The Story of the Soloist

1985:

The content below was researched, created, and published by David Gansz in his comprehensive history of Schoenberg Guitars, which can be accessed here: http://www.gansz.org/David/Guitars/Schoenberg/Index.htm

Dana recalls, “I had been making guitars since 1975 and I was also running a folk club in the late 1970’s. I met Eric Schoenberg when I hired him to play there . . . I started building OMs shortly after meeting Eric, and working on his guitars, in 1980 . . . Between 1980 and 1984, as a certified repairman for C. F. Martin Guitar Company, I got an opportunity to work on or restore some two dozen pre-war Martin OMs, which were either Eric’s personal instruments or guitars that he purchased for resale at his store. This was my first in-depth exposure to great guitars.”

“Eric had been dreaming about a cutaway OM since the day I met him, because no one was building one at that time. He wanted a cutaway that left as much of the air volume as possible and looked like the cutaway on Mario Maccaferri’s Selmer, one of which he owned then. I didn’t want to risk bending the Brazilian to the steep Selmer cutaway shape, so I designed a softer cutaway shape that I continue to use to this day. The idea was to keep the look simple and elegant, like the steel-string version of a classical guitar. I ended up building four such OM cutaways. Eric saw and played the first one in my workshop. He liked it enough to order one with features to his liking. This guitar was the Schoenberg Soloist prototype”.

Dana Bourgeois

Dana Bourgeois, of Topsham, Maine.

Eric remembers, “Dana had been my repairman, and he wanted to build a guitar for me. He showed me some very beautiful Brazilian Rosewood and German Spruce, and we designed the guitar together. Essentially, it was an OM with a cutaway. It had a sunburst that was copied after a beautiful 1932 OM-18 I had. I was also particularly interested in getting a subtle neck shape based on a particular 1931 OM-28 I had at the time. When it was done, we felt we had something others would be interested in. We brought the guitar to Martin as a prototype”.

(This was only Dana’s second Brazilian Rosewood guitar, the first being a “D” size sold at the Guild of American Luthiers’ convention in Greensboro, NC, in 1985).

Dana Bourgeois1

Dana Bourgeois

This OM guitar features:

  • German Spruce top with sunburst shading.
  • Brazilian Rosewood back and sides.
  • Brazilian Rosewood body binding.
  • Brazilian Rosewood headstock veneer.
  • Hand-mitred wooden purflings.
  • Ebony fretboard.
  • Ebony pyramid bridge.
  • Backstrip handmade of Maple, Walnut, & Ebony.
  • Abalone “Diamond & Squares” (aka “Slotted Diamonds”) fretboard inlays.
  • Abalone triangle inlaid on neck heel veneer.
  • Bone bridge saddle.
  • Ebony pins with Abalone dots.
  • Graphite nut.
  • Bar frets.
  • Non-adjustable truss rod.
  • 1 3/4″ neck width at the nut.
  • 2 3/8″ string spacing at the saddle.
  • 25 1/2″ scale length.
Schoenberg SoloistSchoenberg Soloist1

The first “Schoenberg Soloist”.

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Dana’s apprentice since May of 1983, namely T. J. Thompson (an old friend of Eric Schoenberg), assisted Dana with this instrument. Thereafter, T. J. Thompson singlehandedly made the pyramid bridges for every Schoenberg Soloist.

“I always loved the look of pyramid bridges. Beyond the retro vibe, I think the combination of a tiny footprint and a little extra mass on the wings enhances responsiveness –or ‘quickness’ –in a small-bodied guitar”. –Dana Bourgeois

T. J. Thompson

T. J. Thompson

Soloist bridges

Soloist bridges handmade by T. J. Thompson.

Eric Schoenberg

Eric Schoenberg in performance with the original Schoenberg Soloist Prototype.

Owners of this “Schoenberg Soloist” Prototype guitar:

1. Eric Schoenberg, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985-1989
2. Dana Bourgeois, Topsham, Maine, 1990
3. John Dana, Portland, Maine, 1991-1993
4. T. J. Thompson, Concord, Massachusetts, 1993
5. David Ziegele, Washington, D.C., 1993-1996
6. Steve Swann (of Steve Swann Guitars), San Mateo, California, 1996
7. Phil Stover, Darien, Connecticut, 1996-1999
8. Jim Baggett (of Mass Street Music), Lawrence, Kansas, 1999
9. David Gansz, Lexington, Virginia, 1999-2000
10. Paul Asbell, Burlington, Vermont, 2000-Present

The marquetry backstrip on this instrument, handmade of Maple, Walnut, and Ebony, became the standard on all Schoenberg guitars as well as all guitars built by Dana Bourgeois thereafter.

One of Dana’s first four OM cutaways (pictured below, when it returned to Dana’s shop many years later for repairs), was built for Bob Bowman, and featured an Adirondack Spruce top. Dana cut the wood himself on Roque Island, Maine. He believed that this was the first American guitar built with a Red Spruce top in over 40 years. In addition, it has flamed Maple body bindings, an abalone rosette, a pyramid belly bridge, an Ivory butt wedge, bar frets, and slotted diamond inlays.

Schoenberg Soloist
Guitar Built
Body Bindings
Ebony fretboard
Graphite nut

1986:

Eric and Dana showed the prototype to Dick Boak (now Head of Artist Relations and Publicity) at Martin in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Dick was sold on the idea and, in turn, he persuaded C. F. “Chris” Martin IV to undertake a collaborative production project between the Martin factory and Bourgeois. (Chris had recently taken over the helm at Martin after his grandfather, C. F. Martin III, who had helped design and launch the original OMs, passed away in 1986). Schoenberg’s idea right from the start was to introduce Bourgeois’ ‘hand-voicing’ of the top of the guitar into the Martin production-line process, thus maximizing the guitar’s sonic potential.

Martin Om cutaway

Dick Boak playing a ‘modern’ Martin OM cutaway.

Martin

C.F. Martin IV

C. F. Martin & Co., of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, built two Research & Development models of an OM Cutaway, bearing the serial numbers “R & D 274” (Indian Rosewood) and “R & D 275” (Brazilian Rosewood).

Martins R DBuilt Two Research

Martin’s R & D #274.

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Dana Bourgeois sold #274 on consignment via the Vintage Fret Shop in New Hampshire during the spring of 1990, where it was purchased by David Morse of Corning, New York. In 2003 it sold at auction, and was acquired by Players Vintage Instruments of Inverness, California.

R & D #275, pictured below, is owned by Tom Gladstone in Tennesee, who purchased it new from Eric Schoenberg’s Music Emporium in Boston in 1986. It was built by long-time Martin luthier Donald Dech, although the label states otherwise.

Consignment
Music Emporium
Donald Dech
Schoenbergs Music

According to Martin Historian Mike Longworth, Martin built two “Schoenberg Soloist” OM Cutaway Prototypes bearing the serial numbers 467,821 and 467,822. (The present whereabouts of these instruments is unknown). However, in 2006 Eric Schoenberg received a consignment guitar in his shop–a Soloist with the serial number 467,588. This Soloist, believed to be the earliest, features a Martin “torch” inlay on the headstock.

Instruments
Specification For

The original prospectus for Schoenberg Soloists.Note it states that the labels are to be signed by C.F. Martin IV.This, however, never takes place.

1987-88:

The Schoenberg Soloiat
Schoenberg Soloist Prospectus

 

 

The revised Schoenberg Soloist prospectus.

Dana Bourgeois, built approximately 100 Schoenberg guitars (about seven batches) at his shop in Topsham, Maine, traveling to voice the tops at the C. F. Martin & Company plant in Nazareth.

Throughout 1987 and 1988, Dana was assisted by his second apprentice, Ted Schieps (a jazz guitarist now living in France), who had taken over from T. J. Thompson, Dana’s former apprentice (and, by now, Repair Shop Foreman at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan).

As Dana recalls, “I built guitars in runs of 10, 15, or 20 at a time. I selected all of the materials, made up most of the parts in my shop, and essentially sent guitar kits to Martin to assemble for us. During construction I went to the Martin plant and voiced each soundboard, making minute gradations based upon what I heard”.

The idea was that Dana’s individualized tap-tuning, or ‘voicing’, of the guitar tops during the Martin production process would enhance the instruments’ handmade quality.

The Schoenberg Catalog

The Schoenberg ‘catalog’.

Dana Bourgeois performed the following in Topsham, Maine:

  • Selection of top wood.
  • Selection of back & side woods.
  • Matching of tops and backs.
  • Top thicknessing.
  • Top shaping & joining.
  • Soundhole rosette inlay.
  • Back shaping & joining.
  • Side bending (from 1989 on).
  • Brace carving (scalloping).
  • Top bracing.
  • Bridge carving.
Nazareth Pennsylvania

Top voicing (aka tap tuning) –at C. F. Martin & Company in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Final setup.

C. F. Martin & Company performed the following in Nazareth, Pennsylvania:

  • Hand bending of sides (prior to 1989).
  • Neck carving (from special template provided by Bourgeois).
  • Back bracing.
  • Body assembly.
  • Neck set (with average bridge height specified by Bourgeois).
  • Application of standard lacquer finish.
  • Installation of standard Grover tuners.
  • C. F. Martin & Company serial number applied on brass plate on neck block.
  • The OM Cutaway Soloists were identical to the original prototype Soloist
  • with the following exceptions:
  • Plain (no sunburst) finish.
  • Bone nut (not graphite).
  • Adjustable truss rod.
  • “T” frets (not bar frets).
  • Brazilian Rosewood was standard for the back and sides.

The following are details of a typical Schoenberg Soloist:

(This example is from 1988, serial number 476,471):

Back Bracing
Body Assembly
Brazilian Rosewood
Brass Plate
Bourgeois
Adjustable Truss
Back And Sides
Hand Bending

Upon completion, each Schoenberg Soloist carried an engraved plaque inside stating, “Made expressly for Schoenberg Guitars by C. F. Martin Co.”, followed by a Martin serial number. Never before had Martin been so straightforward about their manufacturing input into instruments bearing another name. The guitars also bore an internal label signed by both Schoenberg and Bourgeois.

Internal Label Signed
Schoenberg Logo

(“Featuring the unique Voiced Top” is obscured by a string beneath the Schoenberg logo).

Eric Schoenberg’s favorite personal instrument, which he used from 1989 through 2001, was a 1988 Soloist, made from Englemann Spruce and Brazilian Rosewood:

“The neck is 1 7/8″ wide at the nut, and spacing at the bridge is 2 3’8″, the same as the vintage 12-fret Martins of yesteryear. I owned this guitar and played and travelled with it extensively for a dozen years; fell in love with it when it first arrived new from the Martin factory, but it had been custom ordered (the wide neck). I flipped over this neck; though wider, there is a magical perfection about the shape. Pure luck, most likely, but nevertheless, wonderful. A year later, when the customer called asking us to cut the neck down, I offered him a new one and kept this one. The top came to us as Engelmann, but there’s nothing in the tone of this instrument that fits any of the generalities of how Engelmann is supposed to sound. It is clear and strong, cuts through large groups easily; not warm, but focused. Either it was mistaken as Engelmann by the supplier, or else it proves that tonal generalities about different species of spruce are just that: generalities”. –Eric Schoenberg

Englemann Spruce
CareAnd Feeding

“Care and Feeding” booklet that accompanied each Soloist.

The Schoenberg Warranty

The Schoenberg warranty.

Soloist Strings

Schoenberg’s proprietary “Soloist” strings.

Dana Bourgeois was a ‘fan’ of Martin D size guitars, and personally owned a 1953 Martin D-28 with an Englemann Spruce top. Thus, although the vast majority of Soloists are OM cutaways, serial # 472,277 was a D, or Dreadnought, size, and # 474,751 was a cutaway D.

Another D cutaway was built with a German Spruce top, Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, Martin style “42” inlays, and a Maple neck. This guitar was loaned to Bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice, who ‘rejected’ it simply because he did not like cutaways. Dana Bourgeois kept it, and later sold it to Jack Beck, acclaimed Scottish folk-singer. Its serial number is 482,966.

Dreadnought
Dreadnought Cutaway Soloist

A Dreadnought Cutaway Soloist.

Jack Beck And Dana

Jack Beck and Dana Bourgeois in Maine c. 1990.

Jack Beck Playing

Jack Beck playing his D cutaway Soloist.

1989:

Dana built approximately another 50 Schoenberg Guitars (about four batches). He was assisted by his third and final apprentice, Tom Williamson.

“I had experienced a rebirth of interest in the guitar in college and took lessons with Eric Schoenberg at the Music Emporium in Cambridge. At that time I built an OM-45 from a kit from Martin Guitars. Eric advised me to get into building guitars and around 1989 there was an opening for an apprentice at Dana Bourgeois’ shop in Topsham, Maine. I moved to Maine in ’89 to start a year-and-a-half apprenticeship, doing repair work. During this period, Dana and I intermittently shared a bench at the Martin factory, voicing Schoenberg guitars. I saw this period as a learning opportunity and really got into it”. –the late Tom Williamson, Brunswick, Maine

Tom Williamson

Tom Williamson

Utilizing An OriginalMaple Neck

A 2002 Tom Williamson ‘Soloist’ in Koa,utilizing an original Soloist Maple neck(the ‘backup’ to the neck used on Jack Beck’s D cutaway).

The majority of Soloists were built with Brazilian Rosewood. Schoenberg and Bourgeois acquired approximately 50 bookmatched sets of Brazilian backs from Dick Boak, who was running the “Woodworker’s Dream” at Martin at the time. The wood had been rejected because it didn’t meet Martin’s thickness specifications, but was still beautiful old-growth Brazilian that deserved to be used. Another source was the purchase by Schoenberg and Bourgeois of a log of Brazilian that had been submerged in the Amazon River for many years. In addition, while Martin at this time was setting aside Bearclaw figured Spruce as being unconventional, Dana Bourgeois loved the look and sound, as did Dick Boak. As a result, many Schoenberg guitars featured Bearclaw tops.

Later Elaborated

Dana Bourgeois later elaborated on these notes to write his famous “Tapping Tonewoods”.

Additional use of custom woods and features increased. Perhaps 10% of the Soloists were labeled as “Custom” instruments, including:

# 476,464 (from 1988)

A Flamed Maple Soloist with Bearclaw Sitka top,an elaborate peghead inlay, and extended ‘diamonds & squares’.

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This is the only Maple Schoenberg Soloist ever made.

Headstock Pattern

Dana Bourgeois designed the unique headstock pattern.Inlay work was done by acclaimed banjo maker Jimmy Cox, of Topsham, Maine.

Bearclaw Sitka
Diamonds Squares
Extant Soloists

This headstock inlay is known on very few other extant Soloists,a 1988 non-cutaway, # 482,965.

Stuart Phillips
Fingerboard
Featuring Bearclaw
Snowflakes

and # 480,793, formerly owned by Todd Stuart Phillips and now in the private collection of C.F. Martin IV
(featuring bearclaw top, maple binding, Style 45 snowflakes on the fingerboard, and Style 41 pearl purfling):

# 490,681

A long-scale (25 1/2″) 000 size 12-fret with Bearclaw Englemann Spruce top and “Spotted Pony” Brazilian Rosewood back & sides.

This is one of only approximately five 000 12-fret Schoenbergs made by Dana.

# 490,683

A non-cutaway, deep-bodied OM with Brazilian Rosewood fretboard & bridge,and “psychedelic” Brazilian Rosewood back.

Non Cutaway
Adirondack Spruce

Another non-cutaway OM Soloist (this one from 1988, with an Adirondack Spruce top):

The First Koa
Topped Guitar

# 490,691 A non-cutaway OM with Koa wood top, back, & sides
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“I’ve only built one guitar with a Koa top. The customer wanted the most outrageous, flamed, fancy, dazzling Koa all over, and he really couldn’t be interested in spruce. Well, it’s against my principles to turn down business, so I started looking for Koa, but I couldn’t find anything that sounded like what I thought a top ought to sound like. At every stage of the voicing process I struggled with the guitar to make it sound good. Finally I said, ‘This is not happening’. By that time I was already too far into it so I finished the guitar anyhow, hoping not to have to build another one. For some reason the guitar turned out to be a real nice one, and I still don’t know why. The finished guitar did not sound like a spruce guitar; it had its own sound, but it was very good”. –Dana Bourgeois, quoted in 1990

Flamed Fancy
German Spruce Top

A Soloist with German Spruce top and Koa back and sides:

Left Handed

A left handed Soloist:

The Guitar
Magazine Review

A Guitar World magazine review from October, 1989:

1990:

Paul Reed Smith was looking to expand his electric guitar business by introducing an acoustic model. He had approached Dick Boak, who made a couple of Martin prototypes (Martin MC-18 instruments with PRS headstock shapes). But Smith, having seen a single Schoenberg Soloist at an Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (ASIA) convention in Pennsylvania in June, 1990, approached Schoenberg and Bourgeois regarding purchasing their endeavor. Ultimately, Bourgeois thought it was feasible while Schoenberg did not. As a result, Dana went to work for Paul Reed Smith, designing an acoustic guitar.

A Schoenberg

A Schoenberg OM-45 Deluxe.

Before departing, Dana completed a faithful replica of a 1930 Martin OM-45 Deluxe:

Dana Bourgeois and T. J. Thompson, Dana’s former apprentice, jointly completed a final batch of Schoenberg Soloists at C. F. Martin & Company. They were assisted by current Bourgeois apprentice Tom Williamson. These guitars were begun by Dana. The instruments bore no internal label. Instead, they were stamped with T.J Thompson’s brand.

This instrument was reviewed by Roger Sadowsky in his article, “History Comes Alive: Schoenberg Recreates The Classic OM-45 Deluxe“, in the September, 1990, issue of Guitar Player magazine. Dana was, inadvertently, not mentioned as the builder, and a subsequent issue ran a correction of this glaring omission.

Former Apprentice
Current Bourgeois
Jointly Completed

A Dana Bourgeois / T. J Thompson collaborative Soloist from 1990.

Mahogany
Mahogany Custom

# 500,079

Another Dana Bourgeois / T. J Thompson collaborative Soloist from 1990.This is a Mahogany “Custom”.

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Dana Bourgeois built eleven Paul Reed Smith prototypes, an original design he called the Jumbo OM Cutaway. When the PRS acoustic plan was canceled at the end of 1992, Bourgeois opened Dana Bourgeois Guitars in Lewiston, Maine, in 1993, with the JOMC as the centerpiece of his line.

Paul Reed
Acoustic Prototype

A Paul Reed Smith acoustic prototype by Dana Bourgeois.

Meanwhile, Eric Schoenberg was left to continue the Soloist project in Dana’s absence. Enter stage right T. J. Thompson. Thompson was an old friend of Schoenberg’s who had served as Dana’s first apprentice and “employee” from 1983-1986, just before the Soloist project got underway. In fact, he assisted Dana during the construction of the first Soloist prototype for Eric. In 1986 he had left Dana’s shop to work as head of the repair department at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan.

Elderlys Instruments In Lansing

Luthier T. J. Thompson with Eric Schoenberg, who is playing a Soloist.