Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

It’s the end of another jam-packed week. The big news to acknowledge this week is that our resident shop dog, Juno, graduated from puppy class yesterday. A round of app-paws for Juno.

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The two M builds have progressed this week, and the neck carving process is underway. The mahogany used for the necks comes from an old staircase, and it is proving nearly as stubborn and hard as the wenge to carve. When carving a neck, like any process, the intentions for the design of an instrument is at the forefront of the mind. We’ve uploaded the third and final instalment of our discussion of Dieter Rams’s 10 Principles of Good Design’ and how it relates to guitar making. Check out the link to the previous post at the bottom of this page.

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And while you’re at it, we recorded the fourth episode of the podcast ‘The Interval’ yesterday evening. It’s available now for a more verbal update of our week, with answers to the questions everyone sent in. We received a huge response that we were not expecting, so thank you to everyone who has been keeping up and listening to or watching the podcast episodes. Much appreciated!

As we draw towards Christmas and the New Year, our next and final podcast of the year will be about looking back at 2018 and it’s highlights, and setting goals for the New Year. If you’d like to contribute your own highlights and goals, we’d love to hear and discuss them on next week’s podcast. Please send us a message, or comment below in order to participate.

We hope everyone had a great week. Time to wrap up these Model Ms! TS

Dieter Rams's 10 Principles of Design: Part 3 by Tom Sands

Concluding the discussion and application of Deiter Rams’s principles in relation to guitar making, we address principles 7, 8, 9 and 10 in this post.

Good design:

7. Is long lasting. 

As the famous Levi-Strauss slogan goes, ‘Quality Never Goes Out of Style’. In an ephemeral society, the design that stands through each fickle fashionable fad is one that boasts success in Rams’s seventh principle. Without appearing archaic, a product must prove itself to be timeless. Like Levi-Strauss focuses on one material and it’s qualities, denim, so a well-designed guitar must focus on it’s materials. These materials will speak for themselves. 

 Levi 501 Jeans. Source: www.retruly.com

Levi 501 Jeans. Source: www.retruly.com

If we look at examples of guitars that have stood the test of time, the original Stratocaster might spring to mind. It was, and still is, a highly desirable instrument. It is also incredibly minimalist, and do not exhibit elaborate inlays - these have a tendency to date very quickly.

I try to pay homage to this principle in my rosette choice. The ‘Penrosette’ celebrates the medium of copper with an etching taken from Roger Penrose’s mathematical pattern creates a subtle aesthetic pattern with a timeless narrative. Incidentally, much of Penrose’s work with Stephen Hawking is to do with the nature of time… 

 Original Stratocaster. Source: www.musicradar.com

Original Stratocaster. Source: www.musicradar.com


8. Is thorough down to the last detail

I think this idea ties in neatly with principle number six regarding honesty. A guitar that is well-made from the inside out and does not cut corners with the craftsmanship of unseen structure. Taking the time to get to know and understand the needs of a client exhibits attention to this principle; a thoroughness as important as the physical artistry. For example, my ‘Penrosette’ idea came to fruition from the knowledge that my client was a retired mathematics teacher.

 The Penrosette, Model L (Malaysian Blackwood / Swiss ‘Moon’ Spruce)

The Penrosette, Model L (Malaysian Blackwood / Swiss ‘Moon’ Spruce)

9. Is environmentally friendly 

This is a highly topical principle in terms of guitar making.

 Tom Sands Guitar with Rocklite Ebano fingerboard and binding.

Tom Sands Guitar with Rocklite Ebano fingerboard and binding.

In January 2017, the new CITIES regulations on all Dalbergia (rosewood) specimens was put into action. This meant that no Rosewood could be exported without the knowledge (via certificate and a payment) of the government. This included things that were already made out of Rosewood even before January 2017 - guitars very much not exempt. All Dalbergia genus woods, including African Blackwood, Cocobolo, and Bubinga were included in the appendix. This meant the acquisition of these tonewoods became suddenly very tricky, and subsequently there was a price rise in many of the woods named by the government.

The CITIES law was put in place, ultimately, to protect these species from extinction. To design our guitars to be environmentally friendly and fulfil Rams’s principle, then, we must embrace the search for materials that co-ordinate sustainability and aesthetic, quality of sound and resourcefulness. Indeed, there have already been materials that accommodate these demands; the company that produces Rocklite, for example. Rocklite create man-made composite alternatives to endangered woods such as East Indian Rosewood (Rocklite Sundari) and Ebony (Rocklite Ebano). Rocklite Ebano has been used in a handful of Tom Sands Guitars for fingerboards, bridges and bindings, and it has proved basically indiscernible from real ebony. Clients and players testify they also cannot notice a difference. Economically friendly, high quality, many may see little or no sacrifice in moving away from the endangered woods in favour of Rocklite’s alternative. 

10. Good design is as little design as possible. 

‘Less is more’. Personally, I would like to work towards a simple, uncluttered aesthetic, and I’m experimenting with ways to achieve this. I would like to build a guitar with no rosette, no binding, or anything unnecessary, eventually. 

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment if you have any thoughts to share on Rams’s principles.

TS <3



Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

It’s been a whirlwind week, with much time spent out of the shop.

Thursday saw the launch of Tom Sands Guitars in Europe at The North American Guitar, bringing together friends of the guitar for an evening of wonderful music a la Will McNicol. This was accompanied by a Q&A on the famous TNAG sofa, and a chat with Tom and Will. A huge thanks to everyone who came down, and to everyone at The North American Guitar.

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Meanwhile, The Honduran Mahogany / Swiss “Moon” Spruce Model S going out to Golden Era Guitar in Singapore was dropped off at the finishers for a coat of paint last week and the Will McNicol signature Model S won’t be far behind - so it’s straight back to the Tree and the Spalted Maple builds. It’s nearly neck carving time - although, mercifully, no wenge for either.

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Onwards and upwards!

Stay curious.

TS <3

Dieters Rams's 10 Principles of Design: Part 2 by Tom Sands

After last week’s post, we’re straight back into the discussion of applying Dieter Rams’s 10 Principles of Good Design to guitar-making. Onto number 4!

Good design:

4. Makes a product understandable.

Rams suggests that a product should require no further explanation past it’s appearance; it’s purpose and message should be clear without investigation. If Dieter Rams designed a guitar, perhaps, it would be a soundbox made from readily available materials, without ornamentation or inlay; see his ET 66 calculator for Braun (pictured) and you’ll get the idea. Here, Rams uses bold colour to indicate function; perhaps, if we transfer this to a guitar, key elements of the instrument might be indicated with use of bold colour; perhaps the tuning machines, the scratch plate, or the bridge. Forms may be more rectilinear as opposed to free flowing and organic. It’s an interesting thought experiment.

In the case of the acoustic guitar, we must also leave room for the fact it should serve in it’s own right as an aesthetically pleasing object. It should be both functional as a musical instrument, but within that design it must indicate value as an attractive addition to the room it sits within. This hybrid function complicates things, and for Rams perhaps the achievement of a minimalist functionality serves as it’s own breed of aesthetic triumph. Such thinking could perhaps been seen in Ken Parker’s archtops (see below)- there is nothing superfluous, everything is geared towards the performance of the machine; the story told by the materials and their application. 

 The Braun ET66 Calculator (source: https://www.stardust.com/braun-ET-66-calculator.html_

The Braun ET66 Calculator (source: https://www.stardust.com/braun-ET-66-calculator.html_

 Ken Parker archtop. Source: https://kenparkerarchtops.com

Ken Parker archtop. Source: https://kenparkerarchtops.com

5. Is unobtrusive. 

To be ‘unobtrusive’ is to be discreet, but also not to overpower. In the context of a responsive acoustic guitar, when thought about in terms of being a recording instrument, we must think about balance, an instrument that has a harmonious sound, and which doesn’t jar when set aside another instrument, voice or indeed when recorded solo.

According to Rams, a product that serves a function is merely a tool; never a work of art. For Rams, to embellish a guitar with ornamentation would be detrimental to the objective of it’s function; but what where does one draw the line at a ‘modest amount’ of sound? 

6. Is honest.

With this principle, Rams suggests that good design does not attempt to make the product more valuable, impressive or innovative than it actually is. That is, there is no manipulation involved in terms of unrealistic expectations guaranteed without the promise of fulfilment.

We may take the concept of honesty one step further to actively display how the guitar is constructed. Some would argue that a sound port gives a player a more honest aural experience but it also gives them a more veracious insight into the construction of the instrument. When you can see exactly how an instrument has been constructed, there is nowhere to hide. The inside must be as beautiful as the outside.

There's holistic philosophy of honesty throughout, a pride taken on making every element perfect. Soundport or not, care bestowed upon parts of the guitar that will never be seen creates this thorough sense of honesty, such as mitred purling underneath a fingerboard; covered by subsequent components but nonetheless a part of a whole.

It's kind of like painting the back of a fence. Steve Jobs famously took such pride in the beauty of the inner workings of the original Apple Macintosh, and had the entire Macintosh team sign the inner casing. This was subsequently included into all the case forming machines. Michi Matsuda take this idea one step further and actively highlights the construction of the instrument, as can be seen here with the flying buttress style neck supports. It is reminiscent of Le Centre Pompidou in Paris or the clear engine cover on the Ferrari F40 that allows you to see it’s inner workings. This is product honesty at its finest.

 Ferrari F40 clear engine cover. Source: https://www.ferraris-online.com/

Ferrari F40 clear engine cover. Source: https://www.ferraris-online.com/

 La Centre Pompidou in France. Source: https://www.centrepompidou.fr/en/The-Centre-Pompidou/The-history

La Centre Pompidou in France. Source: https://www.centrepompidou.fr/en/The-Centre-Pompidou/The-history

 Michi Matsuda soundport. Source: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/90564642476407520/

Michi Matsuda soundport. Source: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/90564642476407520/

 The inner casing of a Macintosh computer. Source: http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/391/steve-jobs-signed-my-mac-plus

The inner casing of a Macintosh computer. Source: http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/391/steve-jobs-signed-my-mac-plus

With guitar making, so much of the process is now documented through forum build diaries and Instagram feeds, that honesty is at the forefront of what we do. There's only so much you can obscure with clever angles and filters. It's an honesty I really appreciate as it serves to drive the quality of work industry wide ever higher. When consumers are more informed than ever before, if you can’t be honest, you'll soon be discovered.

Next week, we’ll be discussing 7, 8, 9 and 10. Check back then, and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the meantime. 


TS

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

The two Model S guitars are all set!

A rare appearance of the winter sun through the blinds made a good excuse to capture them proudly hung on the go-bar deck awaiting lacquer.

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While those builds are sent to the finisher, it’s time to create some necks for the closed Model M boxes. The Spalted Maple / “Lucky Strike” is being twinned with some reclaimed antique staircase mahogany. No more shall it be walked all over, however - I have a great feeling about this one.

Also getting one of these mahogany necks is the other Model M in Swiss Moon Spruce / “The Tree”. It’s been mostly about preparing this gorgeous wood into necks this week, cutting the mortice and tenon, routing the truss rod and graphite reinforcement channels.

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We have an exciting event lined up that deserves a mention in this week’s Weekly Roundup, because much of this week has also been spent in anticipation and planning. The North American Guitar are hosting the official launch of their partnership with Tom Sands Guitars. It’s an enormous pleasure to call them our European representatives, and I hope to see everyone there! There will be a Q&A with yours truly, as well as Will McNicol being on hand to demo some of my guitars.

A few tickets are still available here.

Have a great weekend!

TS

Dieter Rams’s 10 Principles of Design. by Tom Sands

 From Google, source https://www.dezeen.com/2018/02/27/trailers-reveal-upcoming-dieter-rams-documentary-gary-hustwit/

From Google, source https://www.dezeen.com/2018/02/27/trailers-reveal-upcoming-dieter-rams-documentary-gary-hustwit/

Rams is a German designer who earned notoriety from his designs for Braun. His manifesto is ‘less is better’ which is heavily accentuated in his principles of design. For those who aren’t familiar with these principles, they are as follows:

A ‘good design’: 

  1. Is innovative

  2. Makes a product useful

  3. Is aesthetic

  4. Makes a product understandable

  5. Is unobtrusive

  6. Is honest

  7. Is long-lasting

  8. Is thorough down to the last detail

  9. Is environmentally friendly

  10. Involves as little design as possible.

Dieter Ram’s 10 Principles of Good Design have influenced the design of the Tom Sands guitar from the conception of the company. His influences are seen everywhere and he is an integral figure in the world of design. Sir Jony Ive, the designer of the apple iPod, lauds Rams for his ‘bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless’ designs. You can see the influence below.

 From Google, source https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/apple-design-doesnt-fall-far-from-brauns-tree-176668

From Google, source https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/apple-design-doesnt-fall-far-from-brauns-tree-176668

We want to explore the first three in today’s blog post how these principles can relate to the acoustic guitar. When approaching the build of a guitar, especially an acoustic, it may be easy to forget it’s value as an object in it’s own right when preoccupied with the complexities of sound and playability. Of course, these factors are integral to the design of the instrument, but caution must be taken not to prioritise one or the other. Applying these principles of design to the modern acoustic guitar provides food for thought from client to builder. 

1.Is it innovative? 

The criteria of an acoustic guitar and it’s established ‘look’, from traditional inlay materials to body shapes and headstocks, can often blind the maker into conformity as they pay homage to tradition. Indeed, those makers who seek to innovate their own designs and shapes may fall subject to traditionalist disapproval. If we apply Rams’s principle to guitarmaking, however, the shadows cast by the long established acoustic guitar design could be seen as a hindrance to the progress of it’s potential. Rams suggests that ‘technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design’, and this is no different for the implications of the guitar. Fancy CNC machines aside, perhaps this statement can also relate to the newfound access to a broad range of internet applications, Pinterest boards and blog posts. Those who embrace the internet can only benefit from this media, whether it be coming across a weaver’s cross-stitch and picturing it within a rosette to celebrate the cross-pollination of craft, or even feeling lifted by a re-gram of a favourite Picasso, it’s at your fingertips. 

2. Does it make the product useful? 

This is an interesting and tricky question to relate to guitarmaking. It’s almost a tautology to state ‘my guitar is useful’ because it is intrinsically declared so when you commission it or build it. It is both luxury item, as well as means to living. It is possible to live without it, but to those who have never had to do so it becomes a means of escapism. I suggest that this particular principle should be reworded ‘does it make the product useful to you’ rather than to the wider consumer. We are of course dealing with bespoke instruments, and perhaps this principle can be crudely narrowed down to ‘do you have a bevel without a cause?’

3. Is your design a good aesthetic?

Again, another one that seems obvious, but is often brutally overshadowed by the attraction of tradition. Yes, herringbone can be beautiful, but does it offer a story in this day and age when it’s story has been told hundreds of thousands of times? Does it fit with the ubiquitous minimalism in everything from technology to your Scandinavian style bedroom? 

Next post will explore 4, 5 and 6. What do you think about the first three? Have you thought about when when commissioning or when building? 

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Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

Another week at TSG has flown by!

It’s been jam packed this week as the two Model S guitars draw closer to their completion. The final sanding is now underway, and then it’s off to get a spray to make them glow! Here are some teaser photos…

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On top of this exciting news, we received some beautiful African Blackwood in the shop this week - you can check out our video about it here, and our accompanying blog post here.

As winter is well on its way here in Yorkshire, it’s time to start being more aware of the humidity in the shop. It’s important to keep your fingers and toes toasty in this cold weather, but keeping yourself warm isn’t great news for your guitars. Warm, artificially heated air is dry air. Our tip would be to keep a small cup of water near your radiator or window to ensure the air in your house retains some moisture. We’d also recommend you get a hygrometer - super useful to have on hand! 45-50%RH is ideal. It’ll also help to keep your cuban cigars in tip-top condition, as well… more info here.

Have a lovely weekend. Stay curious…

TS


African Blackwood - Wood in Focus by Tom Sands

African Blackwood really is something special. The set that arrived in the workshop slightly blew our minds. We’ve had some pretty incredible wood coming through the shop lately, and this is no exception!

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African Blackwood (or Dalbergia Melanoxylon for the botanists among you) is found in Central and Southern Africa, mainly in Tanzania but as far north as Ethiopia, and as far west as the Senegal coast. In local communities, it’s referred to as the ‘Mpingo’ tree (fun trivia for those who can’t remember the Latin name). I built a OO and an OM out of some lovely Blackwood when I was working with Ervin, and the beauty of the wood made these builds especially rewarding. It’s got some gorgeous shimmering overtones, and holds many of the characteristics I favour in Rosewood. 

It’s worth noting that is usually used for woodwind instruments. In fact, the African Blackwood ‘tree’ is not so much that as a ‘shrub’ (see below), and so it’s common to find three and four piece backs. As a two piece back, the sets we received that much more special, and we can’t wait to see what it’ll look like on the back and sides of a new build! 

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The glassy overtones I mentioned are accompanied by a deep, rumbling bass which makes it a pretty extraordinary tone wood. I’m looking forward to getting started on a build with this gorgeous new addition to my wood stash.