Design & Lutherie
While the attention of the sports world is on South Africa because of the
World Cup soccer tournament, Murray Kuun Design & Lutherie recently
caught our eye. The one-man shop based in Johannesburg, South Africa, is
run by woodworker and furniture designer-turned-luthier Murray Kuun. After
20 years of designing and creating less musical wood creations like beds,
kitchen countertops, and entertainment centers, Kuun decided to add luthier
to his woodworking résumé.
BY CHRIS KIES
For about nine years, Kuun constructed violins ranging from the 18th century classical instrument to the hand-carved, jacaranda-based X-bow, which
resembled a futuristic a crossbow more than a violin. Three years ago he
moved into the world of archtops and acoustics. In a short amount of time,
Kuun has developed several models, including the Norma Jean Family guitars
dedicated to his favorite American actress, Norma Jeane Mortenson—aka
Marilyn Monroe. His guitars maintain a more traditional look and feel compared to some of his violins. “I consider myself an artist and designer rather
than a technician,” says Kuun. “Most of the changes I’ve made are aesthetic
… I generally use traditional bracing and building techniques until recently
with my Moon and Stars Classical.”
The classical Sonata is a guitar that embraces the tonewoods found in Kuun’s
homeland of Africa. It features an African mahogany neck with an Indian rosewood
fingerboard. The soundhole inlays are made from African rosewood and wild olive.
The back and sides are made with African rosewood. The only part of the guitar
lacking African woods is the top, which is made of European spruce.
The Norma Jean Archtop is all
hand-carved with a red cedar
top and birdseye maple back
and sides. It’s loaded with
a chrome Kent Armstrong
Slimbucker Neck Jazz pickup.
The pickguard is koa and
attached to it is a discrete vol-
ume control only sticking out a
few millimeters. Like standard
archtops, the Indian rosewood
bridge’s height can be adjusted,
as can its intonation. “In terms
of traditional American archtop
builders, I really admire the
guitars of Ken Parker and Bob
Benedetto,” says Kunn.