Maestro 'Knowing the Guitar' Workshop

 

You know how you can read a lot on a subject but when you experience it in real life, everything becomes just so much clearer?

 

That was how I felt after attending Maestro’s Knowing the Guitar workshop.

 

It was a super-wet Saturday afternoon but there was no stopping us from strapping on our guitars and making the pilgrimage to Kaki Bukit where Maestro HQ is located.

 

Tucked in an old warehouse with creaky cargo lifts and long dusky walkways, it is not unlike those in movies where rival gangs meet up to resolve their feuds which almost always lead to messy melees that pan out in slow motion.

 

But there was no fighting that day. ‘cos we were all on the same team. Even if there was, I think there were enough guitars stocked for us to put up a mean fight.

 

 

The workshop started with Wesley (marketing manager of Maestro Guitars) introducing to us several technical indicators for evaluating the sonic qualities of the instrument: frequency range, volume, sensitivity, threshold, presence & depth, decay & sustain, fundamentals & overtones.

 

Through demonstrations using guitars of a spectrum of shapes and contrasting tonal qualities, the descriptions of each indicator gained new dimensions of clarity. Sadly the detection of headroom still evades me.

 

The showcase of the different shapes also helped in reinforcing my preferred shape: the Singa (medium Jumbo)!

 

In the next part, experienced luthier and founder of Maestro Guitars, Hozen brought us through the multitude of factors that can affect the sonic qualities of a guitar.

 

Naturally, the different types of tonewood helmed the discussion.

 

Armed with an assortment of slabs, Hozen would lift them at their nodal points and with a gentle tap, set them reverberating with their unique rings. Mahogany, Indian Rosewood, Brazilian Rosewood, Sitka Spruce, Adirondack Spruce, Cedar and the exotic double tops...

 

 

Next was the bracing. Did you know? The tension on the soundboard of a guitar is 70 kg?!

 

Hence, the main objective of a good brace design is to allow the soundboard to withstand the enormous tension while not inhibiting its vibration too much.

 

Three types of braces were showcased: a scalloped brace from 'a famous M brand', a pre-Somogyi Maestro bracing and a post-Somogyi 'advanced hybrid' bracing which Hozen humbly described it as 'containing a lot of wayang'.

 

But the ring on the 'wayang-ful' braced soundboard sounded so much more resonant and unlike the first two, it didn’t matter which part of the board was tapped!

 

During Q&A, the subject of saddle material was brought up. I have always known that bone saddles are preferred for they can transmit more energy to the soundboard through the bridge.

 

But I never knew the extent of the difference until Hozen illustrated it by dropping saddles of the different materials onto the table. The plastic saddle, well, gave a weak plastic-ky sound but the bone saddle produced a deep resounding thud when dropped. *gasp* Time to upgrade the saddle on my AC1M!

 

In the discussion of the grading of woods, it came to light that the gradings are based purely on aesthetics with no implications of sonic quality. So when asked why would luthiers pay more just for an aesthetic upgrade, Hozen’s reply was rather thought-provoking.

 

He said that in the building of a guitar, the bulk of the cost is not in the materials, but in their time and effort. So with the same amount of time and effort, it would make better sense for them to use the best materials available so as to maximise the value of their final product.

 

Somehow, that reply struck a chord within me. Not so much in terms of guitar building but just that notion of time and effort being our main costs and the logic to recruit our best resources seems rather philosophically illuminating.

 

In closing, we were given a demonstration of how the PLEK machine (which by the way costs as much as a HDB flat) is used in the setup of Maestro custom and private series guitars.

 

Using sophisticated electronics to analyse string tensions and heights at each fret, Lionel (main technician of Maestro Guitars) would then manually sieve through the data and input the modifications required to achieve optimum setup for maximum playability without fret buzz.

 

Just as learning about the protracted process of how rice ends up on the plate makes me cherish it more, attending the workshop instilled in me a new-found appreciation of guitars.

 

Not just any guitars. But the handcrafted ones.

 

Many thanks to Maestro Guitars for conducting the workshop. Cheers.

 

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