One definition of ’boutique’ is ‘a business that serves a sophisticated or specialised clientele.’ In the realm of custom built, one-off acoustic guitars th at is a fairly fitting explanation! Author Michael John Simmons, has previously written: ‘Taylor Guitars: 30 Years of a New American Classic’ and co-authored ‘Acoustic Guitar: An Historical Look at Composition, Construction and Evolution of One of the World’s Most Beloved Instruments.’
In his latest book ‘Boutique Acoustics: 180 Years of Handbuilt American Guitars,’ Simmons transports us back to 1833 with C.F. Martin Sr. as the
first known American luthier. Large volume acoustic guitar manufacturers like C.F. Martin, Taylor and Gibson continue to dominate the buying landscape, but there are also musicians that seek a unique instrument that is handcrafted one at a time and in smaller quantities.
This book transitions through boutique builders and what brought them about like the gut-strung Austrian
classical guitar, the effect of Spanish luthiers, Hawaiian steel guitars and even Italian mandolins. Attention is given to harp and 12 string guitars, both of which are gaining again in popularity today.
Features that we consider common place like ‘cutaways’ are discussed as is the implementation of modern man-made materials like carbon fibre in the creation of instruments. Some obscure builders are recognised such as Max Krimmel, Gower and NBN, but so are current pioneers like Michael Gurian and the Santa Cruz Guitar Company.
The reference listing in the back of Simmons book delves into basics of body shapes and elements of construction, wood types (with explanations of tonal properties), bracing, and my favorite part a ‘Selected Directory of American Luthiers’ including addresses and phone numbers! Someone recently asked me why I don’t make and build my own guitars and I explained that I prefer to play them than create guitars! But I’m also very thankful for the luthiers that do pursue this craft and provide us such incredible instruments to play and enjoy.
The pictures and images within ‘Boutique Acoustics’ are attention grabbing but the stories and explanations will keep you turning the pages to find out more. Thanks to Simmon’s past experience as a magazine editor for Acoustic
Guitar and his involvement with The Fretboard Journal and The Ukulele Occasional magazines he has a keen eye for layout and composition. I always find it fascinating that many of the innovations developed and created by small guitar builders are eventually adopted by major manufacturers once the public requests them.
Simmons does a great job paying homage to historical boutique builders and showing the fascinating future of th e new batch of modern day luthiers. Whether you have a collection full of small builders guitars or you have always dreamed of owning and having one built to your specific features ‘Boutique Acoustics: 180 Years of Handbuilt American Guitars’ is a fun and informational read.
This is a book you will refer back to again and again on many points, just as you do your favourite acoustic guitar. The interviews with the luthiers is a plus as they are the artists behind the instruments that allow us to make music with the instruments they have created. There is something special about a one off guitar that is built specifically for you, how you play and how you want it to sound and to me the joy is that there will never be another made exactly like it. Boutique Acoustics definitely has inspired me to consider the acquisition of just one more acoustic guitar – watch out it may do the same for you? Eric Dahl
“This is a book you will refer back to again and again on many points, just as you do your favourite acoustic guitar…”