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Ultimate Blues Guitar II project

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On March 25, 2007 luthier Ralph Luttrell and myself  completed the prototype #1 Gambler blues guitar. I spent close to a year of my spare time getting Ralph to help me restore my old OS Stella Gambler you see him holding in the photo (right). Without his amazing skills the guitar would have been dumpster trash after the online vintage dealer in California completely misrepresented the condition and repairs when selling it to me. The restoration revealed a charming and wonderful guitar that inspired us to come up with the idea of making a larger but much higher quality replica of our own. I've played and demonstrated most of the Stella style replicas on the market only to be dissappointed in the tone or design features.

OS Stella did make higher end guitars in the 1920s and they were marketed under brand names such as Sovereign which sported finer tone woods, fancy trim and sometimes much better tone. We wanted to build something with the cool charm of the Gambler but also make it a far better guitar in the ways that matter. Tone obviously being the biggest concern but also the reliability and playability had to meet the higher levels players demand in this day and age. Close is just not good enough. We would need to knock this one out of the ball park or it's not worth wasting time over.

While our new Gambler shown below looks like the old Stella there's a whole lot under the hood that makes it in a class of it's own.  We went to great measures studying my collection of the best old ladder braced blues guitars of the era and not only identified what sounds great but also the design specs that made the guitars last for 80 years without the top bellying and deforming from the tension of the strings and normal weather changes. I read a lot of writing from brilliant luthiers and had many conversations with John Greven who had some amazing insight into how I could choose my tops, bracing and patterns to maximize my goals. This greatly increased the labor but the result is a top, back and sides that produce a percussive, loud and explosive sound that projects and sustains when you want it to and also mutes up into a tight powerful blues package by only slightly changing your playing techniques. A guitar that has the powerful and charming sound of the old blues 78s but can also stretch out and do what many modern guitars can. This became very obvious the first time we strung up the instrument and if you listen to the sound-video demonstrations attached on the bottom of this web page you can hear the dramatic difference in tone when I compare it to the old Stellas. The magic is all there but multiplied many times and with much more versatility included. We didn't meet our own expectations with #1. We greatly exceeded them and it looks like we're going to be able to duplicate this magic very consistently.

Some of the things we did are secret but let me just say the braces are radiused much like a boat and not a perfect parabolic dish. This is a flat top but make no mistake it's not a dead flat and loose top and back. There are some complex construction features going on here and not bunch of parts tossed together like a kit. The tension and explosive tap tone of the top and back lets you know right away this guitar is a living thing. We also do things like pre-level the fret board before it's installed to the perfect angles then once the dovetail neck is completely settled we level the fretboard, install the frets and do one more precision leveling. We also compensate and angle the saddle and bridge within 1000ths of an inch for perfect tuning. Or as perfect as guitars can get anyway. This should reduce any chances of the neck, fretboard or fretboard extention ever becoming out of alignment or having humps or dips. We also assemble everything in a monitored but slightly drier shop because we believe this will eliminate numerous issues that plague modern builders that have sharp fret ends, cracks and other issues that occur once the instrument reaches the "REAL World".

The frets are medium width but good height so you have excellent playing but also accurate intonation and the ability to redress the frets many times before needing a refret. We chose the high grade rosewood fretboard over the common trend of using pearloid laminates or ebonized maple which makes refretting and releveling of the fretboard problematic or simply impossible. We want cute and pretty but we also want a really fine guitar. I also think the old ones with the plastic fretboards affect the tone a little too.  We made our own decals for the proto but plan on using professionally manufactured replicas in the future editions. The tuning machines are 3 on a plate for adding durability to the slotted head but they also work much better than the open gear models and have less maintenance issues not to mention looking very cool.  The hand made rosewood pyramid bridge uses a compensated bone saddle and unslotted pins. This means better contact from string to bridge and none of the small issues you often have with slotted pins. All of these things are more labor but the result in a better tuned and better sounding guitar. The simple binding is aged and looks 80 years old but there's more good things about using this size binding. The channel is not cut so deep that it comes through the top and side to the liner. So the bond between the top and sides has that little extra integrity. We also do some tricks so the rake of the guitar and complex radiuses dont cause the binding to become paper thin after scraping. There are many complex things that you simply cannot see in the final product. We also bind the sound hole which protects the lip from cracking or wearing over time and looks good too.

We install mahogany side braces to prevent any spreading of cracks in the rare case of a guitar being damaged. We also reenforce the area on the bottom of the bouts where the guitar sits on your leg. Car keys and other objects are known to damage guitars and we want to make this one very durable without building some kind of factory battle tank. We also use a back support strip and all of the centerlines of the back, top, blocks and neck are carefully kept in perfect alignment. The result is a guitar that may look like one of the collectable 1920s Stellas but it's in a league by itself in tone and reliability. We even use a carbon fiber rod in the neck that makes the neck stronger than steel but lighter than air. You'll never have to adjust this neck. It has the perfect amount of relief and a slightly back leaning neck angle and healthy saddle height. You can however keep two saddles and interchange them anytime you want to raise or lower the action.

We did slight 16-20" radius on the fretboard and made the dot markers match the standard most players are used to these days with dots on fret 9 and 12 instead of 10-12. These are all improvements that simply make sense and do not detract from the tonal magic this guitar has.  I think owning a guitar that looks like a Stella is nice but to have one that plays like butter and more reliable is a dream come true for me. I've played countless old Stellas and this one is in a class by itself. We also slighly enlarged the new molds so the body will be greater than 14.25" wide putting it in the class of the most highly sought after OS Stellas and the absolute best sounding guitars Stella ever made. Contact me if you want more information on these guitars. We are not selling them in the public and they will only be built in small custom runs. They will start popping out about August 2007 but the waiting list is already getting out of hand and it's not even public.

Luttrell-Jones Gambler Prototype #1



Video #1 on the first day of the new Gamber 3/25/07

Video #2 On the second day I play a sustaining fingerstyle tune to show the versatility I'm getting out of it.

Video #3 - added 3/28/07 - 27mb streaming wmv - Comparison tonally of two 1920 Oscar Schmidt Stellas against the prototype Gambler. Please use hi-fi speakers, headphones, earbuds or something better than PC speakers or you wont get the full impact. The new Gambler has the Stella sound but it's got a whole lot more too.