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