brazilian back maingard guitar

Brazilian Rosewood

In 1985 whilst working at Santa Cruz guitar company, and with the help of Richard Hoover, I purchased a few boards of Brazilian Rosewood. On my return to South Africa in 1986, I made my first guitars using this wood and I was hooked. The beauty and tonal properties of Brazilian Rosewood is legendary. It does, I believe, make for better notational separation, volume…and has many other subtle nuances.

There can be no denying its visual characteristics and as an investment it has huge collectable value. In 1987 I was approached by a wood company in South Africa to come and look at and to make an offer on 25 boards (4 meters x 50cm wide x 10cm deep) of Brazilian Rosewood. I had to sell many possessions to acquire this wood!

Almost 30 years later and the pile is dwindling, I have managed to obtain a few other boards between then and now, but the reality is that all of us guitar makers worldwide are scratching to find decent Brazilian Rosewood. My struggle is to get a few good pieces from a big pile of timber, which begins by looking at a cube or more of Brazilian. From the outside it has the look of a treasure trove, but once one gets into it, it often is a horror story. Sometimes out of one beam I will only get one or two bookmatch sets for guitar backs. An enormous amount of hours are spent looking, processing and cutting. One of the reasons that Brazilian Rosewood timber guitars are the most expensive is because firstly the timber is literally unavailable worldwide, the forests having been denuded, and the available timber is a nightmare to process.

Guitar Tops

I, like many other guitars makers, used to have my guitar tops wood sent to me by wood suppliers all over the world. After some time I began to notice that I was returning more wood than I was keeping. This was due to the fact that as I grew in experience, I began to hone my ear to be able to hear the different sounds between woods grown in different parts of the world. I noticed that I achieved a most balanced, clear and powerful sound in my use of European spruce and cedar guitar tops.

As I found myself wasting time sending tops back due to them not being up to my specifications, I went to a lot of time and trouble to find who the actual woodcutters were. This was a marvelous adventure and I now have four suppliers in Europe who are all fourth generation woodcutter families. Their skills and exclusive access to often secret sites in the alps have been handed down from father to son and daughter for two hundred years and more. One of my suppliers cuts from a site in the Italian Alps which neighbours the exact place that Stradivarius cut his wood from for his violins and cellos.

On discovering who these families were I went on what one may call a pilgrimage to visit with them and discuss my needs. Some of these woodcutters are not accessible by plane or train. I now visit every five years and hand-select the best master grade tops which, to my ear, surpass anything I have ever seen or heard available elsewhere in the world. There is something very alchemical and even magical in the process of refining and hand selecting fifty tops from the thousand I generally look through.

All tops are preferably over 20 years old hand selected over many years Alpine or European spruce.

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Hiscox Cases

Brynn Hiscox was like myself, a guitar maker, trying to find a strong lightweight case for his guitars. The year was 1985. He could not find a case to come up to his specifications for his guitars and began building his own cases. The rest, as we say, is history.

I started using Hiscox Cases back in 1990 and they have come a long way since then. Yes, there are other fantastic cases in the marketplace but I have yet to find another case which is lightweight, unbelievably strong and fits my guitars like  glove. That’s why I use Hiscox Cases.

For more information on the construction, design, etc of the cases, please visit the Hiscox Cases website