Luthier Focus: Kostal Guitars
As many of you may know, Jason Kostal was one of the 'original three' luthiers to join us here at The North American Guitar, when we set the business up in 2010, and ever since then his name and brand have gone from strength to strength to now be known as one of the world's most highly respected luthiers. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Jason Kostal set up independently following nearly four years of teaching at the prestigious Roberto-Venn School of Lutherie and an extended three-year apprenticeship with Ervin Somogyi. In this week's Luthier Focus we take a deeper look at the man behind some of the most sought after guitars on the planet...
The Birth, The Journey & The Future of Kostal Guitars...
Jason was first introduced to the world of guitar building by Kent Everett of Everett Guitars in Atlanta, GA while finishing his MBA at Emory University. Serving as a military officer in the United States Army at the time, his interest in guitar building was more to help his appreciation of a collection of guitars that he had amassed over years of playing and collecting more than it was about a career change. Kent’s instruction and experience were paramount in planting the seed that would not reach maturity until years later. After leaving the military, Jason pursued a career with a Fortune 500 company in Salt Lake City, UT where he continued to refine his management and leader skills learned in the military while also learning about retail based systems and sales models, logistics and business acumen.
Moving on from this incredible time with Ervin, Jason ventured back to Phoenix and opened up his Kostal Guitars workshop and the rest, as they say, is history...
"The guitars that I build today are a culmination of over 30 years of playing and performing experience as a fingerstyle guitarist, coupled with a desire to make the best possible guitar that I am capable of. I pair this with the knowledge and teachings imparted to me by three distinctly different mentors, some amazing luthiers that helped me along the way, my own teaching experience, and my own ideas.
I am very proud of the guitars that I am creating today and value them as a player as well as a builder, and I look forward to the opportunity to share my guitars with the world..." Jason Kostal.
Talking Guitar: Kostal Workshop Tour
The Guitars - Body Shapes
Kostal guitars have a characteristically “orchestral” sound with a full, warm bass response and rich trebles. They are supremely expressive instruments with an immediate response and wide dynamic range that makes them perfect for the modern fingerstylist. Jason currently offers five designs, a OO, an OM, a Modified Dreadnought, a Jumbo and the MDW. Here is a brief chat with Jason at his workshop about his body shapes...
"It is my sincere desire to provide every client with not only a beautiful guitar, but to give them an instrument that will allow them to fully explore their own musical expressions and ideas, breaking boundaries and experiencing sound and music on a completely new level..."
Overall Length (12 fret): 39.00”
Overall Length (14 Fret): 40.50”
Body Length: 19.25”
Upper Bout Width: 10.25”
Lower Bout Width: 14.50”
Depth at Neck: 3.50”
Depth at End: 4.25”
Scale Length: 24.75”
Redesigned from the ground up, this guitar is the result of two years of development after an additional four years of building the MD and OM. The time spent building and listening to the OM and MD gave me an intimate understanding of how I was building my guitars and what I wanted the OO to do. I redesigned the bracing, depth, size, dome, and soundhole on the guitar to create a short scale, 12 fret guitar with all benefits of the OM in a smaller package. Despite its small stature, the OO has a beautifully robust and commanding resonance, making it the perfect choice for someone looking for a larger than life sound in a smaller package.
The Orchestra Model | OM
Overall Length (12 fret): 39.375”
Overall Length (14 Fret): 40.75”
Body Length: 19.50”
Upper Bout Width: 11.375”
Lower Bout Width: 15.562”
Depth at Neck: 3.50”
Depth at End: 4.50”
Scale Length: 25.00”
Balanced and articulate, the OM could well be the perfect guitar if you were stranded on a deserted island and had to choose just one instrument to keep you company. The bass is warmer than in the MD, yet still prevalent, and comes forward with a more balanced and even tone across the entire spectrum. Smaller body size creates less projection than the MD, but provides for a more intimate playing experience for both the player and the listener. If you are someone who plays for your own enjoyment, or a small group of friends, or are a performer who often plays through sound systems, this guitar is exactly what you need.
Overall Length (12 fret): 40.50”
Overall Length (14 Fret): 41.875”
Body Length: 20.438”
Upper Bout Width: 11.25”
Lower Bout Width: 16.375”
Depth at Neck: 4.00”
Depth at End: 5.00”
Scale Length: 25.25”
The Kostal Jumbo pairs the balance and intimacy of the OM with the volume, projection and clarity of the MD. Referred to by some as “an OM on steroids”, it’s the perfect instrument when you want that OM sound but need it to “go to 11”. The Jumbo is a large bodied guitar and is the go-to choice for those who can handle the size, or are looking for an amazing 12 string experience.
The Modified Dreadnought | MD
Overall Length (12 fret): 40.375”
Overall Length (14 Fret): 41.75”
Body Length: 20.375”
Upper Bout Width: 11.75”
Lower Bout Width: 15.75”
Depth at Neck: 4.00”
Depth at End: 5.00”
Scale Length: 25.25”
The flagship Kostal guitar. The MD has the robust sound associated with a dreadnought guitar however, this “modified” version has a relocated waist that is a bit tighter than a traditional dreadnought and a larger sound hole which helps redefine it as a fingerstyle instrument, while still maintaining versatility for other playing styles. This guitar has everything a performing musician could want… deep resonant bass, balanced mid-range, and beautiful warm trebles coupled with projection and clarity that allow the musician to realize the complete dynamic range of their music and playing style.
Overall Length 12 fret: 39.25″
Overall Length 14 fret: 40.625″
Body length: 19.375″
Upper Bout Width: 11.250″
Lower Bout Width: 15.00″
Depth at Neck: 3.75″
Depth at End: 4.25″
Scale Length: 25.00″
Kostal Guitar’s second complete redesign, the MDW is the result of a collaboration with fingerstyle musician Michael Watts. It was an amazing project in which we both described what we wanted a guitar to do, and what we needed it to do, and then set out to create the guitar to meet those high expectations. The body is similar to a scaled down version of the MD, adding to its comfort and playability with total dimensions that make it only slightly smaller than the OM. The 12 fret body joint adds a level of beauty, warmth and sustain not experienced in other guitars, and the overall size and look is elegant in every way. This guitar was originally intended to be a “one off” and was named the “MD-W” for Modified Dreadnought – Watts, but I soon realized that MDW were Michael’s actual initials, and so the hyphen was removed, and Kostal Guitar’s first signature model was created. The MDW has since become my most popular model, and with every new MDW I make, I am reminded of just how extraordinary this instrument is.
The Search for Tone...
Choosing wood is a very important part of the process, and I always try to go into the decision-making process without any preconceived notions. Some clients will ask me to build a rosewood guitar or a maple guitar, while others will ask for a specific set of tonal characteristics. Both end up as great guitars but the approach that I have is very different for each guitar. I try to start out with what the desired endstate is. I talk with the end user or the dealer and find out what they want.
From a very basic conversation, I can determine with about 80% accuracy which wood type we should go with for the guitar. From there, it is up to the client to choose the set of wood that they find visually appealing, and then once that set of wood is decided upon, I use my understanding of the wood, building process, and experience to determine how I shape the braces, voice the top, etc to bring the guitar that final 20% and eventually achieve the desired outcome for the guitar. It is an ongoing process that is constantly being adapted while I am building the guitar, and that is why you cannot approach each build the same way.
Every single guitar I build is truly one of a kind as it is built for a specific client with a specific voice in mind. Three guitars of the same body and wood choices will still be different as the three end users all want different things. That is one of the things that I love about what I do is that there is a definite art to what I do in making it look nice and remain visually appealing, but there is a lot of science that goes into it as well, and it is that part that excites me the most.
On a recent trip over to the UK, Jason came into the TNAG showroom to talk some guitar and update us on everything Kostal Guitars.
And finally here is the full interview we did with Jason at his workshop in Pheonix. This was one of our favourite interviews in 2018, Jason really bares all in this talking guitar session, about his journey as a builder, his accident that almost took his life and the pride he tales in his processes and building techniques..
For more information on the incredible Jason Kostal of Kostal Guitars please do not hesitate to contact us on +44 (0) 207 835 5597 or email us here.
Have a great weekend!