I started making acoustic guitars in 1967 while still in college, inspired by my friend and mentor Gordon Bok , who had 2 amazing sounding (tho crude) guitars. One was made for his mother by R. A. Mango, a nylon string, very deep bassy sound, and the other was a custom 12 string by a friend Sam Tibbetts, who never played an instrument but knew what Gordon needed and had real shipyard and engineering skills. I have never been able to duplicate either but have come close recently.
The first guitar was straight sided, a casket shaped 6 string copy of one Gordon and Sam threw together on a bet in 24 hours. I sounded not bad after some playing in so I expanded the size and experimented with with various bracings. The first real success with it came as a 12 string and after several of these I got an order for one in 1968 from Noel Paul Stookey when Peter, Paul, and Mary were at the peak of their career. Noel wrote the Wedding Song on it in 1971 for Peter’s wedding and it has got decades of airplay since and lots of fans who played it for their nuptials.
After a few dozen of these odd guitars I expanded into regular shapes and one that Gordon designed, he called the Bell, inspired by one Carl Sandburg had which really was bell shaped. I stopped making them in the ’70’s but revisited them to experiment with shapes for 10 string cittern (hybrid instrument of guitar/mandolin) for Celtic music after finding that the shape is ideal for making that instrument sound really big and rich.
The 12 string has always kind of been my specialty since those early successes; the challenge has always been to make them playable and stable, with all that string pressure. Gordon and I both developed the tailpiece/bridge configuration which relieves the forward tension on the bridge and allows for lighter, more responsive bracing. He came up with the idea of a saddle with grooves cut for each string to vibrate at the correct pitch for intonation, and a hold-down piece behind to give the strings some angle and pressure on it. I have since developed a pivoting neck that can be easily adjusted for string height, a must for seasonal humidity changes which shrink and swell the top and back. Now i see someone has actually developed a guitar with a hinge at the neck so it can be folded for air travel…….
My standard woods are Maine red spruce (“Adirondack” is the hype other makers give it; it’s all eastern red spruce) and mahogany for the body. Other options are koa, India rosewood, teak, bubinga etc. for the back, various hardwoods for the fretboard/bridge, inlays, machine heads etc. Most of what i do is custom and I am lately partial to the citterns for my celtic addiction but each guitar seems to be getting a bit better as well. They have gone as far as Australia and New Zealand (and luckily have not come back).