October 4, 2007

A Tale of Two Guitars

When you are talking about world-class guitars, you work from the expectation of “great” and go from there. The guitars that we get in the shop from Dana Bourgeois are no exception.

At The Podium, there are more than a few fans, staff and customers alike, who recognize the versatility of OM sized instruments. Big enough to strum and flatpick, these guitars are also often the best choice for fingerstyle players. As a person who has put a microphone in front of more than a few guitars, I can say from an engineer’s perspective that OM guitars are a real treat in the studio. They offer a wide tonal range, and generally require much less corrective equalization than their bigger (and smaller) relations.

The Bourgeois Vintage OM guitars are some of the best traditionally voiced guitars around. Featuring Indian rosewood backs and sides and high-grade Adirondack spruce tops, they are loud, powerfully voiced instruments with a rich focused bass, articulate mids, and bell-like trebles. Consistent up and down the neck, they are responsive and dynamic.

But can they be better?

Or perhaps, optimized to be even better for the demands of fingerstyle players?

We had all heard a number of instruments built with traditional hide glue. Most guitars today are built with an aliphatic resin adhesive, such as Titebond, LMI, or Garrett Wade. This is a great adhesive with good working time, easy clean up, and a secure bond. Hide glue (made from animal collegans) can be tougher to work with. It dries quickly (so you need to work quickly), requires mixing and heating, and frankly smells a bit funky when hot. It does provide an exceptional bond though, doesn’t creep like aliphatic resins can, and has some unique properties.

For one thing, unlike other adhesives, it is completely reversible. Reheating and rehydrating can return the glue to liquid form. This is why classical string instruments, often hundreds of years old, can continue to be repaired without damaging the wood. Secondly, it cures simply as a matter of evaporation, creating a strong electrochemical bond. Once dry, the joint that is made is tighter (as the glue shrinks a bit as the water evaporates) and harder.

It is this last property, a tighter and harder joint, that we suspect might make a sonic difference. You see, tonally, the hide glue guitars we had heard all had stronger low mids, articulate but more complex basses, and more brilliant "jump in your hands" trebles. They had lovely vintage guitar like overtones that we had always associated with age, and they were more easily driven. Qualities that we think make for a great fingerstyle guitar.

Dana was up for an experiment, but not for any “glue voodoo”. In an attempt to make the test as empirical as possible, he made two Vintage OM's for us with tops and backs from succeeding slices of the same flitches of wood and he wouldn't say anything other than one had more hide glue than the other. It was up to us to figure out which instrument we liked better for fingerstyle.

The verdict?

They were both incredible guitars, but they were different. Having several renowned players give them both a run, (and all of us here at the shop), there was a clear preference for one of the instruments when played fingerstyle. The notable exceptions were flatpickers (who seemed to prefer the second guitar) and one notable fingerpicker with a heavy, percussive attack (who at this time, until we have permission, must remain nameless).

We finally got back to Dana…and the winner…err…the “favorite”…that is, the guitar that sold twenty-minutes after unveiling…

The Podium Signature Hide Glue Model.

Honestly, they are both great guitars. And tone is a subjective thing. But, as we discovered, the glue does make a difference worth exploring. It had the qualities that we expected, and you could hear the differences side-by-side. In our continuing effort to tweak and optimize, this one is a winner!

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