On April 16, 1764, the Field of Culloden erupted
As a hoard of delusional Scotsmen charged, raving like mad badgers across an open, boggy terrain …
A tone poem by T Spoon Phillips
A tone poem by T Spoon Phillips
Wonders of Nature is a new performance space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Bruce Petros and his son Matt have forged a unique path as modern American luthiers. Their guitars are incredibly lush in tone, very much the opposite of the overtone-less, fundamental sound of many contemporary, small shop luthiers.
Petros guitars are not just good, they are glorious. And this one appears to fit that description once again.
This is a short scale instrument (24.5”) which makes it a joy to play. The shorter scale has much less string tension which makes it much easier to play. The Petros Walnut Creek (formerly our Ultra-Light) is a wonderfully light weight guitar with a thunderous sound. It is made from gorgeous curly Claro Walnut with a master grade Redwood top and a Butternut neck. Our arched soundboard, meticulously tuned braces and graduation creates a top that produces those full bass fundamentals while simultaneously enabling ringing trebles and lush overtones. This guitar will growl or sing softly. It will give you whatever you ask of it.
“For any of you with aging or arthritic hands, this is the answer.”
(click to enlarge)
Many more mouthwatering photos of this gorgeous instrument at Petros’ Official Website
On the Martin site the phrase, “wider hand-fit dovetail neck to accommodate fingerstyle players.” is used. As a fingerstyle player for over 20 years and a person with small hands, I can’t think of a worse thing to say to me about this guitar. Why would I want a wider neck? What does that have to do with finger style guitar?
– Fergus from Australia
Thank you for your query, Fergus. The simplest answer is, most fingerstylists want wider string spacing for the picking hand, while players with larger hands are most comfortable with a larger neck.
Wider string spacing allows for all that alternate-bass-note thumbpicking and fingerpicking without unintended contact with strings not meant to be played. This is particularly true for those just learning how to play fingerstyle guitar. And often, once a player gets used to wider spacing they prefer it.
But then, allowing the picking hand extra space means the fretting hand is required to take on more extensive stretches to reach those spread-out strings on the wider fretboard.
In other words, it is a trade-off for those of us with hands of average size or smaller.
However, many accomplished guitarists have longer than average bones in their fingers and thumbs, and the string spacing on a narrower neck feels much more cramped and confining for them. While there will always be exceptions, I believe a greater number of professional guitarists fall into this category. Advanced guitar playing comes easier to those with longer fingers, but they prefer wider spacing, while those with larger hands want beefier necks.
Eric Schoenberg was the influential Ragtime and Blues guitarist who convinced Martin to resurrect their OM design in 1969, with the 1-3/4″ width at nut and 2-1/4″ width at the 12th fret. And his guitar shop went on to commission many other guitars made with even wider necks. Otherwise, all those Folkies from the ’50s and ’60s who played the 12-fret Martins with 1-7/8″ necks were simply used to the wider spacing.
After all, Classical guitars have a 2″ width at the nut, which makes the neck feel a mile wide for those used to steel string acoustic and electric guitars.
The original Martin guitars were intended for professional musicians who played the Classical repertoire, but they had a slightly narrower neck of 1-7/8″ at the nut, and 2-5/16″ at the 12th fret. All 12-fret Martins came with that measurement until the modern era, when they were narrowed slightly to 1-13/16″ for the Standard and Vintage Series. Some others have a 1-3/4″ neck.
The first 14-fret guitar invented by Martin in 1929 was a special order for a famous banjoist who wanted a steel string guitar with a longer neck and a narrower fingerboard than Martin was making at that time. This design was used for the first Martin OM models and had a 1-3/4″ width at the nut and 2-1/4″ at the 12th fret, and 2-3/8″ or 2-5/16″ string spacing. They have been considered the quintessential fingerstyle guitar ever since, in terms of 14-fret instruments.
When Martin converted all their body sizes to a 14-fret “Orchestra Model” design in 1934, they got a 1-3/4″ neck and the string spacing was standardized at 2-5/16″.
They moved to the 1-11/16″ neck in 1939, which is 2-1/8″ wide at the 12th fret and has 2-1/8″ string spacing. But the necks in those days were a lot thicker, to account for the tension of steel strings without an adjustable truss rod, which Martin did not start using until 1985, when they introduced their Low Profile neck shape.
A fatter neck requires the fingers to travel farther out and around to reach their destination. So players with longer fingers and thumbs find modern narrow necks feel even more cramped than older guitars with the same fingerboard width.
This is why Martin’s new High Performance neck has a 1-3/4″ width, even though it otherwise retained the 2-1/8″ measurement at the 12th fret. The area down by the nut felt too cramped for most players when the neck had a shallow profile and 1-11/16″ width, so they made it a little wider down in the “cowboy chord” area to compensate for their shallow Modified Low Oval profile. And the wider nut allowed them to increase the string spacing a little bit as well.
But while Martin was once the trendsetter when it came to things like guitar necks, they were quite late coming to this adjustment, as Taylor and many other guitar makers had been doing this for years. The idea is to have a compromise that will hopefully appeal to the widest population of players who want comfort and just enough space for fingerpicking.
The Martins with traditionally neck widths are there for those who want or need all that extra room and girth. And their Custom Shop will make most any model with any neck size and shape.
I certainly relate to your concerns. I was one of the players who converted from the low, narrow modern guitar necks of the 1970s when I began to develop my fingerstyle technique in the 1990s. The wider string spacing on traditional OMs gave my picking hand the room it wanted, even if the fretting hand faced a greater degree of difficulty, particularly with a vintage-style V neck.
Only in recent years have I returned to the 1-11/16″ Low Profile neck, due to some injury issues and the fact I often have to do all sorts of thumb-fretted Jazz chords. I discovered my fingerstyle technique is disciplined enough these days that I barely notice the lack of space over the sound hole. But my fretting hand is much happier.
While most of my guitars have the traditional OM width, I could never get on with the 1-13/16″ width at nut, and 1-7/8″ is out of the question. I probably should have been playing the narrower 1-11/16″ neck all these many years.
But I am the exception rather than the rule.
There is some irony in the fact that modern alternate-thumb style fingerpicking is named for Merle Travis, who wanted as narrow a neck as possible, because he had short digits and did so much thumb-fretting. But he was exceptional in all regards, including the fact he did all his fancy picking with only his thumb and index finger.
But when you watch Jimi Hendrix play, it is obvious just how long are his fingers and especially his thumb. All the way up the neck he can barre four or five strings with his thumb and still make chord shapes and play lead riffs with his fingers. Richie Havens had one of those thumbs too.
Stephen Stills plays fat Martin necks from the 1930s and makes the basic open C chord with his thumb coming around to fret both the E and A strings at the third position, while his fingers do all sorts of things upon the strings. Leo Kottke’s scimitar-shaped thumbs are so long they look like they have extra bones in them, and we all know how capable is his playing.
I can’t do any of that stuff on even the lowest, narrowest necks made for acoustic guitars.
But once I realized all these guys were actually mutants, I no longer felt bad that I could not play everything they could play as easy as pie. And I also figured out that I need not play wider necks for fingerstyle just because the “rule of thumb” says to.
I just needed to find the neck and string spacing my own hands could play, with the most comfort and facility.
Fortunately, Martin continues to make guitars with necks and string spacing that allow almost everyone to find something that works for them. And most other guitar makers will have some custom shop parameters that can accommodate most of their potential customers as well.
And that is one man’s word on…
Why “Fingerstyle Guitars” Have Wider Necks
Thanks for the kind words. Maury and I go back a good ways, but I am proud and pleased to be helping him out by shooting those product demonstration videos for their YouTube channel.
As for my thumb, I wear silk wraps on the nail. I also have them on my fingers. But I am playing with the pad of my thumb or fingers with just a bit of nail, unless I have gotten lazy and failed to file them properly, as they grow out. The nail acts as a stiff backing, while it is still more finger than “pick.” That is, except for downpicking. I often use my index finger like a flatpick, so having the silkwrap helps there on the down strokes.
About ten years ago I met up with Howie Emerson at a guitar show and he had recently started wearing acrylic nails at the suggestion of his wife. As with many guitarists of a certain age, my nails were getting thinner and breaking more and more easily. Also, I just tired of constant nail care, with all that buffing and shaping, just to break a nail at the last rehearsal before a show.
I tried the acrylic, but I found using the slightly more expensive silk sounds better and to my ear they are more like a real fingernail than a guitar pick.
I use them on my thumb and first three fingers. The little Korean ladies put them on at the nail salon as a thin weave of silk fibers, which then get layers of liquid or powered glue put overtop. They make them as short as their conscious allows and then I have to take them home and shorten them up and shape them with an emery board to the way I like them. And that requires playing the guitar to see where they need rounded off or filed down. The also require filing over time, as they grow out along with the real fingernail.
In New York City four silk wraps means about $25 with tip. They can last up to three months or so. But then, I am supposed to bring them in to get touched up every two weeks, but I usually only do when they start looking really bad.
The silk only goes back a ways and then they fill in the gap between that and cuticle with the powdered glue. That powder stuff wears down and needs replaced, but I like that because it means at least some of the nail is getting oxygen.
The major downside to all this is the real nails get REALLY thin as a result. And they say it takes about 6 weeks for them get back to normal, but I have never stopped using them since I started. There is a slight risk of fungal infections, another reason they are supposed to get filled in and sealed every two weeks, but I have never had anything like that happen.
I know many players do this, and many do it themselves. The nail glue is the same chemical as Super Glue, only watered down. So Bruce Cockburn makes his own, I think out of pingpong balls, super glue and sawdust. Chet Atkins was doing the same sort of thing when I took a workshop with him back in the day. But he too eventually started having the silk put on.
I hope that helps. They look a little weird, especially when they get old. But I don’t care. Not having to worry about it until one chips or breaks off (usually when going to grab something and missing and catching the nail and usually only when they have been on a good while) work it for me.
They ARE thicker than a 1.0 pick, so that took some getting used to at first, at least when it came to using my index finger as a flatpick. But now I am adjusted to it and only use a real pick if I am expected to be doing lots of rock lead stuff or mandolin type trills – or if I am demonstrating a guitar on a video to show what it sounds like with an actual flat pick.
I hope that helps.
And that is one man’s word on
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