In this edition of Luthier Focus, we will be delving into the world of Froggy Bottom Guitars and Michael Millard, the man behind the magic.
Froggy bottom guitars are characterised by their elegant, traditional lines, echoing the designs of early 20th Century Martin and Gibson designs. However, their tonally rich, powerful and responsive sound is a nature often related to more modern guitars. Built with the upmost attention to detail, Froggy bottom guitars are incredibly special, hand-crafted instruments which are built to specifically satisfy the requirements of its player.
Starting his woodworking career in a Connecticut boat works at the age of 10 Michael Millard brings a unique perspective and set of skills to the task of building of individual instruments for individual musicians.
In 1970, Michael built his first Froggy Bottom Guitar in his apartment on New York’s Lower East Side.
“I saw from the very beginning that I wanted to make a guitar for an individual player. I wanted to make more variety in response to people – real people. I did not want to start a big business; I did not want to become a guitar manufacturer. Ever.”
In October of 1970, Michael had begun working at Gurian Guitars in New York City. Gurian had learned the free form craft of building classical guitars without confining jigs or forms from luthiers Gene Clark, David Rubio, and Manuel Velazquez. Gurian adapted these techniques to build steel string guitars. Michael’s skills and perspective on craftsmanship and gifts from from his mentors in the boat yard were a good fit for Gurian’s classical free form building method and aesthetic.
Michael’s first two Froggy Bottom Guitars were essentially Gurian shapes with significant adjustments. They featured a lighter and different bracing pattern for the top and high, thin, and highly arched back braces, which produced two lively and active plates for the instruments and become a trademark for Froggy Bottom Guitars.
“Every Froggy Bottom I made after that,” Michael says, “has always been my own work.”
In the spring of 1974, Michael left Gurian to build Froggy Bottom Guitars full time. Over the next twenty years, Froggy Bottom guitars were in full fruition.
As Michael was spending approximately half of his time as a working musician, orders came through word of mouth and personal connections with other players. This interaction with musicians and ability to craft guitars to their specific desires was something which Michael greatly valued. He enjoyed making instruments which certain players could push to their absolute strengths.
The flexibility of his learnt construction techniques, whilst in New York, enabled Michael's process to be responsive and free flowing in the design for each customer. This, alongside his close interaction with the musicians allowed Michael to correlate specific characteristics of guitar design, materials, and construction with their effects on the function and voice of the instrument.
“Our methodology, our mission as guitar builders, and our determination to remain personally connected to each guitar– all conspire perfectly to limit the number of guitars that come out of the shop.”
Today, there are six people involved in the building of Froggy Bottom Guitars: Michael Millard, Eric Goodenough, Andy Mueller, Michael ‘Moose’ Raymond, and Larry Sweeney of Squeakswe Finishes and Chris Bavaria of Bavaria Finishing.
Over the past twenty-five years, Froggy Bottom have offered Petria Mitchell’s custom engraved heel caps and end grafts as a way of personalising these guitars and for their Fortieth Anniversary guitars also feature the work of highly regarded engravers Doug Unger and Glenn Carson. This enhances the individuality and aesthetic beauty of each guitar.
Froggy Bottom Guitars offer 17 different models, which are grouped based on their body size.
These are the smallest guitars in the range of guitars available from Froggy Bottom.
The Model L
This smaller parlour-sized Model L became a standard guitar model at Froggy Bottom as the result of the rescue of an older instrument. A little Martin outfitted with a new Froggy Bottom spruce top stunned everyone in the shop. They were so pleased with it that the Froggy Bottom Model L was added to the line.
With a 13” wide lower bout, the Model L is a lot of guitar in a little package. Though it is the smallest guitar in the Froggy Bottom family, like their other parlour guitars, the Model L delivers wonderfully balanced tone and surprising volume.
Its standard 24.75” scale length gives this little guitar a lot of strength without sacrificing tonal complexity.
With a shortened scale, the Model L makes an excellent tenor or high-strung guitar.
Model P-12/14 Parlour Guitar
This lightly braced parlour is a big guitar in a little package. With their warm, balanced voices, the P-12 and P-14 are two of Froggy Bottom's most popular models. Even played bare fingered, these instruments deliver a wide dynamic range with a sweet, balanced tone: sparkling highs and dramatic lows.
The P-14 is the 14-fret version, and
the adjustments that add those two extra frets clear of the body bring a little more punch and focus to its voice.
Concert Guitar Models
The Model C
The Model C is a traditional concert-sized guitar with lush harmonic complexity.
The steel string concert (or ‘double 0’) body style evolved from the classical guitar and retains the richblend of overtones and projection of those instruments. With a lower bout of 14”, this is a comfortable guitar to hold and play that delivers excellent volume for its size.
By today’s standards, a small guitar, the Froggy Bottom Model C is generally noted for its responsive voice, rich tonal balance and surprising projection. Primarily regarded as a finger-style guitar, this Model C will respond well to picks if not pushed too hard.
The first Froggy Bottom Model C was built in honour of the accomplished and innovative classical luthier Thomas Humphrey, an old friend and colleague of Michael Millard’s who passed away unexpectedly in 2008.
Model A-12 Concert Guitar
Intended for finger-style playing, this 00-size concert guitar has a strong, responsive, and well-balanced voice. A great guitar for instrumentals as well as song accompaniment, it performs well on-stage and off, and behaves beautifully in the recording studio, as well.
Grand Concert Models
The Model M
Born of requests for a grand concert version of our popular full-sized K guitar, Froggy Bottom M guitars sing with a balanced voice that has repeatedly been characterized as having great clarity and sparkle. Even when played with great delicacy, the Froggy M speaks clearly and beautifully. Its tight waist and full, rounded lower bout make it a pleasure to have in your lap.
The Model H-14
The H-14 is the proverbial 'OM' guitar. With a scale length 1/4” longer than the H-12, and its slightly foreshortened body and higher bridge placement, the H-14 Grand Concert guitar is favoured by players of ragtime and country blues, flat-picking and songs.
The Model H-12
Responsive to the touch, with a rich and complex voice, the H12 has been Froggy Bottom Guitar’s best-selling design for over 20 years. Small enough to be really comfortable, but with volume and tone that will surprise and delight you, the H-12 is an excellent choice for finger-style guitarists.
Full Sized Models
The Model F-14
The Froggy Bottom Model F14 is the 14-fret version of their Model F that was inspired by the 1960s era conversions of old Martin F-7 arch-tops into flat top guitars. Adjustments in the body length and bridge placement to accommodate the extra frets allows this guitar to deliver a slightly more focused tone and projection, while preserving the complexity and balance of the F-12.
The Model K
Froggy Bottom's most popular full-sized guitar, with its tight-waisted Gibson-inspired curves, the Froggy Bottom K offers a well-balanced, overtone-rich voice across its entire dynamic range. Responsive and clear, it is a versatile, articulate instrument suitable for many different styles of music.
The Model SJ
Based on early Southern Jumbo models made famous by Hank Williams Sr., the SJ has become one of Froggy Bottom's most popular full-sized guitars.
The Model D-14
The guitar that TNAG's Ben Montague played countless tours and festivals around the UK and Europe with, the D14 is the quintessential 14-fret dreadnought!
Body Length:20" (D12: 21.375")
Model D-12 Dreadnought Guitar
The Froggy Bottom D12 is our version of the original 12-fret Dreadnought design – a not-too-distant cousin of the Froggy D14. A requested model since 1971, this traditional 12-fret, slope-shouldered dreadnought has the powerful bottom end common to dreadnoughts, while retaining the power and clarity of the D-14 across its range. The Froggy Bottom D-12 brings an interesting and complex range of overtones to the table, tonal qualities that it shares with other Froggy Bottom 12-fret designs.
The Model J
Sometimes referred to as the “Froggy Bottom Special,” the Model J was Froggy's earliest Jumbo model, first built in 1972. A true Jumbo guitar with a 17” lower bout and 14-frets clear of the body, our Model J is a guitar that can be pushed and performs well in lower altered tunings. The Froggy J has a shallow body and a longer scale than our Model G guitars. It’s a favourite of jazz players looking for a flat-top guitar and flat-pickers looking to exploit the more refined focus and balance of the J, as opposed to the more traditional dreadnought.
The Model B-12
Coupling the richness and balance of a 12-fret guitar with the power of by an instrument of this size, the B12 remains a popular choice. With a longer scale length of 27", the Model B is also their standard Froggy Bottom Baritone guitar. With this scale, these are usually tuned down to either B or C and strung .015 – .070".
Scale Length:25.25" (12-string:26", baritone:27")
The Model G
Based upon the beautiful, tight-waisted profile of a Gibson L-5, the Froggy Bottom Model G is a true jumbo guitar. Commonly built to be set up with medium gauge strings, like most jumbo guitars the Model G is usually played with picks. It’s a guitar that you can lean on without having it crush out from underneath you. It delivers well-defined volume across its tonal and pitch range while offering up the tonal complexity and balance that marks Froggy Bottom guitars. A great guitar for fingerpicking, flat-picking, lead or slide guitar, the Froggy Bottom G is often ordered as a 12-string and is also available as a 4-string bass guitar, with or without frets.
Scale Length:25.25" (bass:34")
We have just received two brand new guitars from Froggy Bottom: