Luthier Focus: Isaac Jang
Isaac Jang is known widely for being one of the world’s best young luthiers. In this week’s Luthier Focus, we are looking at his path into lutherie and approach to his craft.
Isaac Jang spent almost 10 years apprenticing and building guitars before he started making instruments under his own name. This is quite an unusual approach however set him up incredibly well for his successful career. Aged 18, Isaac had just finished school and was enrolled in college to study electrical engineering. His goal was to be a professional musician and knew he wanted to be around guitars, however, was not sure how to go about this and enrolled into this course instead. Isaac began playing guitar aged 14 in his church, which led to further ventures into the musical genres of rock and jazz. It is worth noting that he is not only a phenomenal guitar builder, but also player.
So before beginning the electrical engineering course which he was enrolled upon, he saw guitar making and repair was an option of careers. Having tweaked his own guitars and developed experience in this field, he researched into this. This led him to finding Kathy Wingert, a guitar maker relatively local to him. He reached out hoping to be able to work alongside her and learn how to make guitars. Kathy’s children were a similar age to Isaac at this time and being a motherly figure, she advised him to go and learn to make guitars at a school, work in a repair shop and go back into college because he needed a second back-up option in his life.
He did exactly this. He took some time out of college, working in a restaurant to save up the funds to go to the Galloup school of lutherie. Then after 6 months he went to Michigan and studied on an eight-week course, where he claims to have learnt an incredible amount. Following this he searched for a repair position in an LA shop. Part of the deal was that he remained enrolled in college whilst apprenticing with Wingert Guitars twice a week.
He began his time there mostly completing projects on the workshop and creating jigs, before working on guitars. Alongside this he was studying for 3 years and then transferred to a state university, whilst running 3 jobs at the same time. 8 years into the apprenticeship Isaac did his first guitar show at Memphis. This is when things were changing more in regard to his personal building career. A combination of lots of work-bench time and being in a busy retail environment whilst doing repairs equipped him for this. As well as this, he was working with a lot of professional musicians, which gave him a very good insight into set up work. He had to spend hours with the musicians and learnt that what felt good to the player was what mattered most about the guitars. This was a factor which he had to implement within his own guitars by manipulating their subtle nuances. This was a huge part of his repair experience, as well as working with clients and being able to talk to people. He had to learn the ins and outs in order to be able to explain, resolve problems and let the clients know what was going on.
Isaac remained in the apprenticeship for an extended period of time, however the dynamic changed when he took his first commission from a long-term friend. They picked out the wood and developed a design together. This is when Isaac had to come up with his own models- however Kathy generously helped with this aspect.
That year he applied for Memphis guitar show, which gave him a deadline he had to meet. For this he developed an OM model design and made 2 guitars under his own name. Following the show, he had taken enough orders that meant he had to set up his own shop. This is when he told Kathy that this would be his last year, cut down to one day a week training in 2016 and then 2017 was the first full independent year of Isaac Jang Guitars.
One of Isaac Jang’s jobs alongside his apprenticeship was (and still is) teaching the Acoustic Guitar Making Programme at the musicians institute. Back in 2009, Isaac was Kathy Wingert’s Teaching Assistant, whilst she taught this programme for the first time. However Kathy couldn’t justify spending so much time away from her bench. So on Kathy’s recommendation, Isaac was hired for his role. He teaches the class where you make a dreadnought guitar within in 10 weeks. The course is for four hours a day, using raw materials and containing 2-10 students per class. Teaching encourages Isaac to be systematic and clear when explaining thought processes and techniques. He believes this has not only helped his own building but also grown him to become a better communicator. This is a way in which he gives back for what he got from when he was a student, both at Galloup and from Kathy. One of his students now works for Santa Cruz Guitar Company and another works with Kathy.
Isaac Jang's Guitars
One of Isaac Jang’s jobs alongside his apprenticeship was (and still is) teaching the Acoustic Guitar Making Programme at the musician’s institute. Back in 2009, Isaac was Kathy Wingert’s Teaching Assistant, whilst she taught this programme for the first time. However, Kathy couldn’t justify spending so much time away from her bench. So, on Kathy’s recommendation, Isaac was hired for his role. He teaches the class where you make a dreadnought guitar within in 10 weeks. The course is for four hours a day, using raw materials and containing 2-10 students per class. Teaching encourages Isaac to be systematic and clear when explaining thought processes and techniques. He believes this has not only helped his own building but also grown him to become a better communicator. This is a way in which he gives back for what he got from when he was a student, both at Galloup and from Kathy. One of his students now works for Santa Cruz Guitar Company and another works with Kathy.
Isaac was taught in a manner which allowed him to build his own sound under Kathy Wingert. She taught him how to voice a guitar in general, but never how to voice her guitars. He was taught the sanding skills and learnt the approach, but never learnt to a specific targeted sound quality. There are many Wingert influences within the style, scale length and methods of his instruments; such as using Hyde glue and dove tail joints. However, Isaac’s work has really diverged when it comes to the size, aesthetics and the way in which he has developed his consistent own sound. He uses raised rosette rings, Uchida-style "bendaway" and alternative stylistic tone features.
The characteristic Isaac Jang “bendaway” was developed when he was building a guitar for his friend who didn’t want a cut away but wanted something similar. So, he researched it and came across the Uchida style cutaway. This is essentially a twisted cutaway, but the design has a more subtle touch to the line of the guitar, than your traditional cutaway.
Isaac prefers to use hand tools as he feels it makes him more efficient, for example using a chisel or a rasp to shape the wood rather than a sander both increases time and allows him to work more precisely. His favourite woods to work with are Rosewoods and European Spruce.
When building a guitar, its equally as customer driven as it is ‘Isaac Jang’ driven, often customers want him to do what he feels is best to do, allowing him to expand and implement his expertise. You can expect an immense clarity from Isaac Jang’s guitars. They are typically modern sounding; however, he is also inspired by the more traditional tonal qualities from old Gibson and Martin guitars. There are certain qualities within these that Isaac hears and wants to be able to hear within his own guitars.
There is an incredible note separation within his guitars, especially when it comes to the low end. Producing a big crisp sound along with a smoothness in both tone and feel, they really are exceptional guitars.
Isaac currently offers Dreadnought, OM, OO, or Small Jumbo models, which are so sought after that he is no longer taking new orders. However we are delighted to be his exclusive European dealer and have build slots available with the man himself!
Have a lovely weekend!