The Andamento Guitars

I’ve made a rosewood and a maple Andamento guitar. They are decorated in a European tradition of mosaic inlay work in which inlays cover a surface entirely. Each piece of material is called a Tessera (plural: tesserae). Andamento is the technical word used to describe the movement and flow of Tesserae.

The current aesthetic in high-end guitar making and ornamentation includes some complicated and time-consuming mother-of-pearl and abalone-shell inlay work. A number of highly skilled practitioners of this art form have mastered these techniques and come to the fore, doing work of unprecedented originality. Their best work will undoubtedly wind up in museums and private collections.

However, I’ve preferred to work and decorate with wood instead of working with mother-of-pearl and abalone as a lot of other luthiers do; in this case the work is largely in the form of wood mosaics.

In lutherie-type mosaic work, as in Spanish guitar soundhole rosettes, there is normally one tile pattern that is created and used over and over again around the soundhole. The Andamento guitars are noteworthy in that eleven separate mosaic patterns have been created for it: its back and sides inlaid with ten different mosaic pattern tiles, connected by a latticework of black-white-black purfling lines; and there’s a separate mosaic pattern in the segmented soundhole rosette. Furthermore, the back and side inlays are micromosaic tiles. Each tile comprises of 200 separate pieces of wood. The Andamento guitar has some 200 of these tiles — twenty each of each separate design — and each tile is half the size of a dime. They are perfectly executed despite of their smallness of scale.

Lovely though the Andamento tile-pattern is, I never thought that it would work very well to plaster it all over the guitar back and sides as well: it would look too busy. Therefore the sides of the guitar are differently treated than the back is. The combination of different back and side work was carefully thought out: each part complements the other in color, line value, proportion, general aesthetic — and it also takes into account the taper of the guitar body itself.

The back-of-neck-inlay, peghead, soundhole rosette, and ebony bridge are likewise thought out so as to be compatible with the other parts of the guitar and its overall black-white motif. The back-of-neck inlay works aesthetically because it echoes the crisp geometric angularity of the rest of the inlay pattern, while not merely duplicating or repeating it. Something flowery or curvy would not have been as good a match. The bridge is sculpted by hand, and the fact that it is ebony on the relatively white background of the European spruce face is consonant with the black-white motifs that dominate the work as a whole. I’ve introduced just a little color in the soundhole rosette, to be a sort of spice; but I believe that to have introduced other colors into the guitar body or its inlays would have diluted the overall look. The Andamento guitar is, I believe, an instrument that will some day be in a museum. Or should be.

I chose the Andamento tile/layout pattern because of its great visual appeal. It’s not my original design, by the way: others have discovered this long ago; it is merely my original treatment. It is found in examples of floor tile work, in textile patterns, and it has even appeared as a design element on one of the walls of the gambling casino that’s the setting of the Ocean’s 13 movie.

The segmented soundhole rosette is more or less my trademark, as are mitered joints. The rosette itself consists of eleven separate segments, with the corners picture-frame mitered together. The miters are cut by hand, and each rosette is accomplished through fitting 88 mitered elements together — plus the mosaic tiles that go inside the individual frames. The guitar’s bindings and purflings are also mitered by hand rather than butt-jointed, as is the ivory frame piece in the fretboard’s binding. Ditto the back-of-neck inlays, which flow with overs-and-unders.

I do the mitering of visible wooden joints because (1) that’s how I learned to do the work, and because (2) it looks better on account of of how time-consuming and precise such work is. The same is true of the black-white-black connective lines that create the Andamento grid itself: each segment is notched into a receiving segment at both ends so as to make the central (white) stripping continuous, rather than have a bunch of white lines butt into the next segment’s outermost dark line. If one were to cut just a little bit too much off any corner or end, you’d be left with gaps that would attract the eye.

The maple Andamento is likely to be the only such guitar I’ll ever make. I chose maple because it brings out the light-dark aesthetic motif better (or at least in a different way) than executing it in darker rosewood would accomplish. However, while dark woods are forgiving of tiny flaws such as tears and miscuts (i.e., you can make them invisible against a dark background) maple offers no such cover: any miscut, tearout, irregularity, splintering, or crack becomes permanently visible. The maple Andamento took far longer and more care than my other (rosewood) Andamento needed, and the overall effect is the result of hundreds of perfectly executed joints. All in all, these guitars are at the culmination of my professional design aesthetic and work. Except for the tuners, strings, and fret materials, everything on and in the Andamento guitars was made, designed, shaped, and assembled in my shop.

Finally, my guitars are known for their sound and tonal responsiveness. This guitar has been voiced just as my other instruments are: it will produce a rich palette of sound.

 

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