Music Matters

Pursuing a Passion via a Bourgeois OM Custom Guitar

Bourgeios OM Guitar

Finding myself on a project in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a few years back and having decided to visit all the local music stores on a guitar hunt, I stumbled across Blue Moon Music. It's an unassuming place from the outside, but once you step inside you find a veritable treasure house of vintage tube amplifiers, double basses, mandolins, violins and of course, acoustic guitars. Having spent many uninspiring hours playing Martin, Taylor and Alvarez acoustics in the other, more premium local stores, I was not expecting to find anything special at Blue Moon. I could not have been more surprised.

I think I played my way along the whole length of the guitar racks until I found the Bourgeios. As soon as I picked it up I knew it was a 'special' instrument and I suppose it took me all of ten seconds to recognise how alive it felt. I must have lost the next hour just playing it and getting a feel for its special qualities. The owner of the store told me its background. It had been sitting in a collection, unused, until very recently and was underplayed and he thought that it would 'open up' when fully played in. He told me that it was hand made in 2002 by a luthier called Dana Bourgeios from Lewiston, Maine who makes about five hundred guitars a year from carefully selected tonewoods.

Bourgeios OM in Bubinga Tonewood

This guitar has an Adirondack (Appalachain) Spruce top and Bubinga (African Rosewood) back and sides. It resonates beautifully, with a full bass, a superbly balanced, sweet, singing treble with choir like overtones and outstanding sustain. In the store, it was one of those 'decisive moments', when you just know that something was meant to happen. So, of course, I made an offer and, after a fair bit of haggling, bought it. After we came to terms, we talked for a long time about the various tonewoods used on the instrument and I learned a great deal from the store owner, who was also a professional musician and guitar technician. When I got back to the UK, I contacted Bourgeios, and they told me that it was the only one they'd built with that exact combination of tonewoods - and it turns out - it's a real winner. Lucky me!

Here is what Dana Bourgeios has to say about some of his tonewoods:-

Eastern red spruce, also known as Adirondack or Appalachian spruce, was the primary topwood used by American manufacturers before World War II. Its use was all but discontinued due to over-harvesting of the resource but has recently been reintroduced thanks to 50 years of regeneration and to the legendary status that this traditional tonewood has attained. The small size of most logs and a shortage of wood conforming to market preference for even color and regularity of grain conspire to keep the price of red spruce extremely high.

Red spruce is relatively heavy, has a high velocity of sound, and has the highest stiffness across and along the grain of all the topwoods. Like Sitka, it has strong fundamentals, but it also exhibits a more complex overtone content. Tops made out of red spruce have the highest volume ceiling of any species, yet they also have a rich fullness of tone that retains clarity at all dynamic levels. In short, red spruce may very well be the Holy Grail of topwoods for the steel-string guitar.
— Dana Bourgeios

Rick Micheletti, a Californian Luthier says of Bubinga tonewood  ....."Bubinga or African Rosewood is another fine tonewood that is harder and heavier than either Brazilian or Indian Rosewood. It produces a brilliant and distinctive tone. If it wasn't such a pain to work with there would probably be a lot more guitars made out of this material (It's difficult to bend, difficult to cut, difficult to sand or scrape...I think you get the idea). It's interlocking grain when lacquered gives the most amazing visual effect. The mottled "Bees Wing" figure produces a kind of holographic look when the instrument is slightly rotated.  The beautiful mauve color ages into a gorgeous brownish-red. Despite our "love-hate" relationship with this wood, we do offer it as standard equipment because of its tonal quality and beauty.

And, it plays so beautifully, it inspires you pick it up and try harder!

Folk Music Roots - From Bluegrass to Acoustic Blues

It's been a while since I picked up and seriously played any of my very small collection of guitars. They're instruments I've acquired through my on-and-off love affair with the guitar, which began when I was sixteen. Like many teenagers back then I was a member of a 'rock' band (The Blue Diamonds) playing covers of Chuck Berry, Rolling Stones and Beatles numbers, until I went back to folk music.

In my mid-teens I had one of those 'Decisive Moments' when I was fortunate enough to join up with a couple of musicians from my local folk club who were into American 'old timey music', New Lost City Ramblers style. We seemed to get on well and one of them suggested forming a Bluegrass band, with yours truly playing simple back up guitar - I was a beginner then, and needed a good deal of help from the Mandolin player to reach a basic standard.

We spent most of our time practising and studying the banjo player's extensive collection of Library of Congress records and old songs on imported Folkways recordings, practising intensely and performing covers of Flatt and Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, BIll Monroe and The Country Gentlemen standards until we fell out and I went on to 'concentrate on earning a decent living'. Listen to the Country Gentlemen's 'Happy, Sunny Side of Life', Earl's Breakdown and the sad 'Bringing Mary Home' to get a flavour of this driving style of banjo, mandolin, bass and guitar music from Appalachia.

Bluegrass Band in 1967

I found this photo recently while clearing out the loft. It made me smile. It was taken by our local press, who published an article on our Essex based Bluegrass band in 1967 - quite a novelty in those parts. I'm the skinny one in the middle with what, in colour, would be bright traffic light red hair, attempting to play the double bass.

Having eventually fallen out with the Mandolin player and, after suffering withdrawal symptoms from not being an active musician for a couple of years, I settled down to study 'fingerstyle' guitar more seriously and immersed myself in developing a more ambitious playing style modelled on such greats as John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, Rev Gary Davis, Big BIll Broonzy, Martin Carthy and Nic Jones, all of whom strongly influenced my playing and ultimate return to British folk music. I made a lot of progress and eventually I put the new skills to work earning extra money teaching at the South East Essex Music College, until I found myself needing a new musical challenge.

In the end I decided that English Traditional Folk was my real love and formed an Acapella Band with two friends from the College. We modelled ourselves on The Young Tradition (Peter Bellamy and Royston and Heather Wood) whose material was a blend of sea shanties, from Cyril Tawney's recordings, farm workers' songs from the traditional music of the Copper Family from Sussex, as well as songs recovered from Medieval times interspersed with instrumentals drawn from Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick. That was a fascinating time. We worked tirelessly for two years to get a repertoire to the right standard, but made only half a dozen performances at local folk clubs before work and study pressures forced us to stop, and stop we did, for over fifteen years!

The next time I was seriously to pick up the instrument was when I decided to turn to Blues and play electric guitars, notably Gibson Les-Pauls and Fender Stratocasters. At that time I was inspired by Robben Ford, who is probably the best technician on the crossover between Blues and Jazz guitar playing I know. Listen to his second half solo on 'Help the Poor' and and the tone he gets on 'He Don't Play Nothin' But the Blues'. Boy that man can play!! I even bought a couple of the same type of Fenders Esprits he used to play, in case some of that 'magic' might rub off on me. Hmmmm - maybe not!