Bourgeois Guitars’ Aged Tone Series
It’s hardly news that Bourgeois Guitars are amongst the finest acoustics available. Hand-crafted under the watchful eye of master luthier Dana Bourgeois, the guitars have long been favorites of demanding upper tier professional players, as well as discerning “amateurs” and high-end collectors.
Assembled in what’s best described as a “large luthier’s workshop” located in a repurposed mill on the banks of the Androscoggin River in Lewiston, Maine, Bourgeois Guitars has an unparalleled reputation for balanced tone. “Dana and his small hand-picked crew are paramount to our success,” states sales VP, Bonni Lloyd. “As an artisanal shop with a long history of small batch production, we have successfully combined the advantages of custom tooling and proven processes with the deep knowledge of the craft afforded by Dana. His involvement in every process, from wood selection to hand tuning of tops and braces is exceptional.”
Recently, Dana developed what has evolved into a new line of Bourgeois models with the same revered “balanced tone,” as well as some uniquely nuanced features: the Aged Tone Series. MMR made the trek up north to speak with the master and his team about what makes these new guitars special.
‘It’s Really Not Like it’s a New Guitar…’
“I’ve always loved the sound of vintage guitars and I’ve always tried to make new guitars that sound old,” explains Bourgeois, while holding an Adirondack Spruce guitar top in his hands. “A while back, we got a wood sample from one of our dealers in Canada of this torrefied wood… boy, did they look, feel, and sound different.”
Torrefaction, or “roasting,” is a curing process, which results in wood with properties distinct from “normally processed” materials. “The main difference, which you can tell right away, is the color,” observes Dana. “It has this gorgeous, sort of pumpkin-brown deep color, much like vintage instruments. The wood is essentially cooked at a low temperature in an oxygen-free environment. There’s more to it than that – it’s pressurized, they use steam at some point in the process – but the idea is that all of the volatiles in the wood get cooked off. The sugars, the resins, the oils – over 100 years, that is all going to be gone [naturally], but this speeds up that process. What you end up with is a spacious, resonant, dry sound that requires very little break-in time.”
“Torrefaction leads to a maturing of the wood where the wood gets stiffer and more responsive,” adds CEO John Karp. “The end-effect [when used in guitar manufacture] is it sounds more like an older guitar. It’s really not like a new guitar…”
“This material that gets cooked away [through torrefaction] has the effect of dampening vibration,” Bourgeois explains. “Once it’s removed, the top is able to vibrate more freely. It’s more resonant… it has a higher velocity of sound. It’s also lighter, so you end up with a greater stiffness to weight ratio, which is what you’re looking for in a top, anyhow.”
Both Dana and John are quick to add, however, that Bourgeois Guitars isn’t trying to pass these new instruments off as being “equivalent to” older guitars. “We don’t claim that they sound ‘vintage,’ but they sound a lot more broken in,” says Bourgeois. “They certainly have a lot in common with older guitars.”
When the Guitar Sounds Best
In addition to the use of torrefied wood tops, the Aged Tone models benefit from an innovative finish. “We’re pairing the tops with some vintage appointments and with a new finish, which is a very thin, hard finish meant to mimic what aged finish is like,” Dana says. “A well-applied new lacquer finish may be eight or ten thousandths of an inch thick. Over time, that’ll end up being about a third of that thickness because lacquer never fully cures – It just kind of keeps transforming and getting thinner and denser and harder. Somewhere along the way, a good lacquer finish [becomes] very hard and very thin, but still very pliable and that’s when the guitar sounds best. We had been trying to find a new material that we could spray at that same ideal, aged film thickness that lacquer ends up at and has the same hardness properties.”
Karp continues: “One of our suppliers came up with something unique. It’s called an Isocyanate – it’s actually a spray-able super-glue, and it results in a beautiful look and a beautiful sound.”
Asked whether he has any concerns about guitars with a thinner finish being more susceptible to damage, Dana says, “Though thin, these finishes are also very hard. In general, customers buying guitars of this caliber know how to treat them. They don’t get dragged around to the beach or whatever [laughs] – so I feel like they are going to hold up pretty well.”
Something Really New
The Aged Tone guitars made their debut at last years IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] and are set to make an even bigger impact at the 2013 NAMM Show.
Already the “mature” voice and not-quite-new look and feel of the guitars in the Aged Tone line is finding plenty of fans. “They’re in several stores now and hitting more steadily,” says Karp. “We have a line of six different models, ranging in different sizes and roughly from the $6,000-$7,000 price-point. We’re currently backordered a couple months into the future.”
“These aren’t meant to replace a wonderful vintage guitar,” Dana adds. “They’re also not going to take the place of new guitars with untreated tops. They’ve got elements that are similar to vintage instruments, to new guitars – I’m excited about these guitars.”
“This is really something new.” says Lloyd.
Watch a Video
Dana Bourgeois discusses the new Aged Tone Series.