Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reader Questions

I often receive questions regarding Weissenborns, and im always happy to discuss anything Weissenborn related - so if you have a question feel free to shoot me an email. This one covered some of the misinformation floating around about Weissenborns, so I thought others might find it interesting;

Hi Tony,
I follow the restauration of the teardrop, it's very interesting, i 'm waiting for the other parts;)

Tony ,I have a question for you:
I am found of Weissenborn's guitars since i've discovered Ben Harper's music, almost 15 years ago. Since then, i have tryed to collect as much informations, pics etc.. as i could ; particulary for my instruments projects .
Anyway, everybody do agree to say those instruments (hourglass, teardrop, konas certainly the same as ukes and spanish guitars...) sound purely amazing. The fact is that, sometimes, we can notice some small 'imperfections' in the building , rough internal surfaces,joint reinforcement not on the axe,i've heard about asymetrical body shape, i've seen tuners not well mounted...Finally, even if this presentation above is quite superficial and does not treat about what make a good sounding instrument, i wonder if Mr Hermann was a genious, who find the balance between, quick effective building process and sound, or if he was a just a 'good' luthier who had the 'chance' to find such wonderfull designs.

I'm particulary dubious about the fact that, i've seen numbers of original weiss with the tuners installed the wrong way (the key's gear not balancing the string force applied on the tuner head)
Can the design of the tuners allow to make the mistake of mounting them upside down during a restauration, or was it a 'normal mistake'?

Sorry for this long monospeaking message ;) hope it won't bother you.
Regards
Matthieu

Dear Matthieu,

Thanks for your message. This covers a lot of ground but I will do my best to answer everything as best I can.

To understand the ‘imperfections’ you are talking about, I think it’s really important to firstly understand things in perspective of the time and context in which they were built. Weissenborn began making Hawaiian guitars in the late 19’teens. Through his experimentation and relentless refinement, in less than a decade, he was able to take the style of instrument as it existed at the time, and shape it into what has become the modern standard by which all others are judged today. If you didn’t already know, George Noe and Dan Most documented this chronology in their exceptional book.

Looking at and playing Weissenborns guitars, It’s obvious that Weissenborn could articulate his craft at a high level, used finest quality material, and knew what he was after. There is no doubt he operated with a certain frugality (not uncommon for many makers at that time), but mostly I would say he focused on the detail.

I often hear about the ‘imperfections’, as you say, such as saw marks or glue squeeze out. I think the negativity surrounding this comes from some old, very misleading marketing into what at the time was a uneducated market - largely preconditioned to expect the sterile surfaces of guitars made with synthetic glue.You see these same maker marks at vintage Martins or Gibsons, and it does not mean the guitars are made badly, to me at least they are just made in a different time, more craftsman like if you will.


As far as the reverse tuners, this is how early tuning machines were made, with the worm shaft below the gear. Here is a picture found on the net to illustrate;

Around the early 1920s, the industry began making tuners with the worm shaft above the gear, like we see on tuners today. Why the change? Well, as you alluded to, any slop is pulled tight by the string tension, and tuning is much easier. So I wouldn’t say these early tuners are wrong, they can still work quite well, and simply engineered differently.

With regards to the mounting, with the exception of some curious early examples, they are mounted toward the treble side. Why? It makes tuning easier and more comfortable from the players perspective.


I hope this helps.

Best,

Tony Francis

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