Monday, May 26, 2014

Aristides Guitars and Arium from The Netherlands

The first guitar made of a substance other than wood was the 1932 Rickenbacker metal body Electro guitar aka The Frying Pan.

The first electric guitar to be made of a composite material was the Rickenbacker Electro Spanish Model B, which was first offered in 1935.

The “B” for this Ric was for Bakelite that formed its shape.  Bakelite was a substance developed in 1907 and it is an early form of plastic also known as athermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin. Whatever that means!?

Actually Bakelite it is formed from the chemical elimination of mixing phenol and formaldehyde.

My knowledge of chemistry is limited, but I recall the use of phenol in surgery years ago. It is a very caustic chemical and the only way to stop its burning action is to pour alcohol on it. It was used to make all sorts of plastic objects since it was easy to mold.

Old pool balls were made of Bakelite. But I digress.

The Valco Company was started sometime in the 1930’s when Victor Smith, Al Frost and Louis Dopyear (owner of National Guitars) started a new company.

It wasn’t until 1961 that they began building fiberglass body guitars. At first they were called Map Guitars, since they resembled a map of the United States, at least the way it existed before 1961.

These guitars began showing up in catalogs in 1962 and by 1964 there was a line of different models; all with bodies made of reso-glass aka fiberglass. The guitars necks were still made of wood and bolted on to the bodies. Some showed up as Nationals, and some were branded as Airline guitars.

Of course, those of you paying attention to this blog you would know that around 1966 Charles Kaman began studying a way to make a more efficient guitar and in the process founded the Ovation Guitar Company and their patented Lyrachord bowl backs. These were offered to the public a year later and extensively promoted by guitarist Glen Campbell.

Aristides Poort
It was in 1995 that Dutch engineer Aristides Poort began working in collaboration with
Technical University Delft in the Netherlands to develop a composite that had similar properties of wood and could emulate wood. His research studied the finest tonal woods of differing types to achieve a grasp of their cell structure.

Once this was established it was then possible to design a material that would possess a cell structure similar to wood that could mimic the resonance and sustain of wood.

Fifteen years later the research led to a tone material that possessed amazing acoustic qualities. This made it possible to build an instrument of one piece construction out of a man made composite material which simulated the quality of superior tone wood.

This would be a material in which sound waves could resonate without disruption.  This material was given the name Arium

In 2007 Poort began building the first guitar made entirely of Arium except for the wooden fretboard and metal hardware. This is accomplished by pouring the composite into a mold, made of aluminum. Once the material that composes the guitars body and neck has set, it is dried and sanded. The pickups and electronics are added as is the ebony fretboard and hardware.

The above chart is from the Aristides Guitar website

The company that was created to build the guitars is named after the inventor. Aristides Guitars are built in two steps. The first is to create and exoskeleton or outer layer. This is done with fiberglass and carbon that are placed in a mold, creating a hollow guitar. This exoskeleton is necessary for the stiffness necessary for construction. The challenge is to make the body stiff for vibration, but not too stiff for warmth. The next step is to fill the core with Arium. This provides tonal properties, such as clarity, warmth and sustain similar to tone woods.

Aristides Factory Lab
The factory based in the Netherlands once housed and old machinery plant. This factory is comprised of the laboratory wherein the Arium is produced, the preparation room where the bodies and necks are molded and sanded and the finishing room where the hardware is installed.

Aristides Factory
The results are these beautiful guitars that would be very difficult to achieve by just using wood. Most are equipped with Seymour Duncan pickups.

Although these guitars are available throughout Europe and Asia, there is only one dealer in the United States which is the Custom Guitar Boutique in New York City.

The Aristides Guitar and Bass are available in four versions. The Aristides 010 comes with two single coil pickups in the neck and center position and a humbucker in the bridge position. All pickups are made in the USA by Seymour Duncan.

The body and neck are of one piece construction. The neck is capped with an ebony fretboard topped with 22 medium jumbo frets. The scale is 25.5”.

There is a five way blade switch. A master volume control is push-pull. The bridge and tailpiece are designed by Wilkinson and made by Gotoh.

The guitar is topped with Schaller locking tuners on the six-on-a-side head stock. The body has a very unique shape. 010 is inlaid on the twelfth fret.

The Aristides 010 comes with a leather case, and a leather strap with the Aristides logo.

This model has a scannable microchip embedded in the body. The 010 is available in red, black, white, gold, metallic blue and aluminum finishes. By special order a customer could get Rising Sun Red, or twin EMG humbucking

The 020 comes with twin Seymour Duncan humbucking pickups and similar features that are found on the prior model. The nuts on Aristides guitars are made of Black Tusq. The scale on this model is slightly shorter at 24.9”.

The machine heads are Hipshot Griplock tuners. 020 is inlaid on the twelfth fret. Pearl inlay are used as fret markers. The headstock is six on a side. This model comes with a SKB case and a leather strap with the Aristides logo.

The 020 comes with two special features. One is a magnetic removable truss rod cover. How cool is that?

The other is the microchip embedded in the body that is scannable. The 020 is available in White with gold or chrome hardware; Black with gold or chrome hardware or by special with a Deep Ruby Marble or Dark Grey Sapphire Marble with chrome hardware. This guitar has three on a side tuners.

The body on this model features cutaways that are more congruent.

The 050 models are Aristides bass guitars. They are offered with aluminum, matt black or blue metallic finishes. Once again, the body and neck are one piece. The fretboard on these basses is first grade rosewood. The nut is by Graph Tech.

The fretboard is topped with 20 Jescar frets and has a 12” radius for comfort. The machine heads are made by Hipshot. The scale is 34”.

It weighs slightly over nine pounds. The body is topped by twin Seymour Duncan Quarter Pounders. The aluminum bridge is made by ABM. There are two push-pull volume controls for slap contour and true bypass.

The twin tone controls are actually twin active band EQ controls. This guitar also comes with a microchip embedded in the body. 050 is inlaid on the twelfth fret. These are all five string bass guitars.

The 070 series are comprised of seven string guitars that are available in black, white or with passive electronics. This guitar is also available in Dutch orange with passive or active electronics. These have Hipshot Hardtail bridges and saddles. The nut is a black Tusq custom model. This guitar has a scale of 26 ½”. The neck radius is 12”.

There are 24 frets on an ebony fretboard. There are twin Seymour Duncan humbucking pickups with a 5-way switch to give maximum pickup combinations. The body has a unique shape and once again, a microchip is embedded in the guitar. The six on side tuners are made by Hipshot. It has one master volume and one master tone potentiometer.

The 070 guitar is also available with active electronics made by MEC. It features similar accoutrements as found on the passive guitars.

However the active model includes twin Seymour Duncan Blackout (Phase 1) pickups, a master audio pot and a master tone audio pot. The pickups are controlled by a three-way switch.

These models come with a Floyd Rose Tremolo bridge and Floyd Rose locking nut. The tuners are made by Hipshot and are locking. 070 is inlaid at the twelfth fret.

The 070 Aristides guitar is also available in deluxe appointments with white with gold finished hardware. This model has twin EMG 81/60 pickups and pearl inlays on the ebony fretboard.

The Aristides are gorgeous and unique guitars. Of course one of the best thing about this guitars design is the built in microchip that is embedded in the Arium in the body’s center. If the guitar is stolen or lost, it can be detected by scanning this microchip. Let’s hope other companies pick up on this technology.

The other nice thing about Aristides Guitars is the lack of a neck heel. Because the body and the neck are molded at the same time, there is no need for a heel.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Guild Guitars and Their Future With The Cordoba Guitar Company

In my last post regarding the demise of USA based Ovation Guitars, I left off wondering what would happen with Guild Guitars.  Today a press release answered this question.
Cordoba Music Group, manufacturer of Cordoba acoustic guitars, ukuleles and accessories, has announced it has finalized a letter of intent to purchase the Guild guitar brand and related assets from Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.

“It was important for us to find a great steward to continue the important legacy of Guild guitars,” said FMIC’s interim CEO and board member Scott Gilbertson. We have found a great fit in Cordoba Music Group, a company committed to quality and with impressive U.S.-based production capabilities.”

“Guild is an iconic American brand with a rich heritage and we’re truly excited and honored to be the ones to move it forward. It’s a great complement to our current position in the acoustic guitar market and provides opportunities for growth in new categories,” said Cordoba Music Group President Jon Thomas. “We will continue to make instruments of exceptional quality in the USA, and look forward to giving one of the industry’s great American brands a new home.”

Sales of Guild guitars will continue as usual during the transition process. Upon finalization of the sale, Cordoba Music Group is expected to begin production of some models in Cordoba’s factory in Oxnard, California. FMIC recently announced the closing of Guild’s U.S. manufacturing facility in New Hartford, Conn.

Guild Guitars have been around since 1952.  In 1948, the remaining Epiphone brothers, Orphie and Frixo Stathopolo were fighting about the companies dwindling assets and the fear of a union strike. Frixo sold his shares to Orphie. Orphie ran Epiphone until 1957 when he sold the company to Gibson Guitars and closed up shop. The Epiphone’s artisans and craftsmen in New York lost their jobs in 1953 when Orphie moved production to Philidelphia to avoid a union strike.  Enter Alfred Dronge.

Avram “Alfred” Dronge, known to many as Al was born in Poland. His family left the country during 1914 and headed to Paris, moving to New York City two years later.  He grew up in Manhattan and was a regular at the many music stores in the city. It was there he became an accomplished banjo and guitar player. 

He gave guitar lessons, worked in New York clubs and on cruise ships. Al eventually opened his own music store in the mid 1930’s.

Al made a small fortune importing and distribution accordions in the late 1940’s through the early 1950’s. In 1948 he sold his music store.

Dronge and Mann
George Mann was a good friend of Dronge and a former Epiphone executive, who found himself out of work. Mann suggested to Dronge that money could be made by setting up their own guitar manufacturing business and employing some of the craftsmen from Epiphone. 

The men set out by procuring a 1500 square foot loft in New York City. This building sat between the old Epiphone factory and the Gretsch Guitar factory.  Dronge and Mann were hoping to lure workers from both companies to come and work for them.  The knowledge these workers brought with them would help the new business create a better guitar.

In 1952 a partnership was finalized and business papers were drawn up for the Guild Guitar Company, the name the men had settled on.

Sometimes referred to as The Three Amigos, Guild was able to employ Gilbert Diaz, a Puerto Rican and a veteran of Gretsch, Carlo Greco, who was from Argentina, but learned the art of guitar building in Italy and Fred Augusto, who was a finishing specialist.  These three men brought with them a collective 25 years of crafting and refining guitars.
By late 1956 the successes of Guild lead the company to seek out a larger facility.  They found this in Hoboken, New Jersey.  During this period Guild improved its line and came up with its Artist Award guitar. Jazz great George Barnes helped develop a signature guitar.  Rockabilly legend Duane Eddy followed up with his signature model.

In 1966 the Guild Company was sold to electronics giant Avnet. Dronge stayed on to run the company. The Hoboken factory became too small. 

Dronge discovered a furniture factory in Westerly, Rhode Island that was spacious enough and also contained some of the necessary machinery needed to meet the demand for Guild guitars.

And though the production was moved to Westerly, Guild’s main office remained in New Jersey

Guild made some fine archtop and electric guitars, but their forte has always been in the wonderful flat top guitars they manufacturer.

1954 Guild Navarre
The first three models that were introduced in 1954 include the F-30 Aragon, the F-40 Valencia and the F-50 Navarre. By 1963, Mark Dronge (Al’s son) added to the lineup the D-40 Bluegrass Jubilee and the D-50 Bluegrass Special. By 1968, the D-55 Guild’s top-of-the-line acoustic was offered. These instruments competed with Martin’s dreadnought guitars.
Guild F-512

Guild also introduced the Grand Concert guitar with the designation of F. This guitar was Guilds competition with Gibson’s Super Jumbo guitars. I have to say that one of the finest 12 string guitars ever built is the Guild F-512.
Guild Guitars received a big boost in recognition when Richie Havens played his Guild D-40 at Woodstock.
Guild also created some great jazz electric guitars. My favorite one is a gem called the M-75 Aristocrat, built back in the early days of Guild. It looked similar to a Gibson Les Paul or a Gretsch Duo Jet, except it had a Venetian cutaway (rounded).  

The other difference was despite looking like a solid body guitar, it was actually hollow. Production stopped on this guitar in 1963. 

Guild Bluesbird
It reemerged in 1968 as the Bluesbird. There were a few differences from the Aristocrat. The main one was the pickups. The soapbars were now Guild humbuckers with gold foil. By 1970, the Bluesbird no longer had an archtop. The shape was the same, but the top was flat.

Perhaps the finest Guild electric was the Johnny Smith Artist Award in 1960. It was a beautiful full bodied archtop with one pickup.

The 1963 Guild X-50 Cordoba was very similar to a Gibson ES-125T and Epiphone Century guitars of the same era. (It is ironic is it that in 1963 Guild named a guitar Cordoba. In 2014 the company is being purchased by Cordoba guitars.)

Shortly after the acquisition and move to Rhode Island, Guild began production of electric guitars. The Starfire line were the semi-acoustic models set to compete with Gibson’s ES line. These included the Starfire I, II and III which were semi acoustic. The Starfire IV, V and VI guitars were semi-solid guitars.

All Aristocrats and Bluesbirds came with the Guild style head stock and included a “Chesterfield” emblem inlaid in the head stock. There is always an exception. 

In 1986 Guild went a little crazy with the Bluesbird design; the body retained the same shape, but the head stock was changed to six-on-a-side tuners. 

This version came with 3 single coil pickups a blade switch.

Guild X-500
Guild’s top of the line deep body electric during the late 1960’s was the deep-bodied X-500 which came with Guild single coil gold plated pickups. 

A similar guitar was the tobacco burst X-175 which came with twin humbuckers.

Guild also offered the CE-100E. The body was slightly deep. It came with Guild's frequency-tested pickups in one or two pickup models. On later models the pickups were humbuckers.

The T-100D was a thinline single cutaway with one or two “frequency-tested” single coil pickups. The T-100 came with one pickup.
1964 Polara

Guild also dabbled in solid body guitars. The Guild Polara Series was meant to compete with Gibson and Fender. The original S-100 had a metal bar that was hinged on the back of the guitar that acted as a built-in guitar stand.

The original S-100 Polara was unique, but the body shape soon became not much different than Gibson’s EG series.

The S-200 Thunderbird is a take off on Fender’s Jaguar guitar shape. It is sometimes called the Gumby Guitar, since its body looks somewhat like the clay mation figure. This was another unique guitar that came with a built-in stand.

Unfortunately, Al Dronge met an untimely death in May of 1972 when his private plane ran into bad weather and crashed.

The plant held together and kept it’s goal of craftsmanship throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Bill Schultz
Bill Schultz had been involved in music sales and operations for most of his life. He helped bring the Yamaha brand to the United States. He fronted a group of private investors and purchased Fender Guitars from CBS.

Fender did not have a reputation of building a good acoustic guitar.  Perhaps the most Fender-like acoustics were designed in the late 1960’s by Roger Rosmeisel.  

These had the traditional Fender six on a side headstock and all came with a bolt-on neck.  For most serious and professional guitar players, the bolt-on neck was a sign of an unworthy guitar.

One of the goals of Schultz and his group was to offer a class act acoustic guitar under the Fender flagship. It was in 1995 that Fender, now Fender Musical Instrument Corporation, bought Guild Guitars and all of its assets. Fender now was able to offer a respectable acoustic guitar.

2003 D-25

In 2001 Fender decided to move Guild guitar production to their home in Corona California. This plant produced USA made electric guitars and amplifiers.  The employees in Westerly put together “kits” of unfinished guitars and shipped them to Corona for assembly. Then work ceased and the plant was shut down.

Production in Corona lasted only around three years. Fender had a new acquisition; Tacoma Guitars.

Tacoma Guitars were owned by the Young Chang piano company, a Korean firm that set up a wood mill in Washington State to produce soundboards for their pianos. 

The mill’s general manager persuaded the company to set up a guitar plant. The guitars took the name of the town where the mill and plant were located; Tacoma.  Due to the downturn in the economic climate in Korea, Young Chang sold the business to the general manager, J.C. Kim in 1999.

Tacoma’s craftsman came up with some remarkable guitars and was producing around 100 instruments per month. The trademark on the first Tacoma guitars was the unusual sound hole, which was located on the upper bout. This sound hole became known as the “paisley” sound hole.  Tacoma made a pint-sized travel guitar called The Papoose. This guitar became an instant hit.

In 2004 Fender Musical Instrument Corporation acquired Tacoma Guitars.  Shortly afterward, Guild acoustic guitar production was moved to the Tacoma guitar plant, where it would remain for the next four years. During the next four years production of Tacoma guitars ceased, as Fender concentrated on Guild guitars and it’s USA branded Fender acoustic guitars.

Kaman Guitar Factory

In 2008 Fender Musical Instrument Corporation purchased the assets of the Kaman Musical Corporation. This became the death knell for Tacoma Guitars. 

All acoustic production of USA made Guild Guitars was moved to New Hartford, Connecticut.  The first models to roll out of the New Hartford plant were the popular D-55 and F-50 guitars.

For the next six years there were a lot of developments from the R and D department. Production continued on the traditional series acoustics.  A new system of acoustic amplification was created and called the DTAR pickup system. This was made up of an internal microphone and an under-saddle piezo transducer.
Guild Standard Series

In 2010 the new Guild Standard Series included models based on Guild’s historical top end traditional guitars. Changes were made in ornamentation and finishing to bring the price point down. 

The wood used was of a lower grade, but the guitars were excellent. These included the F series including the popular F-212XL and the D series.  Later that year some of these models were produced with a cutaway.

During the Westerly era and going forward Guild has imported guitars from differing Asian countries. Guild introduced a brand called Madeira in the early 1970’s. The first of these guitars came from Japan and later produced in Korea. These guitars were more affordably priced than a Guild guitar. 

I have seen a few, mostly nylon string Madeira guitars, but I know they imported differing models of guitars and banjos under the Madeira logo.

Burnside by Guild

Burnside was another Guild import. These were “super strat” style guitars all manufactured in Asia. The headstocks read “Burnside by Guild.”

DeArmond M-77

After Fender purchased Guild, reissues of Guild electric guitars were manufactured in Korea and Indonesia under the DeArmond brand name. Yep, Fender owns the rights to DeArmond too. The lower quality instruments were made in Indonesia. They were very playable, but used PVC for the nut, saddle and inlay material. The logo is stenciled on these guitars. 

DeArmond Starfire
The Korean made DeArmonds are treasures.  They are well made and great players. The stylized brand name is inlaid on the headstock as is the traditional Chesterfield logo.

Guild GAD Guitars
In the early part of 2000, Fender/FMIC created a line of less expensive Guild guitars that were made in China. These were designated GAD orGuild Acoustic Design

The finishes were polyurethane instead of nitrocellulose lacquer and the wood used was of lesser quality. These guitars made up the bulk of the annual Guild production. They are identifiable by the number 1 in the prefix. As an example a Guild F-50 as a GAD would be a Guild F-150.

The May 7th announcement came brings hope that Guild will continue under the direction of Cordoba Guitars. Cordoda guitars USA were formerly known as Tornavoz Music Company.

Cordoba Guitars high end models known as the Espana series and the Loriente series are handmade in Valencia and Barcelona Spain. The Iberia, Fusion, Luthier, La Playa, Acero and Protégé series as well as all of the ukuleles are made in China.

Oxnard Cordoba factory
This past June Cordoba opened a new 2500 square foot artisan workshop in Oxnard California to build guitars that will be 100% made in the USA.  

They currently offer five models of American built guitars. The facility is being overseen by luthier Kenny Hill. The new guitars will be hand built using premium materials.  Cordoba has set up it’s US headquarters in Santa Monica California.

Ren Ferguson
On May 13th, Cordoba announced Ren Ferguson to be the vice president of manufacturing and research and development for Guild guitars. Ferguson has been in the business of music for nearly 50 years. Twenty-seven of those years were spent with Gibson Guitars.

Best wishes to Cordoba in preserving a remarkable and historic guitar brand.