Saturday, December 11, 2010

Babicz Guitars

Jeff Babicz (Ba-bits) has a background in IT. Which is sort of an odd occupation for a luthier. Perhaps this makes him more inquisitive about how things work and how to make them work better.

He worked his way up from doing maintenance work to plant manager at Steinberger guitars.  He then went on to work in the semi-conductor industry, while working on guitar design.  He introduced his unique concept guitar at a Tom Ribbecke guitar workshop.  This was his "Voila" moment.

Jeff re-invented the accoustic guitar design to the point where in some other companies have licensed his technology.

A guitars main sound producer is the sound board or top. For years luthiers have tried differing ways of bracing the top to allow it to vibrate more freely.

On most acoustic guitars, the sound hole has to be reinforced, which can result in a dampening effect. There also is the problem of pressure being excerted on the guitars sound board as the strings are anchored on the guitars top. One of the most common guitar repairs is replacement of the tailpiece on flat top guitars due to the bridge section pulling up after years of strain.

Babicz came up with the solution by not anchoring the string to the guitars bridge, but attaching them to the distal section of the guitars lower bout. By placing six bridge anchors semitrically around the sound board in a fan shape, the pressure is taken off the bridge.

What this means is the soundhole no longer needs additional bracing for support. There is also no need for traditional X bracing, which is found on most steel string flat top instruments.

Instead Babicz guitars have two longitudinal braces running the length of the body. He calls this the lateral compresion sound board or LCZ.

The usual pin-type saddle has been replaced with what he calls the torque-reducing split bridge. This is more efficient.

The strings pass over the bridge, then go through a separate wooden retainer that diverts the strings to the bridge anchors at the distal perimeter of the lower bout.

Babicz has also redesigned the way the guitars neck is fastened to the body.

On the majority of the popular acoustic models the neck is fitted in a dove-tail joint and glued to the body. The angle of the neck has to be just right.

As a guitar ages and comes in contact with different weather conditions, the original angle set can change.

Once the neck is set, the easiest way to adjust the action is to sand down the bridge saddle. Good luck with plastic bridges. Or you can steam the glue out of the dove tail joint, remove the neck, clean off the old glue and then reset and re-glue it to the guitar. Guitar manufacturers have taken differing approaches to solve this issue including bolting the neck to the body.

Babicz has designed a unique rail system for his instruments neck joint. You can raise or lower the neck to your preference, which in turn changes the action. This is all done with a wrench.

The key clips to the back of the guitars headstock so you don’t lose it. You insert the wrench into a small plate on the back of the guitars body to make adjustments. He calls this the continulally adjustable neck. Genius!

Johann Georg Staufer is possibly the most famous builder of Viennese style guitars. Any vintage guitar afficianado is aware of the Martin-Staufer guitar, is the original Martin guitar.

I mention this because Staufer used a similar approach in making his instruments. There is no bracing on a Staufer guitar. It instead utilizes a harmonic bar. The result is a very quick response to the strings being plucked, which is different than most Spanish style instruments.

Check out the neck design

Staufer used a unique neck adjustment mechanism. The neck in essence is a bolt on style. A key which resembles the wind-up key for a grandfather clock fits into the back of the neck heel which allows the neck to slide up and down.

I must note that Staufer lived from 1800 to 1845. This adjustable neck design was also employed on a lyre-guitar made by Fabricatore which was an Italian school of guitar luthery that existed from 1770 to 1845. So it was not a Staufer invention.

But I am digressing. I have no idea if Jeff Babicz was aware of Staufers technology.  In any event he took it a step farther in creating the adjustable rail system for the neck, he also has created a unique bridge that can be raised or lowered with the wrench.

Jeff Babicz has also developed some inovative designs for electric guitars by way of his Full Contact Hardware. This is designed for Gibson style stop action models, for Stratocasters, for Telecasters and for four and five string basses.

Instead of using bolts and hex screws to raise or lower the strings action, Babicz uses a unique system of cams which each string passes through. These are adjustable by a screw on the back of each cam. It’s pretty amazing.

In an older article that I found Jeff Babicz says that he personally creates only ten or so guitars a year by hand.

Since then it appears that he is producing his Signature series of USA made instruments in Poughkeepsie, New York. Although at one point it was rumored he was going to set up shop in Ft. Wayne Indiana.

His Identity series is manufactured off shore. At one time he used the Hohner Company of Germany, but I am not certain if this is still the case.

The guitars are made using solid woods; spruce for the top and either mahogany or rosewood for the back and sides. The necks are made of mahogany with a two-way truss rod. The fretboard is made of rosewood with dot position markers. Babicz guitars come in either dreadnaught, jumbo or cutaway sizes. The tuners are made by Grover. The guitars come with a case and are available with L.R. Baggs acoustic piezo pickups.

Jeff offers an acoustic electric model he calls the Octane 818 series. This is made of solid woods, with a rosewood fretboard and bridge. The Blue Flame has a flamed maple top. He also offers tobacco sunburst and black finishes. This guitar comes with a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates pickup in the neck position and a George Lynch Screamin’ Demon in the bridge position. For single coil fans, the Octane comes with a Duncan Cool Rail pick up in the neck position and two Hot Rails for the middle and bridge positions. The guitar includes a pickup blending knob to combine the electric and piezo pickups.

I have not recently seen many dealers for Babicz instrument. However you can buy direct from Babicz by going to his website.

His Full Contact Hardware for electric guitars and basses is available through most online music stores.

2014 Update: I haven't seen Babicz guitars in music stores as of late. It looks like Jeff Babicz is selling them online only at his webpage. The prices run from $1200 to $1400, which is a bargain for a handbuilt guitar.

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