Talking Guitar: The Incredible Mind of Michi Matsuda
We are delighted to represent the outstanding Matsuda Guitars. We recently caught up with Michihiro Matsuda to get some background information on his journey into lutherie, Matsuda’s signature sound, his work as a repairman and the stunning M1 which he is about to begin working on for us.
It is always such a pleasure to work with such talented craftspeople and its very interesting to get an insight into the minds behind these magnificent guitars.
We hope you enjoy this interview:
Ben Montague: Hi Michi and welcome to The North American Guitar! We are so honoured to now represent your phenomenal guitars. Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your journey as a luthier.
Michi Matsuda: Thank you. I am honoured and excited to work with you too.
My name is Michihiro Matsuda. I was born and raised in Japan. I make about 7 to 8 guitars a year in my shop at Redwood City, California USA. I take time one by one, use my best focus, knowledge, imagination, and make each guitar by hand.
I like music, guitars, and making something by hand. It seems that it is natural for me to make guitars. Guitars are something more than tools for the musician in my case. I like to use the same stage of artistic creativity which musicians use to make their music and all artists use for their artworks. I hope I can pour something inspirational for players into my guitars. Actually, it doesn’t have to inspire, it could be something to makes player think, and feel. It would be my pleasure if there is some kind of communication with the players, through guitars I make.
BM: Michi can you describe the Matsuda sound?
MM: There are three important elements in my guitar making, which are “tradition” “creativity” “and “identity” (when I make commissioned guitars. It means “my identity” and the “customer’s identity”). I think about the relationship of these three things. I am not gravitated towards one of them. I try to find something in between them. There is no clear vision I can follow. It is uncertain, and fluid. This is the philosophical base to my guitar making and it projects and reflects the Matsuda Guitars sound.
BM: You where one of the first apprentices of Ervin Somogyi. Tell us about that experience and the relationship you have with the man himself.
MM: All my experiences at Ervin’s shop are my foundations as a guitar maker. Without that experience I would not be the same maker I am. At the time, he just started having apprentices so he didn’t have a settled apprentice program. I was living in a small room in his shop. It was a good old style, before the era of the internet.
Back then, my English skills were poor, I needed a long long time to understand what he was explaining to me. (Ervin and I have a good laugh about what was “lost in translation” at that time). To reinforce my English skills, I observed him closely, trying to do things in the same way that he did. Then I would think about how he did it, why he did it. It was a great way for me to learn and improve the skill senses I need in lutherie. You can’t get those senses with words and numbers.
BM: You must have seen plenty of wonderful instruments come through your hands at Gryphon. What impact did and does this still have on your build techniques today?
MM: Repair experience at Gryphon is another foundation in my guitar making. I still work at Gryphon one day a week as repairperson. You can’t imagine how many valuable things you can learn from repair work that apply to making guitars. You can’t imagine how many new ideas you get from old instruments. Also, every time I go, there is always something new on the work bench of Frank Ford, who is a master repair person at Gryphon. Another benefit of working at Gryphon, is that I can observe the massive American stringed instruments culture and history by just being there. It is important for my guitar making to learn what happens and happened in guitar culture. It is about learning a large part of the “tradition”.
BM: What insights does repair work give you about the vintage sound and vintage guitars?
MM: When you see the inside of vintage guitars you don’t see significant differences from modern guitars. However, I see that some vintage guitars do have a pleasant sound. I would assume that there are some physical property changes in the wood during the ageing process. but I can’t talk about it with my limited understanding.
Other than the ageing process, I think there is an issue about perception of what “good sound” is.
We tend to measure “good sound” from just audible information, but, when you play guitars, you get visual information, you feel sound vibration by hands and body. You may even get a certain smell. Audible info is only a part of the sensation you get. Moreover, it is important to note that your mental image, memory, and knowledge, are catalysts to perception of “good sound”.
In this “vintage sound” case, I think that our mental image, for example “legacy” “authenticity” “authority” works positively on our perception of “good sound”.
BM: Your guitars cross over between the art world and the lutherie world. Can you tell our readers how you approach each build and where you draw your inspiration from, especially with your art pieces?
MM: Roughly speaking, there are two directions currently. In general, for my customer’s order, I talk and follow his or her preference as much as I can. If the customer gives me freedom which my artistic approach or if I am making guitars for guitar shows art shows, I make guitars with a free mind.
BM: Your instruments are some of the most beautiful and desirable guitars in the world, how does it feel to be so highly regarded by your peers and clients?
MM: Thank you for your comment. I feel lucky that I can do what I want to do. And I appreciate that there are people who can support me.
BM: Your body designs are wonderful and totally unique; how do you approach maintaining the Matsuda sound at all times?
MM: Other than one-off special projects, I have 3 body shapes for acoustic models. M1 is slightly larger body size than OM guitars. M2 is almost same as OO guitars. Parlour is the smallest size I make. I don’t change these body shapes in order to maintain consistency. I do minor changes and adjust the bracing each time, but I don’t make major bracing system changes for commissioned guitars.
MM: Improvements progress with an accumulation of small changes. and it takes time.
BM: We absolutely love your Gun Powder Scorched guitar. Can you explain this process? Sounds pretty scary!
MM: I got this scorching idea from Koto (Japanese traditional harp) making. These instruments have a scorched body. They are not scorched by gun powder, but instead by traditional methods. In the beginning, I tried many ways to scorch, a heated iron, a gas burner, and a pluming torch. But soon I found out that they are too aggressive for thin guitar spruce tops. Then I started using gun powder, because It is controllable. I don’t make the scorched face in just one shot. I do a series of scorching during the process. It is like doing sunburst finishing.
BM: What guitars do you most enjoy to build from your line and what is the most enjoyable part of the building process for you?
MM: Always the next guitar is the one I can enjoy building the most! And when I have successfully created a project by hand which is a simulation of the image I had in my head.
BM: Do you have a favourite tonewood to work with?
MM: Personally, I like Wenge a lot. It is stable, with good tonal quality.
BM: Can you describe your bracing structure a little?
MM: It is based on Somogyi style X bracing.
We have a stunning M1 about to start with you. Will you be documenting this build?
MM: I will be taking photographs.
BM: Are you planning on exhibiting at any shows this year or next?
I don’t have any shows to come in this year at the moment. I haven’t had any official invitations for shows in next year yet, but I may go to Woodstock Luthier Showcase, Osaka Sound Messe show, and the Holy Grail Guitar Show.
BM: Thank you Michi.
MM: Thank you very much.
We will keep you updated with a build thread once this guitar has began to be build. We can’t wait to see it.
If you’d like to know any more information about Matsuda Guitars please email us here or get in touch by calling 020 7835 5597.
Have a lovely weekend!