Guitars

 

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Nylon String Guitars
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I was first introduced to the guitar by a friend and classmate, Gary Elsenbroich, about 1960. Gary lived on my walk home and we would sometimes just hang out at his house for awhile before I finished the trek home. Gary had an acoustic guitar and he showed me my first few chords on it. I was quickly hooked, and told my parents I'd sure like to get a guitar for Christmas. Somehow they got the word to Santa and he came through with a nice Kay 6-string, seen in the photos below.

In 1962, our church youth group planned to do a talent show on May 20. Another member of the group, Bob Cross, was at about the same point in learning to play guitar, and we decided to put together a couple numbers for the show and appear as the Bayou Brothers. As luck would have it, we lined up a performance a few weeks before our show (on Apr 28) at a "Cabaret Night" for a local Job's Daughters group. Our show was a big success, so we decided to keep playing together. In June we picked up Dave Petersen to make it a trio. After our talent show, we had a half dozen more performances that summer. In the fall, we started appearing at our high school, church, and a few other opportunities. We made our first TV appearance in March '63. On Apr 20, '63 we tried out for a slot at the Cafe' Espresso coffee house in downtown Milwaukee, which resulted in a 5-week appearance that ran through Jun 1, '63. It was a big thrill to appear on Jun 13, '63 for our big evening graduation party. After graduation the Bayou Brothers continued to perform into early '64, after which we went our separate ways in pursuit of higher education and never played together again.

I tried organizing a couple different folk groups during undergraduate college days, but none was able to gain traction. That didn't dampen my love for the guitar, which has never faded.

The Bayou Brothers, John Ellis, Dave Petersen, Bob Cross,
on the Custer High School Stage (Milwaukee, WI), March 1963.
John Ellis on Lake Michigan's Bradford Beach, Milwaukee, WI,
celebrating our Custer High School graduation, June 1963.

Although I started playing the Native Flute in 2006, and I started making them later that year, it was as a guitar player and singer that I joined the church praise band about that time. Then it was as a guitar-playing accompanist to a flute player that I got back on stage. So my passion for the guitar goes way back and continues today, along with my love of the flute.. 

So when I decided to try to make a guitar in 2010 to have a nylon string guitar to accompany a very talented flute player, it was a chance to see if my successes with flute making might carry over to my old love for guitars. I wanted to tie my pyrographic (wood burning) artwork from my flutes to the guitar as a way to expand on that developing skill with a larger "canvas" on which to work. My initial efforts were very well received and I continue to work guitar making into our Turtle Mound Flutes business.

Guitar accompaniment for the Native American flute is becoming increasingly popular, as witnessed by groups such as the Jeff Ball Band, Autumn's Child (featuring Mark Holland), Elysium Calling, Painted Raven, Rae Denton & Paul Warren, and others. You don't have to play with your favorite flute player to get a Turtle Mound Flutes Hybrid Classical/Electric or Steel-String Acoustic/Electric Guitar, but that will sound pretty good too.


Turtle Mound Flutes currently offers two lines of acoustic guitars: our Hybrid Classical/Electric (with nylon strings) and our Steel-String Acoustic/Electric Guitar. The following table illustrates the difference between the two style guitars.

 

Hybrid Classical/Electric Guitars Steel-String Acoustic Electric Guitars

When you want a softer, more mellow sound out of your guitar, you can't beat nylon strings. The nylon string classical guitar has a slightly wider neck to accommodate fingerstyle picking by providing wider spacing between the strings. The fretboard is flat and the neck attaches to the body at the 12th fret. The head is slotted with the tuning machines facing "down". Strings are tied to the bridge with a simple overhand knot.

Click here to learn more about our Hybrid Classical/Electric (HCE) Guitars.

The steel-string guitar's sound is characterized by it's distinctive metallic "twang." The steel string guitar has a slightly narrower neck with closer string spacing to make complex chords a little easier to reach. The fretboard is slightly radiused (curved) and the neck usually attaches to the body at the 14th fret. The head is solid with the tuning machines facing outward. Strings are fed through the bridge and held in place with bridge pins. 

Click here to learn more about our Steel-String Acoustic/Electric (SSAE) Guitars.

We offer artwork in two styles: the Nature-Themed art that features animals in various settings (as illustrated on the guitar on the left above), and the Patriot-Themed art that incorporates symbols important to our country's history (as shown on the guitar on the right above). Either of our guitar styles can be ordered with either of the art styles, or with custom artwork of your choosing. Like a guitar with your band's or group's logo? Let us see what we can do with it.


Restringing Your Guitar

If you are an experienced guitar player, you most likely have your favorite replacement strings. String selection tends to be a very personal thing with about as many opinions about which are best sounding, longest lasting, etc. as there are players. I won't argue with anyone's preference or try to convince anyone that something else is better.

One of the most important maintenance tasks that you can perform on your guitar is to periodically change the strings on your guitar. New strings can have a pronounced effect on the guitar's tone, and even on the ease of playing. At one of our shows a couple years ago, I had a production Turtle Mounds Flute Hybrid Classical/Electric Guitar that I had just finished the week before (and was strung with the bulk strings that came with the kit), and my prototype guitar with new D'Addario EJ-45 strings. An experienced guitar player came by and played my prototype first and then the production guitar. He said, not wanting to hurt my feelings, "Honestly, your prototype sounds better." When I told him that the prototype had new D'Addarios, and that I supply a set of fresh D'Addarios with the production model when someone buys it, he said, "That explains it." The difference in strings can be that great.

Nylon Strings:  As I expect many of those who will be purchasing one of my hybrid classical/electric guitars may be acquiring their first nylon-strung guitar, let me offer a few words of advice regarding strings. First, do not change strings just before going on stage! Unlike steel strings, nylon strings will stretch quite a lot initially and will continue to stretch for several weeks as they settle in. The amount of stretching will diminish over time, but (especially if you are playing with someone else) plan to retune your guitar every time you take it out. The integrated tuner in the Joyo pre-amp on both style guitars make this easy to do, and you'll be ready to go in a minute or so.

Fresh nylon strings every couple of months will do wonders for the sound of your guitar. I am currently using D'Addario Pro-Arte' EJ-45 (normal tension) strings and am very happy with them. I've had several experienced nylon-string guitarists tell me that this is a good choice, so I don't hesitate to recommend them to anyone inexperienced in buying nylon guitar strings. They are currently selling on Amazon for $6.49 a set or $16.88 for a pack of three sets. They are also available from many other sources on-line as well, or check at your local music store.

Steel-Strings: The selection of steel strings is mind-boggling, and the loyalty of experienced to a particular brand or even specific product is legend (and endorsements are available in any guitar magazine). JustStrings.com lists 32 different steel acoustic string makers, and offers this description: "Although the strings that most acoustic guitars use are commonly called 'steel strings' (and they do have steel cores), the wound strings will almost always be wound with bronze. Acoustic guitar strings are either phosphor bronze, which has a warm tone and tends to keep its tone a little longer, or 80/20 bronze, which sounds a bit brighter and loses its brightness a bit faster." String sets are rated with names ranging from "very light" (with the high-E string .009" diameter) to "very heavy" (with the high-E .013"). Lighter strings are easier to play but more prone to breaking. You will have to choose the type of string that best fits your style of playing. 

 The process of restringing your guitar is different depending on whether you have a nylon-string classical style guitar or a steel-string acoustic style guitar. If you are unfamiliar with the process for your guitar, I have selected a YouTube video that demonstrates a good process for each style guitar. Even if you are a self-taught guitar restringer, you still might pick up a tip or two from these videos (I did, and I've been changing strings on my guitars for over 50 years).

Restringing a Classical Guitar
(Nylon Strings)
Restringing an Acoustic Guitar
(Steel)

Accessory Suggestions

Capo: A capo is a handy device to quickly change your guitar's tuning so that familiar chord forms may be used in other keys. A capo for a common steel-string guitar will most likely not work on a classical guitar, where the surface of the neck is flat (not curved) and the spacing of the strings is greater. Classical and steel-string guitar capos are available from Amazon.com or any of the common on-line music sellers (such as Music 123 and Musician's Friend. Elastic band capos start under $10, spring action capos are at or under $15, up to the G7th brand for about $40.

Guitar Strap: I add strap buttons to both style guitars on both ends of the body. This is not traditional for classical guitars! Classical guitar "straps" are traditionally a string- like device with a hook that loops around your neck, then under the guitar body and finally hooks into the soundhole. You are welcome to use such a device with my guitar, but will likely find it uncomfortable if you are not playing in the classical style as it does not hold the guitar very securely.

Most acoustic guitar straps are of a length that allows them to be attached to the neck just above the nut. I find this much too long to attach to the upper body strap button and presents the guitar so low that it is uncomfortable to play. A strap length of about 47" (hole to hole) seems to be about right for my guitars.

I found a family of straps that seem to work well. They have a 3" wide leather section (with some interesting artwork) that extends about 25" from the hole that attaches at the lower end, and a 2" wide adjustable nylon section that can be shortened to about 25" that attaches to the upper body button, giving a total length (hole to hole) of about 47". They are made by Ralph Marlin and sell for just under $17 on Amazon, Music 123 (free shipping), Musician's Friend, and other on-line sites.

Anyone with a different suggestion/recommendation, let me know and I'll be glad to pass it along.

Strings: If you are an experienced guitar player, you most likely have your favorite replacement strings. String selection tends to be a very personal thing with about as many opinions about which are best sounding, longest lasting, etc. as there are players. I won't argue with anyone's preference or try to convince anyone that something else is better.

However, as I expect many of those who will be purchasing one of my hybrid classical/electric guitars may be acquiring their first nylon-strung guitar, let me offer a few words of advice regarding strings. First, do not change strings just before going on stage! Unlike steel strings, nylon strings will stretch quite a lot initially and will continue to stretch for several weeks as they settle in. The amount of stretching will diminish over time, but (especially if you are playing with someone else) plan to retune your guitar every time you take it out. The integrated tuner in the Joyo pre-amp on both style guitars make this easy to do, and you'll be ready to go in a minute or so.

Fresh nylon strings every couple of months will do wonders for the sound of your guitar. I am currently using D'Addario Pro-Arte' EJ-45 (normal tension) strings and am very happy with them. I've had several experienced nylon-string guitarists tell me that this is a good choice, so I don't hesitate to recommend them to anyone inexperienced in buying nylon guitar strings. They are currently selling on Amazon for $6.49 a set or $16.88 for a pack of three sets. They are also available from many other sources on-line as well, or check at your local music store.

 

In the interest of full disclosure, our Hybrid Classical/Electric and Steel-String Acoustic/Electric guitars are based on commercially available kits. All embellishments, such as the inlay wood ring rosette, headplate laminate, body seam hiding inlay, etc.; the addition of electronics; and all custom artwork are my contribution to the basic guitar. In addition, I do the guitar setup, including properly aligning neck and body, setting the action (string height), truing frets, etc. Starting with a kit allows me to offer a quality custom guitar at a very reasonable price. My future plans include offering guitars that I will "make from scratch" while retaining this kit-based model as a less expensive alternative in my line.

 

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