I have a number of objectives that I strive to achieve in the classic guitars that I build. I cannot really say that I would compromise any of these in favor of any other as I believe they must all come together to form the basis for a good guitar. However, I do have a hierarchy of sorts that appears as follows:
I tend to group guitars into two broad categories when it comes to tone. To me some guitars trend toward the tone produced by a harpsichord. Others trend toward the tone produced by a piano. This may not be the best analogy because no guitar really sounds like either, but it's a metaphor that works for me. I tend to prefer those guitars that go toward my piano analogy with deep sonorous bass and firm round treble tones. I prefer a "dark" or "deep" rather than a "bright" sound but clarity of individual notes is of the utmost importance so as to avoid a "muddy" result, especially when playing chords. Within these overall tonal objectives, the ability to produce an unlimited range of tonal colors is also of paramount importance. I build my guitars with these sonic images in mind combined with a composite image of the great guitars I've mentioned in my biography.
I strive for balance, both across the strings and up and down the fret positions. My elevated fret board design utilizing Spanish heel architecture contributes to sustain in the treble notes at the higher end of the register so that that does not begin to diminish the extent that I've seen with many guitars. The balance between bass and treble is one of the important outcomes of the voicing approaches that I learned during the master class with Greg Byers.
One of the exciting things I learned from Greg Byers is a new approach to guitar intonation that involves compensation to the string lengths at both the nut and saddle ends. Accurate intonation is always a problem with guitars, however these compensations make a remarkable difference. The extent of improvement is such that I now enjoy playing certain pieces that I had shelved due to problems with intonation.
Sustain has always been very important to me. I believe it is primarily a function of both design and the choice of materials. The linings for the top should provide a solid foundation for the top to work from. Moving from light kerfed linings or separate triangular blocks to solid laminated linings has resulted in a real improvement in this area. The denser materials being used for linings and also for the main harmonic brace below the sound hole contribute even further.
Playing ease seems to be a function of many factors and some are simply a matter of physical adjustment. However, a root determinant of playing ease comes from the subtle connection between the manner in which the top vibrates and the resulting feel of "pliancy" when pressing the strings to the frets.
A reference was made to this by Francisco Tarrega's widow, Maria, in a letter dated March 30, 1920 to an acquaintance who was desirous of purchasing Tarrega's 1888 Torres guitar. " this represents a true relic as it was the most played by him on account of its excellent sonority and ideal string tension."
Interestingly enough, this might lead one to conclude that the best sounding guitars are, in fact, easiest to play.
Rightly or wrongly, volume considerations do not appear at the top of my hierarchy of objectives although I suspect there would be both luthiers and players who would argue with this. I can only say that I would not compromise any of the preceding objectives in order to produce a louder guitar. That having been said, I believe that if the other objectives are successfully met the guitar will cover any room in the ways that a concert classical guitar should and I could mention that a local dealer in classic guitars has been heard describing my guitars as "cannons" and clients have reacted with phrases like "this instrument is monstrous in volume" but, lets be clear. These guitars are not as loud as Smallman guitars or some others that are noted for their incredible volume and it is not my intention to suggest that they are.
My guitars are soundly constructed using premium materials and the best adhesives. I only build during the winter months when the humidity is low and I've never had a report of cracking in the backs or sides of any guitar that I've built over the past 20 years. The underside of the upper bouts in my tops are strategically braced to minimize the possibility of cracking along the edges of the fingerboard. The tops are domed ( for reasons relating to tone production) so there is ample provision for expansion and contraction as conditions change.
I work with traditional ornamentation including some marquetry approaches that had their foundations in the guitar ornamental artistry utilized by Antonio de Torres. The body outline has been worked out to impart grace and beauty as well as acoustic performance. The headstock design is both simple and elegant. The shellac I use for french polishing enhances the natural colors of the woods and it will develop a beautiful patina over time.