Luthier Focus: Dale Fairbanks
In this week's Luthier Focus, we look at Dale Fairbanks of Fairbanks Guitars, based in Connecticut, USA. We have seen many of Dale's stunning instruments come through the TNAG showroom, have one pre-owned guitar currently in stock and one brand new instrument incoming.
Dale Fairbanks creates painstakingly crafted replicas of Gibson, Larson Brothers, and Oscar Schmidt models, drawing upon his years of experience as a specialist repairman. Each guitar feels like an instrument that is already the best part of 100 years old. Fairbanks guitars are extremely light, resonant and Dale's finish work is superb. He sprays some of the most elegant sunbursts out there.
Dale Fairbanks began Fairbanks Guitars back in 2011, but his love for old and vintage guitars began in 1989 when he saw Paul Geremia perform at a house concert in Rhode Island. Not only impressed by his performance, Dale was also entranced by the guitars used to make this style of music. This sparked an interest in learning this style of playing and led Dale to buy his first guitar; a 1965 Epiphone El dorado, which worked great for slide guitar but became problematic for a finger-picker in training.
After this guitar was stolen from the boot of his car whist in college, Dale invested in a 1936 Gibson L-OO. This was a complete contrast to the Epiphone which Dale had previously owned, it was a tonally light, sweet and bouncy, however soon after got sold for rent money.
Left without a guitar, in 2000 Dale began building his first guitar on the porch of his Brighton apartment. It was intended to be a Leadybelly style 12 string and ended up close to that after five years. By this time, Dale had very much caught the lutherie bug and had been building a tool collection, studying old guitars and researching tips and tricks from anywhere and everywhere. This self-taught approach meant he learnt through physically observing any old guitars he could “learn by studying all the old guitars that I've had the good fortune to get my hands on. I am self-taught, which means that I was the apprentice to an idiot, but every mistake I've made has been a true learning experience, essential to my honest growth as a builder. I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way.”
These days, Dale builds vintage reproductions form his home in West Hartford, CT, where he lives with his wife and three sons.
Each Fairbanks guitar is built by hand in groups of four to six, with a build time of approximately six weeks (not including the finishing process). Classic construction techniques are favoured by the team, for example tapered dovetail joints for the neck, hot glue throughout, steam power opposed to electricity and the power tools used are likely those of twentieth century style.
The F-10 is Fairbanks take on the small bodied, round-bottomed L-1 of the 20’s and 30’s. The Fairbanks retains all the period correct details, from the thin finish and transparent sunburst to the tapered headstock and flush heel cap, however replaces the top bracing structure with a more refined 90 degree X brace. X is tall, thin and unscalloped and, when combined with a thin top and a 24-1/4" scale, produces a tone boxy and hard-edged enough for the blues with rich tonal complexity that makes one want to expand one's musical boundaries. This is one loud and fun little guitar with a personality that won't be put in a corner.
F-10 Nick Lucas
The Fairbanks F-10 NL brings back to life the popular early 20th century guitar pioneer's first artist-endorsed model. Built using the same templates and bracing as the standard F-10 but with a deeper body and fancier inlay and trim. The increase in body depth seems to give this guitar tonal qualities normally reserved for larger-bodied instruments. Rather than getting lost in the deep box, well-developed overtones and wonderful sustain will easily project to the back of any well-preserved concert hall.
Modeled after my 1936 L-OO, the Fairbanks F-20 is the perfect guitar for those looking for a punchy, well-balanced instrument with comfortable proportions. Wide, vintage string spacing at the bridge makes for comfortable fingerpicking and the unscalloped bracing under the top enables it to be driven hard and still maintain a sweet bounciness, something this design is known and loved for. As with all Fairbanks guitars built with Mahogany back and sides, it's feather light and perfect for blues, ragtime and otherwise folky picking and strumming.
F-20 Nick Lucas
Like the F-10NL, the F-20NL uses the same templates and moulds as the standard F-20 and adds roughly 1/2" to its total body depth, creating a much larger presence in relation to its body size. Thin, un-scalloped top bracing creates a loud, well-balanced tone all the way up the neck. In addition, standard NL appointments include double-bound fingerboard, soundhole, top and back, and MOP Nick Lucas-style fingerboard and headstock inlays.
Developed using Paul Geremia's 1939 J-35 as a template, the Fairbanks F-35 is as versatile a guitar as you will ever play, equally suited for solo fingerstyle and old-timey music or hard-driving flatpicking. Strong mids are combined with an incredible low register and fat trebles, which are helped along by the tall top bracing. If you're looking for a dry, booming guitar that sounds older than you and takes no prisoners, you just can't go wrong.
F-35 Roy Smeck Stage Deluxe
Born in 1900, Roy Smeck was a vaudeville, radio and film star throughout the early twentieth century and was known as 'The Wizard of the Strings' for his virtuosic ability on the banjo, guitar, lap steel guitar and ukelele. The original Roy Smeck-endorsed guitars were made for Hawaiian-style playing, with a deep body, square neck, two-inch nut and tall saddle. Most of these have been converted to be played conventionally, shaving down the neck and narrowing the nut to a manageable width. The Fairbanks Roy Smeck successfully reproduces this monster in its round-neck form, retaining the original bracing style and body depth. The 12 fret configuration places the bridge smack in the center of the lower bout which draws out a tone unheard in 14 fret slope-shoulder dreadnoughts: loud, sweet and beautifully balanced, the unscalloped red Spruce bracing allows it to bark and growl with the best of its long-necked cousins. This model is also available in a standard slope dreadnought depth.
Taking cues from the very rare and sought after Gibson J-185, this gorgeous instrument is made up of Torrefied Maple for the back and sides, with a handsome Red Spruce top. Built in the J-200 style but with a slightly shorter 24 3/4 scale length and 2 1/8" String Spacing, it really has its own distinct voice among it's contemporaries. The shorter scale gives the guitar and incredibly accessible and easy feel to play, while the jumbo body size and Maple/Spruce combo gives a huge, well balanced tonality to the output.
Based on one of the most iconic workhorse acoustics of all time, this guitar finds its roots in the legendary Gibson J-45, first introduced in 1942 and as used by countless artists since. Dale's rendition of this iconic instrument features Honduras Mahogany for the back and sides, paired with an Adirondack Spruce top to complete this classic format. With an incredible low end response coupled with defined, crisp highs and strong mids, these guitars sit beautifully under a vocal as well as holding their own in a busy mix. Of course in isolation the guitar shines also, and whether your gently picking away on it or digging in with a flatpick, the explosive voice of this guitar never fails to amaze.
- F-20 NL 14 fret
- Top and bracing: Adirondack Spruce
- Back/sides/neck: Flamed Maple
- Madagascar Rosewood Fingerboard and Bridge
- Scale length: 24-3/4"
- Width, upper bout: 10.2"
- Width, lower bout: 14.8"
- Depth, neck block: 3.8"
- Depth, tail block: 4.6"
- Frets to body: 14
- Nut/saddle/pins: bone
- Nut width: 1-3/4"
- Saddle spacing: 2-3/8"
- Fingerboard radius - 12"
- Body binding: ivoroid/B/W
- Fingerboard binding: ivoroid/B/W
- Fingerboard inlay: MOP Nick Lucas
- Headstock inlay: MOP fleur de lis, "Fairbanks"
- MOP logo and Nick Lucas fgbd inlay
- Finish: nitrocellulose over shellac
- Style: F-35 Super Smeck.
- Back/sides: torrefied maple
- Top: torrefied red spruce
- Neck: torrefied maple, 3 piece, rosewood laminate
- Finish: nitrocellulose, aniline sunburst
- Pickguard: bound, super 400 style
- Tuners: Grover Imperials
- Inlay: MOP split block super 400
- Binding: multiple bound Ivoroid
- Bracing: red spruce, unscalloped
- Scale: 24-3/4”
- Nut width: 1-3/4”
- Neck shape: custom soft v
- Case: Silver Creek HS
- 2 way trussrod
- Madagascar Rosewood fingerboard and bridge.
For more information on Fairbanks Guitars, please do get in touch by calling +44 (0) 207 835 5597 or by emailing us here.
Have a lovely weekend!