Sunday, November 25, 2012

Acoustic Travel Guitars - Part 1

When I was a kid, every August I went to band camp for a couple of weeks. I wanted to take a guitar with me to pass the time away, but did not want to take anything valuable or fragile.

So off I went to Wurlitzer Music at 7th and Race in Cincinnati and asked if they had any inexpensive guitars. The salesman showed me some low priced, but nice acoustic guitars.

I explained that I was looking for a guitar to take to summer camp, to which he replied, “Oh, you want a beater. Well why didn’t you say so.”

For 20 bucks I walked out with an instrument very similar to an old Stella parlor guitar. The top was birch, the back and sides made of “who knows what”, cheap open tuners, a piece of wood for a saddle and a stamped metal tailpiece.

It had a steel reinforced neck. No truss rod, but was a steel rod in the neck. A sticker on the back proclaimed Steel Reinforced Neck. This was common on Harmony and Kay guitars and others built by Chicago Music Instrument Company. I still have that guitar and I am amazed at the price similar instruments command on eBay.

This brings me to acoustic travel guitars made for the modern market. I guess you could call them “beaters”, however some are very nice instruments. A few months ago, I reviewed electric travel guitars and much like those instruments, many acoustic models are designed to fit into an airline overhead bin.

\With the acoustic travel guitars you can you sit around the campfire and strum Kumbayah or you can practice in your hotel room, I have seen folks perform with them and some of them even plug into an amplifier.

One of my favourites is Martin’s little LXM model. Although it is made of high-pressure-laminate the tone and feel are not at all bad. Don’t expect the LXM to sound or play like an HD-28, but the LXM is not going to set you back four-grand. In fact you can purchase it for less than a tenth of that price.

The LXM and others in the series are constructed to be travel guitars or small guitars for youngsters to learn how to play guitar. The action is excellent (much better than the old Harmony Patrician with a bowed neck that I learned on).

Stratabond neck
The scale length is 23” and a 16” radius. The neck is made of some material called Rust Stratabond. Many of the newer mid-priced Martin guitars come with a Stratabond neck. Stratabond is a process offered by many wood working companies. Panels of wood or wood products, many times of differing colours and materials, are sealed and glued together under high pressure. These can be used as wall panelling and laminated flooring.

One of the more prominent uses of Stratabond is in the manufacturing of rifle stocks. Chris Martin has endeavoured to come up with new materials that will not diminish the supply of natural woods. He and his team chose Stratabond as a neck material for the X series of guitars. I believe that Rust is the colour of some of the laminated wood used. The effect is different and does not alter the guitars playability. In fact the Stratabond neck is likely stronger than a guitar neck made of a single block of hardwood.

Martin LXM Koa
This little guitar comes with modified X bracing. The fretboard has 20 frets in all, 14 are clear of the body. The width at the nut is 1-11/16th” and at the 12th fret it tapers out to 2-1/16th”. The bridge material is made of Richlite, which is a product made by a manufacturer of the same name.

This product consists of eco-friendly paper-based fiber composites used for a variety of building and industrial needs. The saddle is made of white Tusq, an industry standard now that rivals bone, and the nut is made of Corian (yet another building material.) There is no head-cap on the headstock, which is fitted with chrome tuning machines with small buttons. This instrument comes with a gig bag.

For those of you that insist on solid wood being used on your guitar, Martin manufacturers the Backpacker. There can be no doubt that solid wood is used in construction, because this guitar smells like it just came out of a wood mill. The top is solid spruce. The back and sides are made of “solid tonewood” and the neck is made of “solid hardwood” according to Martin literature.

The guitar has a unique tapered shape. This instrument was inspired by Chris Martin’s chance meeting with a fellow named Bob McNally, who designed the Strumstick. The Strumstick is a 3 stringed instrument played like a guitar, but the string and fretting is similar to a fretted dulcimer.

Unlike a dulcimer, the Strumstick has a long neck that stretches beyond the body. McNally suggested that Martin consider using his design and making a guitar. Subsequently Martin has sold millions of Backpackers.

The Backpacker has a scale of 24” and uses Richlite as a fingerboard material topped with 15 nickel frets with are all clear of the body. The guitar comes with a hand rubbed satin finish. The tuners are chrome buttons. This guitar comes with a padded gig bag.

Martin also makes a classical Backpacker. The statistics are very similar, except the neck is a little wider. It also comes with a gig back. As the bridge is similar to the steel string Backpacker, Martin suggests using ball-end nylon strings.

Washburn has been making it’s travel guitar for many years. They call it The Rover. It comes in a package complete with a case, instructional CD ROM, strap and 3 picks. This guitar has a 24” scale, solid spruce top, laminated mahogany body and neck.

The finger board is made of rosewood. This guitar, stored in the hard-shell case, is small enough to fit into an overhead luggage storage compartment.

Applecreek Travel Acoustic guitar

I ran across a company called Applecreek that makes and sells acoustic travel guitars. Their shape is unusual and their price is reasonable.

Applecreek Guitars come with a solid or laminated spruce top, depending on the model. The back and sides are laminate with mahogany stain. The tuning gears are enclosed. The instrument measures 33” and has a 25” scale with 23 nickel frets. The neck size at the nut is 1-5/8th inches. The body width is 7-3/4 inches and 2-1/2 inches deep.

All instruments come with a gig bag. Applecreek even offers an acoustic electric model.

Johnson Trailblazer

Johnson guitar offers a series of acoustic travel guitars which they have dubbed The Trailblazer. These instruments are produced in differing versions and priced depending upon the materials used.

The Trailblazer guitar features a mahogany neck with a rosewood fretboard. The fretboard is topped with 22 nickel silver frets. The body and sides are made of “white wood.” The scale is 24-3/4 inches. This guitar comes with a gig bag.

The Trailblazer II features a spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Their website does not mention whether the wood is solid, which I take to mean it is laminated. The neck and body are bound. The fretboard has 22 frets mounted on a rosewood fretboard. The bridge is also made of rosewood.

The Trailblazer Deluxe has more of the familiar guitar shape. This instrument does boast a solid spruce top, laminated mahogany back and sides and a 24-3/4 inch scale. The manufacture claims the sound is similar to a full sized guitar, even though this comes in a small package. All Trailblazer guitars come with a gig bag.

Johnson guitars are unique as they are the only company I have found that manufactures a 12 string travel guitar. The Trailblazer 12 has a laminated spruce top and laminated mahogany back and sides. The rosewood neck has 18 nickel silver frets. The body and neck join at the 12th fret. Based on that and the shape of the headstock, this guitar has the appearance of an old Martin D18-12.

The Luna Guitar Company manufactures low and mid priced guitars that are known for their henna-like designs, laser-etched tops and unusual sound holes.

I have not run across a Luna that I believe has a great acoustic sound, but I do admire their artwork.

Luna has launched travel sized versions of all of its acoustic guitars. They call this their Safari Series. These are ¾ sized instruments. Most are made of laminated woods and all have most interesting designs.

Ibanez manufactures the DT100E Daytripper Travel Acoustic Guitar and the manufacturer promises a big sound in a small package. This instrument has a traditional dreadnaught shape and features a mahogany neck. The body is made of laminate material. Ibanez touts its Ivorex II nut as being stronger that bone. The body is 16" and the scale is 22.5".

Rondo is sort of an also-ran in the music industry. They sell guitars under the Agile brand that are copies of familiar electric guitars at amazingly low prices. ( At last look, Rondo Music no longer offers this instrument.)

Many of their budget acoustic instruments appear to be of low end quality, however Rondo does offer a travel acoustic guitar at a great price. $99 US.

Their SX Trav 1 Traveling guitar is a short scale acoustic instrument that comes with a solid spruce top, mahogany (laminate) back and sides and a mahogany neck with an adjustable truss rod. The fretboard and bridge are made of rosewood. The scale is short at 22.8 inches. The guitar comes with a Graphtec Nubone saddle and nut and a free gig bag is included.

Taylor guitar offers 3 models that are great for travel. We all should be familiar with the Baby Taylor.

The Baby is a ¾ sized guitar that comes with a solid Sitka spruce top. The back and sides are made of laminated sapele wood. They are crafted using Taylor’s bolt-on neck process. Some users may complain that 2 wood screws are visible from the fret board. However this do not effect the guitars playability. There is no neck heel on the Baby Taylor. The back of the Baby is slightly bowed. This is reminiscent of some Guilds and Framus guitars that did not use back bracing. Taylor also produces the Baby Taylor with a tropical Mahogany top. The guitar comes with its own padded gig bag.

Taylor also manufactures the Big Baby. This is a 15/16 scale dreadnought guitar with a solid Sitka spruce top and laminate sapele back and sides. It has a surprisingly excellent sound. Like its little brother, the features are very similar including the heelless neck. It sells for around $450 US and comes with a gig bag.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Taylor guitar manufactures a Taylor Swift Baby Taylor.

This ¾ sized instrument is similar in all aspects to the Baby Taylor, but features the word Love three times around the sound hole with a delicate vine motif. Her signature and the word Fearless, the title of her album, appear above the bridge.

Taylor also offers a Mini Acoustic Guitar called the GS model. This guitar is a scaled down version of Taylors Grand Symphony body. It has a 23-1/2 inch body with a solid Sitka spruce top and laminated sapele back and sides.

This guitar is fancier than the Baby Taylors and has a heel on its bolted-on neck. The body is 4-7/16 inches deep and the sound hole has a four inch diameter.

Taylor GS Mahogany
The back is not braced, but slightly arched for strength. This guitar comes with a hard gig bag.

As an option, Taylor offers an optional pickup system which they call the ES-Go. This adds $99 to the price of the guitar. The installation is easy. All you need is a screwdriver. Taylor also offers their V-Cable, which has a built in volume control. Plug it into your micro-amp and you are The Man!

There is  more to come on acoustic travel guitars featured in Part 2.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The New Gittler Guitar

The New Gittler Guitar
A few weeks ago, I received this nice message from Eric Slone: "We're bringing the Gittler Guitar back to market from the 1980's. The guitar has been featured in the New York Museum of Modern Art and Boston Museum of Fine Arts."

This is great news and I hope this venture is successful. The Gittler Guitar is one of the most unique instruments ever invented.

My November 8th, 2009 featured information on the original Gittler Guitar.

Allan Gittler and Son NYC

This instrument was designed by Allan Gittler as an experiment in the mid 1970's. The guitar was actually more of a minimalistic art piece than a guitar, however it caught on as guitarists began to hear about this strange new instrument.

The fact that Andy Summers of the Police played a Gittler in the Synchronicity II video helped spread the word.

Gittler's goal was to reduce the electric guitar to the most minimal form possible by eliminating such things as the body, the headstock and traditional tuners. His result was an instrument that some folks think looks like a metalic fish skeleton. Between the mid 1970's to the early 1980's Gittler made 60 guitars and 3 bass guitars in this fashion.

Allan Gittler introduced his guitar at a 1970's NAMM show. He stated the guitar was shown on a piece of black velvet with a single spot light on it. It caught everyones attention. One fellow asked him, "What is different about this?" Gittler replied, "You can play it underwater."


In 1982, Gittler emigrated to Hebron, in Israel and became a practicing and religious Jew and changed his name to Avraham Bar Rashi. There was still a demand for Gittler Guitars, so Bar Rashi licensed his design to an Israeli company in the town of Kiryat Bialik. This was Astron Engineer Enterprises LTD.

They were able to utilize computer design and machined aproximately 300 guitars. Their design differed somewhat from the originals, as they added a plastic body to house the electronics. Aside from that, the Astron built Gittlers are precise copies of the original.

While residing in Israel, Bar Rashi built a few wooden models of an electric guitar, that look nothing like the original. He also built a left-handed version for a friend.

Eric Slone, Marketing Director of Gittler Instruments, tells me the current owners of the Gittler brand, will be releasing an upgraded model of this famous instrument during the 2013 Winter NAMM Show.

The new company is run by CEO Russ Rubman, who had a very diverse background. He worked as a musician (bass and guitar), as an artist doing backgrounds for Disney features, and as a metallurgist, subcontracting for a defense contractor. He specializes in working with Titanium.

Yotanan Bar Rashi, son of Avraham, is the managing partner and is continuing to promote his fathers business.

Dr. Colin Joye is the Engineer/Innovator. He brings his electrical engineering degree from MIT and an extensive jazz background to the company.

And of course, Mr. Slone is the Business Marketing director. He has authored several books on guitar instruction.

The Original Gittler Guitar

The original Gittler instruments were made using stainless steel bars. The neck consisted of a long bar with short stainless steel bars (frets) pressure fitted on top of it. The "body" was made of six stainless steel tubes.

At the distal end of these tubes, the stings attached to a knurled adjustment knob for tuning. Like a Steinberger guitar, the strings ends attach at the top of the neck. The six tubes also housed individual pickups and preamps for each string.

The wiring for the pickups was routed to a 9-pin connector, which mixed to a 1/4" TS connector. The original models did not have the preamp section, so the individual pickups signals were led to single cables which could be plugged into a preamp.

The newer models have quite a few improvements.

In place of the plastic box housed on the rear of the Astron made Gittler guitars, the new guitars are equipped with an ebox (electronic box) that is housed in a metal casing on the rear of the guitar, just below the transducer tubes. The new guitar maintains the 6 individual pickups, but enhances their output capability, allowing the signal to go straight to a guitar amplifier through a1/4" output or using a 13 pin output that would allow the signal to go to a guitar synthesizer.

The new instrument is made of airforce grade titanium which is virtually indestructible as well as resisting corrosion. The bridge is adjustible. The guitar has active electronics and a tone shaping circuit housed in the Ebox. The strings have a locking mechanism, keeping the guitar in tune.

The new Gittler has strap anchor points. The Loxx strap lock system can be added as an option. And get comes with LED fret position markers on the neck.

Gittler Headstock
The player of the Gittler guitar has features that are unavailable on a conventional guitar. For one, you can bend a string down by pushing it through the frets, much like a scalloped neck guitar. And the Gittler comes with 31 frets! That allows the player almost a 3 octave range. The pickups or transducers are designed to provide excellent synth tracking, if that is your thing. The Gittler is only 28" long and weighs a mere 3 pounds.

Gittler Pickups
After I did my initial blog entry about the Gittler Guitar and Avraham Bar Rashi, I received a very sweet email from Bar Rashi's wife. She told me that in death, he was given a place of honor on Mount Herzl cemetery.

Please check out the link to the new Gittler Instruments. Notice I said instruments. There are plans to manufacturer for sale a Deluxe model Gittler guitar, a Gittler bass guitar, a Gittler upright bass and a Gittler violin.

Gittler Instruments LLC

I also encourage checking out a link to Willie Moseley's interview with Gittler/Bar Rashi that was published in Vintage Guitar Magazine's April 2003 issue for more information on the inventor.

Gittler Guitars - Interview with Avraham Bar Rashi - April 2003

Her are some examples of the Old Gittler Guitar.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Andy Griffith's Martin D-18 Guitar

Before Andy Griffith was Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, he got his start by playing the part of a simple country boy doing comic monologues such as What It Was, Was Football and his version of Romeo and Juliet. This gave his career a jump-start to a career in acting.

He starred in a 1955 teleplay called No Time For Sargents. This play was made into a movie in 1958, which featured Andy playing the lead. It was quickly followed up with Griffith playing a similar bumbling country boy in the military in the movie Onionhead.

In 1957, producer-director Elia Kazan recruited Griffith to play the lead in his movie A Face In The Crowd as Larry (Lonesome) Rhodes, a hard drinking drifter plucked out of jail to sing on a local radio station. He is given his own television show and immediatly draws an audience based on his whit and simple country charm.

The film ends tragically. None-the-less it is a wonderful movie.

Andy began his beloved show by doing a guest appearance on The Danny Thomas show, in which he played Sheriff Andy Taylor, who cited Thomas for speeding through the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

Both shows were produced by Sheldon Leonard and Leonard recognized Griffith would be right for a spin off show.

The Andy Griffith Show lasted from 1960-1968.

Many of the shows featured Andy sitting on the porch relaxing by playing his 1956 Martin D-18. At times he would play music with The Darling family, who were played by the well-known Bluegrass group, The Dillards.

In 2004 Martin Guitars came out with an Andy Griffith tribute model. What a beautiful guitar. The thing that puzzled me was the fact it looked nothing like the standard D-18 that Andy was known to play on the show. Aside from Mr. Griffith's signature on the neck, this guitar appeared not to have a pickguard.

Dick Boak

The mystery was solved by Dick Boak, the historian for Martin Guitars, as well as an author. Boak states that he contacted Andy's management to see if he had an interest in endorsing a Martin signature guitar.

Griffith's management team said they would get back. Boak got a call from Griffith the very next day. It was then Andy gave Mr. Boak some history on the Martin guitars he owned.

Andy stated when he was making the film 'A Face in the Crowd,' the movie people needed two guitars. One was a cheap-looking one used by his character before he became famous, and a fancier one when he became the successful 'Lonesome Roads,'" Boak says. "The prop master solved the problem by taking  a beautiful 1958 Martin D-18, and without consulting anyone, painted it black and gluing sequins on the guitars sound board. On the front of the guitar, the sequins spelled out Momma and Lonesome. Momma was a reference to the name Lonesome Rhodes gave to his guitar.

Andy Griffith with
1958 Martin D-18
After the film was completed Griffith was walking by the prop shop , he noticed the painted Martin in its case and "borrowed" it. After taking it home, he proceeded to remove the sequins and sand off the black paint down to the bare wood . This took him nine days to accomplish. In the process he sanded off the logo decal and pickguard. Andy seemed to like the look of the guitar without the pickguard and never replaced it.

He took the guitar to a guitar builder in New York City's lower east side to have the instrument given a new coat of lacquer and touch up to the wood.

Ironically the guitar builder was non-other than John D'Angelico.

Brownie McGhee
One of the actors that had a minor role in A Face In The Crowd was Blues singer/guitarist Brownie McGhee. Andy befriended him and apparently liked Brownies choice in instruments, as Brownie played a Martin D-18. After the movie wrapped up, Griffith purchased a 1956 D-18. This is the guitar you ususally see in the Andy Griffith Show.

During Martin's 2004 run, they only produced 311 Andy Griffith Signature D-18's and then discontinued the guitar. They are gorgeous instruments.

Manufacturers suggest price was $3700  However used models can be purchased for between $2300 to $2500 and sometimes pop up on eBay.

Although the newer Martin guitar appears not to have a pickguard, there is a clear thin plastic guard plate below the sound hole. It is shaped in the old D-18 style. This is similar to the golpeadors used on Flamingo guitars.

The guitars top is made of solid bearclaw Sitka spruce. The back and sides are both fashioned from solid, quilted mahogany. The 14 fret low profile neck is made of select hardwood.

The solid headstock is carved in the1960's style and is capped with a piece of solid Brazillian rosewood with a decal of Martin's old style logo. The nut is made of solid bone. The guitar is bound with tortoise coloured binding around the body and on the endpiece.

The neck is dovetailed into a mahongany block. On the interior of the block the name Lonesome Rhodes is burnt into the wood.

The top inlay is multiple black/white. The braces are of course scalloped.

The guitars fretboard is made of solid black ebony wood and has a 24.4" scale. It is topped with 20 frets, 14 of which are clear of the guitars body. There is no fingerboard binding on this instrument.

The fretboard is 1-11/18th inches at the nut, tapering to 2-1/8 inches at the 12th fret. The fretboard comes with old style 18 mother of pearl position markers. The belly bridge material varies.

Some used solid Brazillian rosewood, while others came with ebony bridges. All had 16" radius bone saddles. The top is finished with aging toner and polished to a gloss. The back and sides are similarlly polished and have dark mahogany stain.

Tuning machines are Grover Deluxe Nickel done in the Kluson style. Martin recommends using medium guage strings.

Unique to this guitar is the paper label whiched is signed by Chris F Martin IV and Andy Griffith. Each label tells the sequence number. Andy's signature is inlaid on the 20th fret.  This is not your average Martin D-18.

In retrospect, Griffith did use the non-pickguard D-18 in several episodes.

Griffith recorded several country and gospel albums as well as storytelling albums, and was inducted into the Country Gospel Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2007 was inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame.

His greatest honor came on November 9, 2005, when President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honoring his work and his timeless image, the way he came to personify a certain spirit of small town America.