane finishes on most of our guitars, in this particular case we wanted to go for a different finish with a more distressed feeling, without trying to make it look “used”. We chose a special oil-wax finish with a black tint. This finish takes up quite some time and energy to apply.
The Sum of Parts
There is a fascination with parts and features. Are they really that important? Yes, in the sense that every single part on a guitar has an influence– but we believe that the most important thing is the quality of the construction. At the end of the day, the instrument has to inspire the musician to play new music.
That being said, we like to go for the best when it comes to parts. As an example, we use bridges and tuners that are custom made by Gotoh for the quality of their engineering and reliability. Oiled cow bone is used for the nuts. All these parts play an important role in the transmission of vibrations to the woods. The capture of the string vibrations will be achieved by using 2 Lollar Imperial pickups.
Time to try it and play the first notes through an amp. Always a special moment! Tight midrange and quite fat; less boomy and a bit hollower than what an LP would be. A tad closer to the SG tone, certainly due to the slightly thinner body, but plenty of sustain. When played clean, the guitar keeps a snappy attack and some kinda vintage “twang” if I may use this word for a guitar like this. The Lollar Imperials do a perfect job– beautifully balanced with nice overtones.
Well, these are at least our first impressions. Of course, this “New-Tone Land” needs to be explored by the musicians who will create their music and their own signature tone by playing the Velvet!
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