intended to emphasize the use of guitar defects [hum, microphonic
feedback, and a killswitch] that are isolated on the three momentary buttons. The Niwa was intended to be an ergonomic design
with more traditional headstock construction.
Why do you work alone, as opposed to having people who specialize in, say electronics or metalwork?
If you are really interested in how things work, you will become
better than any specialist. Just ask Ken Parker. I can’t imagine getting more satisfaction than I do when I’m learning new techniques
and skills. It puts me in the position of being able to paint the
whole picture. In the last few years, I’ve pulled back all of the metal
work that external companies did for me before. I find it harder to
communicate my quality standard to someone else than to do it
myself. So I do all the work—the design, woodwork, pickup construction and winding, electronics, paint, molding, surface design
on CAD, and five-axis programming for the CNC.
All your guitars are dreams to play. The action is low and there
doesn’t seem to be a sharp corner to annoy one’s hands anywhere—from the nut to the bridge. However, the Tesla guitar
can be a bit of an adjustment: Although its scale length is 25. 6",
the bridge is so close to the butt-end of the guitar that it can
feel like you’re missing a couple of inches of guitar neck when
you’re reaching for open-position chords. In addition, fretting
higher on the neck can feel awkward for players who like to feel
their thumb wrap around the other side of the neck. What was
the impetus for these pretty radical ergonomics?
The neck access on the higher frets is much different from a normal
neck—you can’t wrap your thumb around—but the tonal benefits
from this supported-neck construction made me decide to go for
this uncompromising solution. I don’t see my guitars as examples
of how guitars should be. Each year, we see maybe six million conventional electric guitars for traditionalists put on the market—plus
my 25 unconventional guitars for unconventionalists.
Considering your engineering background and how radical your
designs are—from the shapes to the finish to the pickups and
their housings to things like the Niwa’s recessed tuners—it’s
somewhat surprising that you mostly use stock bridges and tuners. Why?
When I started with the Birdfish in 1995, I used the Tune-o-matic
bridge as a ready-made part because I wasn’t able to produce my
own bridge at that time. Later, I liked the fact that this bridge kind
of connects my guitar with the traditional heritage. The Tesla first
had an ABM bridge, but I found that the Tune-o-matic sounded
better. It’s interesting that you mention this, though—maybe I
should design my own bridge with the same tonal character. Do
you think the Tune-o-matic undervalues the spirit of my guitars?
No, I wouldn’t say it undervalues it at all. I was just curious if
you’d thought of designing your own—especially since you’ve
designed and made much smaller components such as screws in
your own shop. That said, I would love to see what you’d come
up with if you did design your own bridge.
Thank you! I’m putting that idea in a corner of my brain where I
can retrieve it anytime.