Many months ago through the helpful suggestion of mutual friends (shout-outs Chad & Kindi Lantz!) I was put in contact with a modern master of guitar building, Maxwell T. Sipe. I imagine when he reads this, he’ll feel a little bashful seeing phrases such as master, the best, the shizz, and maestro of wooden things thrown his way because despite his unequaled talent as a builder, Max is a modest fellow. Honestly, it’s true, for the last couple weeks I have been playing the best sounding and best looking guitar that I’ve ever seen.
As an ambassador for Sipe Guitars (if you don’t click these now, please make sure to visit the provided hot links to some of Max’s other work and to keep up with him on social media) I am going to tell you the story of, and share a ton of pictures showing the process of how my piece of playable art was created. You’ll be seeing this insane instrument in action on all my future projects.
When you place an order with Max you instantly feel at ease in your decision. Prior and concurrent to his career as a luthier and guitar repair person, Max earned a degree in classical guitar performance. He’s the real deal as a player, and this brings an additional layer of understanding to his projects as a builder. Unless you share this pedigree, chances are you are going to learn a lot in the process of working with a luthier like Max, and he also provides pictures as your baby grows from a log into a sonic machine gun. Without further adieu, let’s dig in. -Note that pictures enlarge when you click them-
Finding eye popping wood takes a person with deep knowledge of tree innards. My guitar has ziricote (a central American hardwood) back and sides. Pictured is a ziricote log, and the board my guitar was born from. This was sourced from the available billets (chunks of wood) at Gilmer Wood Company in Portland. My experience here was texting back and forth with Max while he sifted through the options and sent me pictures, pretty cool.
The billet is then flat sawn, and consecutive cuts are used for the back and then the sides of the guitar. The reason behind this being that consecutive cuts are similar, but not quite identical.
The matched set for the back is then cut using a template, and finally glued together. This back wood also has a thin mahogany veneer to protect it from cracking. This foresight is indicative to me of Max’s experience in guitar repair, and how it helps to solve potential problems that may be encountered down the road.
The sides of a guitar are bent (that’s the wood being bent (without snapping)) over a mold using an industrial heat blanket, while water is sprayed on it. Max explains that the wood still feels like it’s native form, but once it reaches an optimal temperature it begins to bend almost like plastic.
After it achieves it’s desired shape the wood is left to dry and harden into it’s permanent shape.
The top of the guitar is a beautiful set of Bear-claw Euro Spruce . Max designed, and created the elegant asymmetrical rosette.
The rosette was made with a stunning combination of paua abalone, and spalted maple.
Max’s vision and matching materials were used in creating the brand appropriate finger board design.
The fingerboard also features a multi-scale fanned fret design. This means that unlike a traditional guitar, none of the frets are perpendicular to the neck. This design suits both human ergonomics (move your left hand in a natural side-to-side motion in front of your face, and then think of guitar frets that conform to these angles) and has the added effect of an offset non-traditional bridge. With the new scale and adjusted bridge you create a sizable difference in length between the bass and treble strings. Think of the way a grand piano curves in the rear to accommodate longer more resonant bass strings. This ingenious design creates the same advantage for a guitarist, and amazingly feels completely natural to the player right away.
Throughout the process of my guitar being built I would always get a giddy feeling when I’d see emails from Max. Emails usually meant fun questions, and fun pictures. I am not a master carpenter, but I’ve run a blade through some wood in my day. The pictures of the neck being sculpted send chills through me.
Imagine all the work, and time that was put into the fingerboard, and then imagine cutting through a tropical hard wood attached to it…
The neck of my guitar per my request is very similar in feel to that of a Taylor guitar, of which I own a few. However the hand chiseling and sanding give it a shape and character all it’s own that blends beautifully with the rest of the instrument. It’s one of a kind, and inspirational to look at. Remember the look of the heel cap for a little bit later.
Some of the lesser known parts of a guitar are some of the aesthetics that really accentuate it’s beauty and tie it all together. My guitar is bound in curly maple, ebony and bloodwood. The binding has to be bent accurately to cover all of the exposed areas where the larger pieces are glued together. Every. Little. Piece.
One appointment I have always wanted was an armrest on the lower bout of a guitar. It’s really something you have feel to appreciate. This armrest is made of the same ziricote as the back and sides.
Finally when these extremely broad strokes are completed, and the inside kerfing, and bracing are completed the guitar is ready for some finishing touches. Max finished my guitar with a nitro-cellulose finish that allows the guitar to vibrate free of more common mass produced “plastic wrap”.
Before we get to the pictures celebrating the grand finale I’m going to provide additional links to those who’ve helped with this project.
Thanks to Brian Powers, photographer for the delectable images of the finished guitar. His work is incredible and diverse. Follow him at the following links…
Thanks to K&K sound for their sponsorship and providing the beastly K&K trinity pickup system that will allow this baby to send it’s amplified sound in the purest, and cleanest style possible.
Thanks to you, for reading this post! Myself and the people involved in building, photographing, and amplifying this extremely unique guitar are all professionals at what we do. We certainly aren’t major corporations with unlimited add budgets, and your shares, likes, and comments help each of us reach the world, and make a living. Your interaction will help us reach new people who may be interested, but aren’t currently following what we do.
Finally, I want to extend an Everestian thank you to Max. I’ve had this guitar in my possession for about three weeks, and I still can’t believe it’s mine. It is the coolest guitar myself, my family, my friends, and my students (also friends) have ever seen. It is awe inspiring dude! Every line tells a story, I’ve discovered at least 11 sounds I didn’t know guitars made, it has a 24th fret on the first string and it’s playable while sounding like an extremely high perfect E! It is everything I asked for and more amazing then I imagined it could be. It is a dream realized for me, thank YOU!
Wanna play my guitar? Get your own right here ——->Maxwell T. Sipe Luthier – Sipe Guitars
Thanks for reading this far. Your reward is a whole bunch of finished pictures. Scroll till the comments, the files are big. Enjoy. Thank You!