"To Make the Wood Sing"  PAGE 2    (click here to return to page 1 of the interview)
Interview with Mark Campellone   October 2008
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Are they nickel plated, then gold plated?
Yes, nickel then gold.

Thatís the old Gibson way.
Yep. Then they go to a local craftsman and have the ebony appliquťs made. A few guitars have been ordered with some abalone work inlaid in the appliquť, but thatís a custom feature. So itís the metal supplier, the sheet metal guy, the machinist, the plater and the craftsman Ė five people are involved in the making of a tailpiece!

The Eastman archtops use a similar idea, in that the tailpiece is brass with a decorative ebony piece on top Ė only theirs is made to look like a Benedetto violin tailpiece. Unless you look closely you canít tell thereís a metal piece under it.
One reason a lot of guys use actual wooden tailpieces is because, like myself, theyíre not metal workers. So if you want an original metal tailpiece Ė where do you go? How do you do it?

Itís a complicated process.
Yes. I was fortunate that I knew the sheet metal guys Ė there used to be a big jewelry industry in Rhode Island and there are still a few plating houses around. But a lot of guys are using the wooden tailpieces, and itís kind of trendy now to use a wooden one.

How does an all-wood tailpiece affect the tone of the guitar?
I donít know. Obviously I am not a wooden tailpiece guy. Initially it kind of made sense to me, but I have to disagree with some of the experts on this. I donít think it necessarily improves the tone of the guitar. Iíve heard many wooden tailpieces that vibrate in an undesirable way. The big thing for me was that I wanted to do stuff that looked traditional and I liked Gibson stuff because they all had metal tailpieces; I played too many old Gibsons with metal tailpieces where I thought, ďthereís no way you could improve the sound of this guitar Ė it sounds great. Whatís a wooden tailpiece going to do for this?Ē

Maybe itís the brass?
I donít know. Sometimes you do get a little bit of a metal harmonic or overtone, but I donít find that objectionable! A great L-7 does the same thing and you donít have a problem with that. To my ears, I donít think a wooden tailpiece is necessarily a design improvement. The whole idea with a lot of the contemporary stuff is borrowing [from violin design]. Archtop guitar design is based on violin family instruments. And while they did borrow many design features from the violin family, that doesnít mean that all the violin features apply to the guitar, because itís a whole different instrument. Itís plucked instead of bowed, so there are some violin features that would actually be a detriment if applicationed to the guitar design.

To Tap or Not to Tap

I asked Mark if he tap tunes his tops, and if he believes that it can produce a better guitar. He explains how tap tuning fits into his philosophy of building:

The big question is, do any two people really have the same definition of tap tuning? When I started building, archtop construction was just as much of a mystery to me as it was to anyone else. I was struggling to find out what tap tuning meant Ė there are some people who go with the definition that it means tuning the plates to a particular pitch and Iíve heard some people say, ďtune the top to one pitch and the back to a certain interval away from that pitch.Ē I threw all that stuff out the window. I have owned a lot of good archtop guitars, and at that time I was madly pursuing any information about how you make a guitar sound good. At one time I owned 12 or 15 great sounding, vintage Gibson archtops Ė L-5s and L-7s Ė and I used to study them. No two sounded alike and no two were built the same. What I initially realized was that there is no one right way to build a good-sounding guitar. These guitars were all wildly different, in terms of their construction. Some of them were parallel braced, some of them were X-braced, some of them had really thick tops and some of them had thin tops, but they all sounded great. So, I abandoned the idea of tap tuning to a particular pitch Ė however, I do tap.

If you have two raw plates carved to the same dimensions, and you tap each of them, theyíll produce a pitch. The one that produces the higher pitch is the stiffer piece of wood, so I use that as a kind of measuring stick of the woodís stiffness. The higher the pitch it produces, the stiffer it is. The stiffer it is, the thinner you can carve it Ė Iím just carving to a point of getting the top loose enough to respond. Thereís a point of diminishing returns; if you carve it too thin, it wonít have enough wood to generate any kind of powerful sound. You need a certain amount of heaviness to it to get the power, but you want it to be loose enough to respond. If the top produces a fairly low pitch and it isnít stiff, youíre going to want to leave it a little heavier to retain enough stiffness so it doesnít get too boomy, too bassy. I use the tap/pitch technique to assess how stiff a piece of wood is and, using that assessment, to determine how thin I should make the top.

Your three models span what price range?
The base prices are $4000, $5500 and $7000. Itís about a separation of $1500 between models.

Has the recession slowed you down at all? Are you concerned about that?
Thatís maybe way out there on my radar screen. If I was dependent on a local economy I would be concerned, but my business is nationwide and worldwide. If the whole national economy tanks then the first thing that happens is people cut back on luxury items, but somewhere in the U.S. or the world there will always be people that have money to spend on luxury items! My guitars are still relatively affordable for the average person.

It seems to take a guitar about 30 years to take on the mantle of ďvintage.Ē Where do you think your guitars will be in 30 years, as far as how collectors will look at them? And where will you be 30 years from now?
Iíll be 83! Iím not good with leisure time. I always feel like I have to be productive. So I imagine Iíll probably build as long as Iím able, although maybe not at the level I am building at now. Iím going to want to keep busy. Iíd like to think that my guitars will acquire vintage status. Of course, as soon as I croak the more expensive they get! [laughs] Iím pretty confident theyíll attain a fairly noble status after Iím gone Ė why not? Especially since I wonít be making them any more!

Campellone Guitars