When it comes to acoustic guitars, Cordoba and Guild are two of the most reputable brands out there. As part of a workshop special, Emily Bielby chats to Drew Haines, the senior luthier and finishing manager at Guild Guitars and Andrew Enns, head luthier at Cordoba Guitars to learn the tips and tricks of their craftsmanship success.
Firstly, how did you first fall into the world of luthiery?
Drew: Ever since I was young I have always been fascinated with taking things apart to discover how they work, and creating things via woodworking. About 10 years ago I was looking for a project to fill up my time. I had decided to build an acoustic guitar, purely for the entertainment of saying “I built this.” As I looked up more and more about the complexities and intricacies of the acoustic building process, I became more and more enthralled with the prospect of creating instruments.
Andrew: I come from a family of carpenters and engineers, so working with my hands was a common thing since I was little. I had also been a guitar player since I was 10. By my late teens I wanted guitars that I could not afford, until it dawned on me that guitars are made out of wood and I had woodworking experience. I built my first guitar when I was 18 and I’ve been passionate about it since.
Were you self-taught or did you attend workshops with certain guitar luthiers?
Drew: The core foundation of my knowledge was learned attending Bryan Galloup’s school in Michigan. However, I believe that since learning the fundamentals, I have discovered more through personal experience and my own successes and failures. I have also had the pleasure of working with a number of very talented individuals such as Ren Ferguson and many of the individuals who worked in the New Hartford facility. Each and every person has taught me something that I have taken incorporated into my overall knowledge
Andrew: At the beginning I was self-taught; I didn’t know anyone who knew anything about guitar building so it was all trial and error. Not until I got into building classical guitars did I have any formal instruction. At that point I learned under Kenny Hill.
Which luthiers did you admire the work of most and look up to when you were starting out your career?
Drew: The two luthiers that have affected me the most in my career have been Bryan Galloup, where I first learned to build, and Ren Ferguson who’s been a good friend and was instrumental in opening the new factory in California.
Andrew: When I first started I didn’t know anybody who built guitars, so I would say I mostly looked up to Paul Reed Smith because he made the guitars I most admired. Now I admire the work of several builders in many genres of luthiery like Edmund Blöchinger, Ren Ferguson, Michael Greenfield, Tom Ribbecke.
Drew, you’re the senior luthier/finishing manager for Guild Guitars, what attracted you to work there?
There is something to be said about working in a production environment. I began working for Guild mainly as a way to expose myself to as much experience as possible. If you want to master a craft, what better way than to repeat the same processes over and over until they become second nature? The factory in New Hartford offered that opportunity to me.
Drew: Did you grow up playing Guild?
I actually never began playing Guilds until I started working at the factory. Since I learned guitar, I have only ever owned a few guitars that I did not physically build myself.
Drew, can you talk me through your role a bit more, and how big is the team you have there for Guild?
Our team currently has around 25 people who all help contribute to building and improving every Guild that leaves our factory. While many improvements to the instruments regarding sound, look and feel are handled by our R&D team and myself, the input and hard work from each and every member of our team help make the build process smoother and more efficient every day. My role is a balance between helping to make design improvements to the actual guitars and working with the team to help train methods that consistently build excellent instruments.
Drew, you obviously build a lot of guitars, from 12-string jumbos to dreadnought or much more smaller bodied acoustics. What’s your preferred style of acoustic guitar?
I am personally quite fond of two styles in particular. I love the smaller-bodied concert guitars that comprise our ‘M’ series. I feel that they give so much for such a small-bodied piece. My other favorite is one that we currently do not build in California. The ‘Valencia’ or F-47 is my other guitar of choice and is actually the piece that I play at home.
Drew, are there any models that seem to be more popular than others right now?
The D-55 is the iconic Guild and still remains one of our most popular models.
In your own opinion, what makes the ideal acoustic guitar?
Drew: I believe that the ideal acoustic has to have a balance of response, clarity, and balance. You can change the shape and size of a guitar, or change the wood selection and get a different sound but without those three things, the instrument will never quite sing like it should.
Andrew: One that you don’t want to put down.
Tell me about the woods you use. Are there any woods you absolutely cannot work with?
Drew: Guild is founded on 65 years of tradition so many of our woods are the same woods we’ve always built with. Combinations of mahogany, spruce, maple and rosewood make up most of what we build with. Our higher end lines also utilise ebony for the fretboards and peghead faces. I personally like to build with walnut and koa, but I believe with enough attention and proper building, most species of wood can be made to sound beautiful.
Andrew: I mostly use Engelmann spruce or red cedar for the soundboard, Spanish cedar for the neck, ebony for the fretboard, and Indian rosewood for the back and sides. However back and side woods vary a lot depending on the look or sound I’m going for. There are some woods that I’d say you should not work with and some I don’t prefer to use but none that I would say I absolutely cannot work with. Choosing the right pieces of wood is one of, if not the most, important things in building an acoustic guitar. Its rigidity, weight, density, cut, grain, stability, etc all play a part in how it will act and sound.
Andrew, Cordoba are built and designed around the Spanish tradition, what attracted you to build for Cordoba, did you grow up playing Spanish-inspired guitars?
The very first guitar I learned to play was a nylon string. However, after a year or so I got more into electric guitar and didn’t get back into Spanish-style guitars until I started working for Cordoba as a quality control tech. As a builder I was always attracted to classical guitars because I thought of it as the epitome of luthiery. I saw the attention to detail and dedication it took to succeed in making a great classical guitar as intimidating and a challenge.
Andrew, your variety of classical, flamenco, orchestral and modern acoustics cater for everyone. Is there a particular model that’s popular at the moment?
In the past several years, Cordoba has seen the GK Studio and GK Negra as one of its most popular models. That and probably the C5-CE and the GK Pro.
Andrew, what are your personal
The Hauser and the CE Custom from the Master Series.
Which guitar would you recommend for beginners learning acoustic guitar?
Drew: It’s hard to say which guitar is best for beginners since everyone has their own music style that they love. When it comes to American-made Guilds, I recommend starting with either the M-20 or D-20. Both are simple, all-mahogany guitars that have a good weight to them and a great sound.
Guild also has a number of other lines of guitars that are all very affordable and sound wonderful.
Andrew: I recommend the C5. It may be more in the intermediate range but I recommend a guitar that you can grow into more than a guitar you will outgrow.
Drew: What are your favourite of the
The M-40 Troubadour and the F-47CE are my two current favorites. The D-40 Traditional is a close third.
Drew, which guitar would you recommend to anyone wanting to learn some basic blues?
I believe that mahogany guitars give the best blues sound. Our D-40 Traditional takes a lot of its inspiration from the old Richie Havens D-40BG. We also build the D-20, which boasts an all-mahogany body that really helps give that rich sound that blues players often look for.
Andrew: Same as before, I’d recommend the C5 to start.
What was your first guitar? And do you still own it?
Drew: My first guitar was a 1960s Sekova nylon-string guitar that we always had in the house when I grew up; I don’t have that particular guitar anymore.
Andrew: It was a classical guitar borrowed from my cousin. I have no idea who made it, and no I don’t have it anymore.
What acoustics do you have in your own personal collections?
Drew: The majority I have are personal builds. Others include a Guild F-47CE, a few Les Paul electrics and an old Seagull 12-string.
Andrew: Well, the only acoustic in my collection that I didn’t build is a Yamaha CPX steel-string.
How do you feel about vintage acoustics and do you own any?
Drew: I love looking at vintage pieces to see the many different ways that guitars have been constructed over the years. Depending on the age of the instrument, there are many things we can learn about what makes a piece stand the test of time. That being said, I do not personally own any truly vintage pieces. I strive to learn from the past and create new instruments that will stand the test of time just as well as the vintage ones do now.
Andrew: I don’t own any vintage acoustic guitars. But I love vintage acoustic guitars; the sound of a good acoustic guitar only gets better with age. Many of today’s guitar builders are simply trying to recreate the magic of certain vintage instruments they have played or own.
Andrew, you’re Cordoba’s head luthier, what does your role entail; do you oversee a team? I can’t imagine it being a one-man job?
My primary role is building the Cordoba Master Series and Custom Shop guitars along with one other builder. We each build a single guitar from start to finish, so each Master Series guitar is built by one builder from beginning to end. I also design and build prototypes for new models, assist our service department and quality control with training, repairs and customer inquiries.
What sets a Cordoba or Guild acoustic apart from other brands?
Drew: I believe that Guild has a heritage of excellence that has continued throughout the years. In the last 30 years, the brand has moved around four times to different factories and each time, it has improved its sound and quality. This latest move is no different. The acquisition of Guild by Cordoba Music Group has helped bring new life and fresh talents to this brand. There is so much enthusiasm behind its rebirth. I believe that everyone will continue to see great things coming out of our company.
Andrew: Cordoba has the biggest and best selection of nylon-string guitars of any brand in the world. From our entry-level guitars to advanced models, you will get exceptional value for a low cost.
What guitars are you both working on at the present moment?
Drew: Currently we are focused on re-releasing the jumbo models and the 12-string guitars everyone has been so patiently waiting for.
Andrew: I just finished the Cordoba 20th anniversary guitar, a prototype stage guitar, and I’m always working on a couple Master Series guitars. I have a CE Custom mid-assembly
Drew, I see that the American Classic is a new model. What were the concepts behind it?
When it comes to tradition, it’s hard to make too many changes. Every time we relaunch a pre-existing model, we want to do justice to everything that made that model great to begin with. That being said, we have the ability to look back at what didn’t work so well with those particular pieces. Part of our mindset on re-releasing older models is framed around taking everything that made people fall in love with those guitars to begin with, and building that into the new model. At the same time, we want to look at the areas that could be improved. Can we lighten up the guitar? How about making it louder or more responsive? Can the piece be better balanced? All of these questions help us to decide what to change and what to keep the same. A Guild guitar like the D-55 has a feel to it that makes it unique. We never want to change that but through changes and improvements under the hood, we can maintain the iconic look of Guild while giving musicians a much better instrument that they will love.
Andrew, to celebrate 20 years of Cordoba guitars, you’ve recently been working on the 20th anniversary model and mentioned that the mosque in Cordoba, Spain, inspired it. Can you tell me more about that?
The idea was to combine a bit of the company’s past, where we are now, and maybe a glimpse of where we are going in the future. The look was greatly inspired by the intricate detail and architecture of the mosque in Cordoba, Spain. I can’t say the sound was inspired by anything specific other than the traditional “Spanish” guitar sound. What we got was exactly that, a very big, dynamic sound with deep lows and piano-like highs. Each note is punchy and resonant with a bit of “air” around it. When played soft it can be sweet and airy, and has plenty of headroom to dig deep for big aggressive tones.