By Carlos Oen
This article is in standard tuning.
VANCOUVER – Early in life, I fell in love. Holding her between arms with total inexperience. My leg near her waist. Right hand close to the bridge, securing our proximity. Instinctively the left hand went for the neck pressing the strings down and sliding the fingers fret by fret. What I heard left me speechless. We fused.
It all starts with a simple guitar and as we progress in both technique and personal finances, we move into the world of high-end and custom made acoustic guitars. According to Mike Colina-Fanthrope, Guitar Department Manager at Long & McQuade, these excellent winter companions range from $2,500 all the way up to $12,000. Those at the top are “always behind glass.” Just like Excalibur, waiting to be freed from stone by someone with a noble heart and a healthy paycheque. StatsCanada reveals that there are close to 130,000 potential Vancouverite knights living in this comfortable realm.
A vibrant music scene with a productive recording industry, as well as its proximity to Asia makes Vancouver a competitive market for high-end guitars. Just recently Chris Martin, CEO of F. C. Martin & Co. was at Rufus Guitar Shop showcasing his legendary products.
Three brands dominate high-end acoustics global sales: Taylor, Martin and Gibson.
With more than 20 years of guitar expertise, Colina-Fantrope is able to precisely narrow down the big player´s tonal qualities. “Gibson would be a nice full sound. Warm is another way to describe it. Taylor is very clear. Martin is very dynamic. They are all quite different in their approach,” he says.
Have you listened to Kaki King? She is the Joan of Arc among knights. Excalibur jumps into her hands.
“Kaki King is a player that is on our endorsement roster. She is a percussive fingerstyle player — Ground breaking. She is referred to as one of the best guitar players on the planet right now,” says O´Brien.
But there are also men who travel and prefer smaller body instruments. Meredith Coloma, local Luthier at Coloma Guitars with ten years of guitar making and producer of the Vancouver International Guitar Festival, knows that well.
“It is something that I built a lot of my career on. I make smaller instruments with shorter scale lengths for the comfort of smaller hands,” says Coloma.
Achieving gender equality is not the only challenge high-end acoustic guitars face. Our appetite for exotic woods has taken a toll. In response to heavy deforestation at the beginning of the year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) introduced restrictions on all rosewood, used to some extent on most guitars.
“Of course, companies are looking for alternatives and generally speaking they are moving to other woods such as pau ferro and granadillo, which are South American woods,” says O´Brien, who knows the global guitar wood situation.
Environmental friendly Vancouverites are pointing to a solution. When questioned about the rosewood shortage Coloma seems not affected. For the construction of her guitars, she has been using rocklite, a wood composite produced in the U.K.
“I also use non-endangered wood species for my builds. Maple form B.C. I like to use local woods like cedar, sitka spruce, Engelmann spruce and figured maple,” says the luthier.
Endangered South American woods, such as rosewood, may find time to recover thanks to Canada´s national emblem.
“Maple is very bright. Has a very specific characteristic that balances our mahogany bodies. We use it in order to create a really beautiful range of tone for the guitar,” says Prestige´s chief marketer, Adrian O´Brien. “Luckily it’s not in short supply or anything like that. And again, for us it’s huge because it’s in our backyard.”