What Makes Bourgeois Unique?
1. Wood Selection
I personally select each piece of wood that we use. Since wood is graded and priced strictly on the basis of appearance, it's not enough to simply buy the most beautiful, or the most expensive woods. The trick is to know what a piece of wood is going to sound like before the guitar gets built. After the wood is graded for appearance, I tap and flex each piece, carefully noting the wood's individual qualities.
Some woods make better fingerstyle guitars, some make better dreadnoughts. One top might work well with a maple back, but not so well with mahogany. It's our job to know the difference.
The most important thing about our guitars is the way they sound. No two pieces of wood are alike. Woods can differ in weight, lateral and longitudinal stiffness, and resonant characteristics. Bourgeois guitars are voiced at three stages of construction. First we thickness tops and backs on the basis of flexibility and weight. After tops and backs are braced, we tune the braces to get as many clear notes as can be found in a given top.
I think of braces as little tunable marimba keys. These can be tuned by holding the plates in certain places, tapping over the braces, listening to the response, and adjusting the height, thickness or length of each brace. If this step is properly executed, the guitar ends up with an even, balanced tone, from one end of its range to the other. Once the top and back are glued to the rim, we fine tune the thickness of the top and back by sanding around the perimeter of the outside of the guitar. If this last step is done properly then the wood and air can vibrate sympathetically, and the guitar gains power. For an in-depth demonstration of my voicing method, see our Top Voicing video here.
3. Single Scalloped X Bracing
Long ago, when I started building OMs, I became enchanted with their balance, clarity, and singing treble voice. For years I tried to get the same kind of voice out of larger guitars. Dreadnoughts naturally have a well-defined bass response, but rarely have equal presence in the treble register.
I realized that I had to beef up the treble side of the X in order to bring out the treble. Players like Bryan Sutton use every note on the fretboard. This is one of the most important ways to make sure he gets every note. We now use a variation of this design on every model we make, with the exception of the OM.
4. Adirondack Spruce Braces
Braces are the unseen half of the top of a guitar. All species of top woods are enhanced by Adirondack spruce braces, the stiffest of all spruces. Not many makers use Adirondack braces exclusively, but we do. We also use Adirondack for our back braces, too.
5. Detachable Neck
Norman Blake once said "Never trust a guitar if it doesn't have a belly". It's possible to build a top that stays flat forever, but we don't think you'd enjoy playing it for very long. So the belly's not the problem. The problem comes whenever a top stretches under string tension, taking the bridge and strings with it, and causes your guitar to eventually need a neck reset. And any top that's built lightly enough for optimum performance is going to need a neck reset sometime during its lifetime. Period. We don't reset more necks than anyone else does (see our single- scalloped X brace, above), but your grandchildren may thank us for the ease of a neck-reset with our detachable neck.
By the way, there's an urban myth that bolt-on necks don't sound as good as dovetailed necks. If you can hear the difference, you have better ears than Ricky Skaggs. The trick is to get a good, solid neck fit, whether the neck is fastened with glue or with bolts. You'd be surprised how many makers use the bolt-on neck design.
6. Double Action Truss Rod
A truss rod will effect the sound of your guitar. Our truss rod is made using a high-mass steel U-channel, and is very close in weight and material composition to pre-war Martin T-bars. Everyone loves the sound of those old T-bars, but unfortunately you couldn't adjust them. Ok, it's true that you rarely have to use one-half of the adjustment capacity of a double action truss rod, but if you ever have to straighten out a back bow, it's nice to know it's there! And the guy who someday refrets your guitar is going to be a happy camper, too.
7. Satin Neck Finish
By popular demand, we use satin finish on our necks. Satin finish has a significantly lower surface tension than high-gloss finish, so there's not as much friction between the hand and the neck. Even when the neck is naturally buffed from playing its surface still offers less resistance due to the chemical composition of the satin finish. We still put a gloss finish on the front of the headstock, however, and we buff it just like the body. The better to show off the Bourgeois logo!
8. Innovation. The Aged Tone Guitar
"Aged Tone tops may be the most significant technological advance I’ve seen in decades, but these new guitars are about more than just the tops," reports Dana Bourgeois. "A treated Adirondack top is, after all, just another tonewood; the thing that matters is what you do with it. To get the vibe I was looking for, I ended up modifying my approach to voicing and developed an entirely new finish. The combined result isn’t a substitute for a great vintage guitar, nor will it make people stop playing new guitars with untreated tops. It’s entirely new, yet partially old, totally different and overwhelmingly musical. I can’t wait to hear what different players do with these guitars
9. A Great Team
The Bourgeois workforce consists of me and ten fellow craftspeople, most of whom have worked with me for years. They are the finest team of luthiers I have ever assembled. As a result, the Bourgeois guitar built today is more handmade than most other boutique brands, and by far and away the best we've ever built!
10. Dana in the Shop
Someone once asked me how to tell if I personally had a hand in building a particular Bourgeois guitar. If my name is on the headstock then the guitar was built by hand in Maine, and I was intimately involved in building it. I have always worked a full time job in the shop, and I can truthfully say that I have actively had my hands on (and in) every Bourgeois guitar made.
Dana Bourgeois In Print
Dana Bourgeois has been designing and building acoustic guitars for over thirty years. He has often lectured on the subject, and has written several influential articles on various aspects of the guitar building art, most notably about tonewoods, and about the voicing and bracing of acoustic guitars. Click on the links below to read Dana’s articles, reprinted here through the kind permission of the original publisher.