Waterland Guitar

 

In 1999 I decided to build an arch top guitar with a modern amplified acoustic sound. I had just built a fretless Macaferry type guitar (solidbody) for Robin Nolan, a Gypsy Jazz guitarist ( www.robinnolantrio.com ), and a good friend suggested that I take that shape as a starting point for the arch top.

I changed the shape a bit and started to design. My aims were:

1 Create a sound reminiscant of an acoustic guitar, but with the advantages of an electric
2 A classic shape redesigned for this era
3 No feedback!!!!!
4 Accessibility to all 24 frets without compromising on the looks of the guitar


Since I usually do not sell my prototypes, I took a heavy piece of padouk of about 12 cm thick, and a flame maple top of 22 mm. I routed out the padouk until I had a hollow body. The area around the neck pocket was left solid, for strength. It was routed thinner from the back, to give access to the higher end of the fingerboard. The soundhole was made in the back, in this neck access cavity. This to avoid feedback: a soundhole in the top of the guitar always creates feedback problems at high volume levels.

The maple top was routed out in the middle to about 3 mm thickness. I then glued in a block of spruce, to eliminate feedback and to enhance the acoustic character of the guitar. The top was glued to the body and carved radically to give it a spectacular look.

Around this time Jan saw the guitar for the first time, and was pretty enthousiastic about what he saw. So much in fact, that I decided to finish the guitar for him. Since then, he had a lot of input in the project. The neck I had intended for it was replaced, since it had a rosewood fingerboard and Jan prefers ebony. I hadné decided about the bridge yet, and Jan really liked the ?Macafakey? (Jan?s name for Robin?s fretless solidbody), so I copied that design. I made it out of padouk, just like the tailpiece.

Initially, the electronics were very simple: an adapted EMG Acoustic Soundhole Pickup was stripped and built into a wooden cover shaped like a soundhole. No controls needed. However, Jan didn?t like the sound, it was too ?pretty?, not suited for Jan?s technique. The guitar needed more high end, so I put a Shadow piezo in the bridge, and matching electronics in the control cavity. A double volume control was added, and the output was made stereo, just like the Jakkerman, the L5 and the Johnny Smith.

Since the EMG ACS and the Shadow system were both acoustic systems and therefore were getting in each other?s way, the ACS was replaced by a Dimarzio Virtual P90, buffered by a Bartolini TC3 preamp. The Shadow system has controls for tone and volume on the back, accessible through the coverplate of the control cavity. Inside the cavity are two batteries, and outside is a switch: if one battery runs out during a gig, you can change to the other by pressing the switch.

The sound of the guitar can be described as listening to an acoustic guitar through a magnifying glass (come again???). The Virtual P90 sings like a human voice, and the due to the construction of the guitar and the bridge, the piezo sounds less harsh than the one on the L5, and more Hi-Fi than the one on the Johnny Smith. It?s got less dynamics than those two (thick top), but is easier to control and the sustain is like a top of the bill solidbody, whilst retaining the ?breath? of an arch top.

I am quite pleased with the way the guitar turned out. I do believe that it?s able to give Jan the ability to create his special expressive sound while playing with an electric band, as much as the L5 can do that while playing with an acustic combo. We are still fine-tuning it, but I?m convinced that Jan will be playing it for years to come.

Marcus van Engelen