Guitar Design Secrets – Maximize Your ROI (Return On Improvements)

How To Improve Your Guitars Faster By Changing Your Design Focus

Video Podcast Transcript:

Welcome to This edition of the Art Of Lutherie Podcast! Today I have a few things that have been a big help for me, and have set me on a path where I could increase the rate at which I was improving and refining my guitar designs. At the same time, they helped me to be more focused on the specific goals that I was trying to achieve with my work. I think it is really important to have a very focused direction when coming up with a guitar design…I’ll get more into that in just a second, I think it is going to be a lot of fun!

I was just sitting here this morning before the camera was on, and I was working on this guitar neck like I normally do. This is why I am so blessed to get to professionally hand-craft guitars, because it seems like every time I pick up part of a guitar, especially these carving and sculpting type of operations, like carving an archtop top or back or carving a neck or something like that where there is not a lot of intellectual decision making, my mind goes quiet and I am sort of watching my hands remove the wood. Every time I do that, I get to this place of stillness and I love to be there because I can think so clearly.

This morning like many mornings, I was working and carving this neck and my mind was just wondering and I was traveling down this train of thought. I considered my goals for this guitar, why they are important, what I want to achieve specifically with this neck. I was focused on what I want it to feel like, and all of these different aspects of its design. As I worked my way deeper and deeper, it occurred to me that this is something that I think is important and so I wanted to take a minute and turn the camera on and share it with you. My hope is that after you see this short podcast that you will walk away with something that might help you too, and that is the goal right? I want to help you build better guitars. That’s what I am trying to achieve and also to share my passion for guitar making…You know when you are passionate about something, you just want to talk about it… so I can’t help it because I love guitar making!Anyway, let me get to the point….

Guitar Design

I began thinking about guitar design… and there are so many elements of guitar design. I have an entire video course call The Art Of Guitar Design and in it, I discuss a lot of different aspects and important elements of the guitar, but I want to take a step beyond just thinking about the structure and the architecture of the design. Today I want to go a little further and talk about what’s beyond that…I am calling it…for lack of a better term…this sounded great in my head when I was thinking about it so I hope it comes out right! I am calling this concept – Designing the Experience.

Designing The Experience

When we design a guitar we are creating more than just a “thing” that has to function in a certain way, I think it is wise to consciously design the experience that the guitar player is going to have when they pick up the guitar. I think that is really important. If you follow that train of thought little further…or as I followed it a little further, here is what I came up with: The guitar has many different components so let’s generalize and break it into two main parts. There is the body of the guitar, let’s pretend it is here, and then there is the neck of the guitar.

The body of the guitar has probably the most attention paid to it when it comes to how one would attempt to improve their guitar. Most often if someone says “I want to build a better guitar” the first thing they usually do is think about things such as “how can I change my bracing…How can I make it lighter…How can I thin the top more… How can I change the bridge…” It’s usually the guitar body focused design elements that they will put their time into improving.

Your Most Valuable Asset

Your time as a guitar maker, and as a professional guitar maker for sure, is your most valuable asset and you want to get a good return on that investment. So we want to apply our time or invest, our time, into the place that will give us the greatest return. In our case we are talking about the greatest return as being – improving the guitar the most and in the most noticeable way that will improve the experience of the guitar player when they play the guitar… hopefully I am explaining this right.

Return on investment of time

The Body of the guitar is where most of us spend the majority of our time working to refine and improve, but the main point I want to make today is that if you shift over to designing your guitar for the experience, to create a guitar that gives the player the greatest experience, putting all of your effort into the body of the guitar and refining it, though it is definitely important, then you are missing out on a lot of opportunity to improve the experience.
I say this because the majority of the guitar player’s tactile contact and interaction as they play, is all happening in the left hand (the fretting hand). Very little is happening here in the body, maybe the shape of the body determines how comfortable it is to hold or sit on their lap, and of course the tonality and responsiveness is important, but beyond that, the neck is what really is going to make a big initial impact on the experience of playing your guitar.

Why The Guitar Neck Is So Important

Let’s say you have a guitar you made where everything is perfect on the body, the sound is amazing… it’s the best guitar you’ve ever made. But, let’s say you did a bad job on the fretwork, maybe the neck is a little too big, maybe it’s uncomfortable when you fret that first fret position, maybe the heel is too big and can’t allow them the access. Then all the work you did on the body of the guitar to make the sound perfect really doesn’t matter does it? Because it will never be their favorite guitar, some of them and hardcore and will put up with a miserable playing experience because they love the tone, but it’s just going to create a barrier that is not going to let them have the great experience that they could have.

All the energy that was put into making the refinements in the body of the guitar could have been taken and put into refining these other elements like the fretwork, the shape of the neck, the way it blends into the headstock, the heal, and all of those other really important refinements. If you put energy into that, then you will improve the experience they have, and when they play the guitar, if those important elements are right, then it will open them up to even begin to explore fully everything else the guitar has to offer, like the tonality and all that stuff.

Prioritize and Maximize

So that is the epiphany that I had years ago, to design for the experience that the player is going to have, you want them to have the best possible experience. Of course, design for the structure and tonality and all that other stuff too, it is very important as well. That is the beauty of this craft is expressing yourself artistically through your design, but all the while keeping in mind that we want the player to have an amazing experience when they play the guitar. That is the thing, when they pick it up and it plays so effortlessly and it feels so great, everything is just right, they’re going to love it! They’ll never part with it and it will be their favorite guitar forever, and that is what we want! It will let them create their music in such a better way and be so much more inspiring and that is awesome and that is what we are after here.


So that is is really what I wanted to share with you today, focusing your design efforts on the experience that the player will have and then prioritize which elements of your guitar to focus on first. Eventually, we want to refine every part of the guitar, but I think it is wise to prioritize it some way, which ever way is most important to you, and focus first on the elements that will give you the best return on the investment of your time. What I mean by return is the best amount of noticeable improvement that is appreciated by the player for the amount of effort that you put into it.

That’s all I have for you guys today, I am going to get back to work and finish carving this neck and make sure that it this one is going to give the owner of this guitar an amazing experience too.

The Art Of Lutherie Podcast E3

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