From June 2006 Acoustic Guitar Magazine
By Simone Solondz
Toronto-area luthier Sheldon Schwartz specializes in fingerstyle flattops. A scientific approach to construction, carbon fiber-reinforced braces, and long scales results in guitars with a unique voice and distinctive appearance.
Photo Credit: Jim Craigmyle
“I am not an inlay artist,” insists Canadian luthier Sheldon Schwartz. “I’m a guitar maker.” Schwartz unwittingly earned a reputation for inlay in the early ’90s when he began his professional lutherie career by showing elaborately decorated guitars at California’s Healdsburg Guitar Festival.
In contrast to this flashy beginning, most of the models he currently builds are simply appointed, designed as much for a player’s ears as they are for his or her eyes. All of Schwartz’ models are built in the same mold (so they’re all the same shape and size), making it fairly easy to switch from one model to another when he’s at work in his shop.
Schwartz’ first original design was his Advanced Auditorium model, which he developed specifically for fingerstyle players. His goal was to fatten up the sound of the trebles and increase the guitar’s overall volume. “When I was buffing a guitar one day on the buffing wheel, I could hear that each portion of the back had its own resonance, and the back wasn’t working as a whole,” Schwartz recalls. He solved this problem by using an X-braced (rather than ladder-braced) back. “The whole guitar worked better,” he says. “It got louder, and the trebles came out nicely.”
His next innovation was inspired by a Greg Smallman classical guitar he heard played by a guitarist in Canada. “He played the Smallman unamplified, and it was just outstanding,” says Schwartz. “It filled the church with sound, and you could hear every single note.” He’d read that Smallman used lattice-braced tops, and he began to experiment on his own, using just a bit of graphite to provide reinforcement without compromising the flexibility necessary for good response. “I experimented and came up with the double-walled sides, which are very strong and very light,” he adds. “I think that the stiff sides prevent the action from changing from string to string, so it doesn’t change from tuning to tuning.”
Schwartz approaches his work scientifically. He carefully measures and photographs his works in progress, notes the flex of each top, and evaluates the resonances of his guitars’ bodies in three different places to determine which note each is tuned to. By the time he began experimenting with graphite-reinforced lattice-braced tops, he’d learned precisely how much flexibility was needed for a top that would sound great and hold up over time. “By knowing the deflection of my regular tops, I could make a lattice-braced top and get it in the range that works,” he explains.
He then went on to design a guitar specifically for those who favor open tunings: the Pinnacle Fingerstyle, which features a 26-inch scale that facilitates low alternate tunings without the strings getting too floppy due to lack of tension. The Pinnacle 7 features a low seventh string for jazz players and uses slightly heavier bracing to compensate for the additional tension.
Schwartz’ most visually outlandish creation is the Oracle Fingerstyle, which also features a 26-inch scale, as well as offset elliptical soundholes, a 24-fret fingerboard, and a beveled cutaway that provides access to the highest frets. The offset soundholes allow the center of the top to be braced more lightly so that it’s more responsive in open tunings. The Oracle is popular among players who use two-handed tapping in their playing (Schwartz refers to them as “the heavy-wood crowd”), and he says that they describe its tone as “loud and cello-like.” A shorter-scale model, the Oracle 25.5, will be available soon.
Schwartz works alone in his recently-built dream shop north of Toronto, Canada, and puts out about ten guitars per year. He offers a wide variety of tonewood options and finishes his instruments with nitrocellulose lacquer. His waiting list is currently three-and-a-half-years long, and his guitars start at $3,900.
From Acoustic Guitar Magazine 2005
By Teja Gerken
Bigger than ever, the 2005 Healdsburg Guitar Festival presented hundreds of dream guitars, concerts by master guitarists, and workshops for amateurs and future virtuosos alike.
In what has become a tradition observed every other August, luthiers and guitarists descended on northern California last summer for the Healdsburg Guitar Festival. Having outgrown the small town that gave the festival its name, the festival is now held a few miles south, in Santa Rosa, at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
With more than 130 luthiers displaying their handmade guitars (as well as a few mandolins, bouzoukis, basses, and miscellaneous stringed oddities), the 2005 festival was the largest and most successful yet. Add cool workshops (by such guitarists as Muriel Anderson, Steve Baughman, Peppino D’Agostino, Peter Lang, Gyan Riley, and yours truly), daytime concerts featuring guitars made by exhibiting luthiers, and evening concerts (by the likes of Dan Crary, Beppe Gambetta, Franco Morone, Todd Hallawell, and the John Jorgenson Quintet), and the result was a heavenly weekend for acoustic-guitar connoisseurs.
The guitar exhibition proved how incredibly advanced and elegant custom lutherie has gotten on the whole. This was evidenced not just by “star” luthiers such as Linda Manzer, Kevin Ryan, and Jeff Traugott, but also by the many new-generation builders. Even with hundreds of fine guitars squeezed into one place, instruments made by first-time exhibitors such as Matt Mustapick, Rod Schenk, Eric Poulsen, Stephen Stratton, and Paul Woolson drew crowds of curious, appreciative guitarists.
Sheldon Schwartz with his latest creation.
Although conventional minijumbos designed for fingerstylists were the most popular style, several other guitars stood out. Sheldon Schwartz showed a lattice-braced flattop with an offset soundhole and a long, 26-inch scale; Charles Fox brought three of his radical Ergo guitars (see Luthier’s Workbench in the November 2005 AG); James Watts’ traditional-looking steel-strings had sandwich tops; Shelley Park had a Howe-Orme–inspired guitar with a cylindrical top; and Moonstone Guitars displayed the biggest baritone of the show with a beyond-jumbo size body. Although outnumbered by steel-strings, classical guitars were well represented by luthiers Richard Prenkert, Randy Reynolds, Bruce F. Wood, and Kenny Hill, while archtops by makers Steve Grimes, Michael Lewis, Ted Megas, and Tom Ribbecke kept attending jazz cats swinging
With custom lutherie an increasingly international phenomenon, Healdsburg was also graced by guitar makers from Argentina (Diego Huerga), France (Pierre Lamour, Philippe Landry), Italy (Valentino Lamorte), and New Zealand (Patrick Burgin and Laurie Williams). And while Beyond the Trees founder Fred Carlson may live just down the freeway in Santa Cruz, California, his instruments seem to originate in some other galaxy. In addition to his 18-string Star Traveler, Carlson displayed his new 38-string Harp-Sympitar. Starting with the general outline of a harp guitar, the Harp-Sympitar includes extra bass strings, a harp across the body’s lower bout, and sympathetic strings inside a hollow neck.
With excellent attendance on all three days, the Healdsburg Guitar Festival confirmed its status as one of the premier vents of its kind. Hats off to both Luthier’s Mercantile—for organizing the festival—and the participating builders and artists. They all deserve a round of applause for elevating the art and awareness of our beloved instrument.
Guitar Magazine, Japan, #6, December 1997 interview:
(Translated from Japanese)
My clients appreciate not only the excellent sound of the guitar,
but also the beautiful details. It's the combination of these that
makes my guitars special. Also of significance are: wood binding,
my own body shape, and a solid interior lining for the back to
side joint…and, my own special way of finishing the fret ends.
I think that pure craftsmanship is of the utmost importance in
guitar making. I have strict standards regarding the materials
used, so I am always searching for that grade of material that
meets those standards. The number one criteria is that the material
has to be something special. Usually, this means beautiful wood
grain or figure. Also, such things as age can be considered special.
In regards to A.S.I.A. (Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans),
I receive tremendous inspiration from the excellent North American
builders.” (beside photo of guitar)
Mr. Schwartz is not yet well known in Japan, but compared to
famous builders, his guitars' craftsmanship and tone are both on
their level. The material used in the guitar shown in the picture
is rare Bear Claw Spruce, in keeping with Schwartz's policy of
using top quality materials and techniques. Mr. Schwartz was born
in Toronto, Canada in 1957. He started making guitars at 15 and
started professionally seven years ago. He learned various building
techniques from Grit Laskin, Linda Manzer and Kent Everett. He also
studied inlay with Laskin. He plays guitar professionally as well.
Schwartz Guitars featured on the back cover of Guitarmaker issue #34
Schwartz Guitars featured in Guitarmaker issue #38 page 33