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The World of Michael Spalt: Guitar Shrines, Babe's Fun House & A New Player Choice Series

We are extremely delighted to announce the arrival of three new guitars from Austrian luthier Michael Spalt. We recently caught up with Michael to discuss these new guitars and how his busy year of building guitars and exhibiting at guitar shows is going.

BM: Hi Michael, tell us what's new in the world of Spalt Instruments?

MS:  Hi Ben, thanks for having me - a pleasure, as always. Well, we all know that a lot of musicians are not usually flush with cash, at least not to the extent that our guitars - due to the fact that they are carefully handmade in Europe - are within easy reach.

Musicians need working instruments sporting the quality and playability not usually available in factory made instruments, so they can take them to gigs or on the road without worrying too much about it. I’ve always wanted to do something about this situation.  It’s why I make guitars - to have music made on them - seeing them played on stage is the greatest thrill!  

Back while still in the US, we launched the Totem-X line, which was a simpler version of our Totem line and that actually turned into a success, with 40 sold over a couple of years.  Now, in Vienna, I’ve thought about how I could come up with something along those lines - something I can make efficiently that also carries forward the Spalt name as instruments with great playability and tone.  

You saw the first prototype of the “player” series in Mannheim at the Guitar Summit this year.  it was quite well received and we’ve incorporated the feedback we got in the next ones coming up.  So far we’ve made a few, refining the concept, and it looks very promising.  At the heart of it is the special pickup configuration, offering a great range of tones. Three BoneTop pickups are combined in such a way that two of them, sitting in the bridge position, are wired through a 4-way switch giving either coil in single, or both coils in parallel (humbucker) or series mode.  Combined with the neck pickup via a 3-way you have a total of nine sounds, accessible in a very intuitive way.  And the guitar as a whole of course is also designed and crafted to the highest standard.

It certainly is new thing for me, to make guitars in true series mode - I’ve always made one-offs and this requires a bit of a different approach - especially as I want to maintain the attention to detail and quality going into my other instruments.  Deceptively simple, reliable and attractive with a world of great tones at your fingertips - that’s the formula.

The all new Spalt 'Player' Series - Prototype Blue.

The all new Spalt 'Player' Series - Prototype No.2

BM:  We have seen you have been exhibiting at many shows this year. How has that been for you?

MS:  Yes, it seems there are shows just about every other week across the globe.  In the past few years, I have been very involved in working on The Holy Grail Guitar Show in Berlin and in our luthier association European Guitar Builders (EGB).  We’ve created maybe the best guitars show out there (next edition coming in May 2018!) and building up our association has been quite a workload also.  As a consequence I’ve neglected my guitar building a bit - doing shows is a way to reestablishing our presence and to reach out to new guitar lovers.  And it’s always nice to hang out with our friends and colleagues from all over.  For many players a show is the only way to experience and try boutique instruments that would otherwise not be accessible - the internet gives the illusion that everything is at your fingertips, but really - a guitar has to be held and played in person!  Only then can you see what it is about.  So shows play an important role in letting the public experience handmade boutique guitars.  For me, it also is a chance to connect with players, to get feedback on what they want and need and to get out of the shop every now and then!

The Fuzz Show 2017

'Pierrot's Nightmare' exhibited at NAMM 2017

Spalt Exhibition stand at The Holy Grail Show 2016.

BM: Your guitars are such exquisite works of art and we have seen some amazing instruments unveiled this year. What are your favourite materials to work with?

MS: Well, first, of course, all sorts of wood, from traditional ones like Mahogany and Maple, to others not often seen in instruments.  Since I’m not interested in replicating some given tone, I also use nontraditional materials, like aluminum and resin.  The combination of these various materials can yield great tone, unique and rich.  The art aspect also brings in a lot of objects, reclaimed materials, just weird stuff sometimes, and the trick is to bring it all together in a package that becomes a playable instrument, one that sounds good and looks great.  Over the years I have gained some experience in how various materials play together and what comes out of certain mixes.I like my instruments to open up new paths and participate in the creation of new soundscapes - the primary purpose as musical instrument is always at the core of these pieces.  The electric guitar is really a wonderful canvas, both in visual and tonal terms - there’s a lot of freedom, a lot of possibilities you don’t have with other types of instruments.   Art is now generally defined as something that you can’t use in a practical way - then it’s craft.  But historically art was not divorced from use - it’s a fairly new idea, one I do not agree with.  I see my guitars both as instruments, enabling someone to express their art, as well as art pieces in and of themselves.  Both the more painterly approach in the Totem series and the sculptural aspects of the hybrid series are central elements of my work.  

The incredible APEX Q601 036

The wonderful APEX Q701 022 - Poplar Burl/figured Walnut body wings

BM:  What are you currently working on? 

MS:  I am working on some large pieces for the upcoming NAMM show, expanding on the concept realised with the “Frankenstein’s Music Machine” I exhibited last year in L.A.  These are installation pieces, where the instrument is part of a larger object - I call these the “Guitar Shrines” - something you can display in your living room or in a gallery as art object containing a guitar and sometimes an amp.  It’s been brewing for a while now and I think these will be very exciting pieces, each one a little world unto themselves - but you’ll have to wait for the unveiling…  

BM: We have just taken delivery off three stunning Spalt Instruments. Can you tell us a little bit about the very beautiful ‘Babe's Fun House’ we now have available here at TNAG? 

MS: “Babe’s Fun House” is part of the Michael Spalt Art Series - exclusive top of the line guitars that are part of a larger storyline. In this case, I took inspiration from little bisque dolls I found at local flea markets and thrift shops.  They were common toys in the 18th and 19th century, with little dresses and some with little wigs.  Now you find them mostly naked and bald, beautiful little disturbing figures.  One series of these dolls became “Babe”, a character going through various adventures and situations.  It started out with the “Babe in the Woods” guitar, where, on her way through the forest, Babe was threatened by monsters lurking in the foliage.  This one has a small vintage toy carousel operated by Babe, stuck in the machinery below.  The guitar is a semi-hollow construction with a longer scale, 27”.  I like that scale as it gives a rich, deep tone, and strung with 11’s the string tension is very comfortable while taking advantage of the additional volume thicker strings provide.  It’s got a double coil in the neck which can be mixed with the piezo in the bridge - a monster of tonal possibilities!  It does take a while to explore all the things you can do with this guitar, but the reward is a whole new repertoire of sounds!

The incredible 'Babe's Fun House' .... what a masterpiece.

BM: We had a great chat about the growth of female luthiers and players over the past few years. Can you tell us more about the female EGB luthiers making waves in our industry?

MS: It is a sad fact that there are relatively few female luthiers out there.  Even so, quite a few of them are among the best guitar makers around, like Linda Manzer or Kathy Wingert.  

In general, when you look at it the guitar world now is pretty much male dominated.  But we’ve noticed that lately there are more female players and there is more interest also in guitar making among women.  In fact, Fender recently did some research and found that about half of guitar buyers now are women - this came as a big surprise to a lot of the industry.  One of the reasons for this may be that they don’t seem to frequent stores or shows, but prefer to buy their instruments online.  That’s my guess as to why they are not so visible to guitar makers and dealers.  But if you take a look at the various female guitarist social media networks it’s totally different picture.  So there is something happening there…  

To me it is a great thing - women bring a different approach to, and have a different take on the guitar.  It is a fresh wind blowing.   As EGB we want to support this, encourage female players to engage with the boutique guitar scene and to explore what we can offer - as well as encourage women interested in making guitars to become luthiers.  For the guitar to thrive and to develop new impulses and new approaches are vital - the old guitar gods and icons have been slowly fading away and new voices and ideas are taking their place.  There’s been a slew of media reports on the death of the electric guitar - to which I can only say:  La guitare est mort, vive la guitare!  Once again the guitar is shedding its skin… 

BM: Do you have anything exciting planned for 2018?

MS: It’s a busy year - first, NAMM, then the next Holy Grail, and on and on it seems. Getting the 'Player' series off the ground, working on the shrine concept, making guitars, doing shows…  it looks like it’s going to be a busy year!

Sketches of Michael's 2017 Winter NAMM booth designs.

BM: How are the plans for the next Holy Grail coming along?

MS: Great actually - we have moved the date to spring, as fall was getting too crowded with other events, and also Berlin in May is much nicer than in October!  So there was no show in 2017.  This gave us some additional time to work on making this next edition even better and more interesting.  We’ll have the exhibitor roster out soon - as usual the creme de la creme of international makers will mingle with newcomers and the occasional oddball (like me).  The program will be expanded and we also have some special events coming up, like the “EGB Community Build” project presentation - three groups of luthiers are making a bass, an acoustic, and an electric for three young musicians who will present these instruments at the show.  It started during the last EGB Symposium in June where the teams got together with the musicians and planned the instruments. During the next months the instruments are going to travel from luthier to luthier across Europe, each one making a part, all the way to completion for presentation at the show.  this is being documented and so you can see how an instrument gets made, from concept through the various stages, peeking into the various luthier’s workshops, seeing how they collaborate and at the end you’ll have the concert!  It’s going to be one to the highlights of the show!

The European Guitar Builders (EGB) at this years 'Guitar Summit' in Mannheim. 

Michael as always it is such an honour to represent your work here at The North American Guitar. The work you do as an artist, a luthier and a champion for our industry with the EGB is incredible.

As usual, Ben, a pleasure!

Our inspiring friend Michael Spalt of Spalt Instruments. 

For more information on Spalt Instruments, both in stock now and incoming, please click here.

Comments

Ben Montague

Great, articulate interview with a fine, fine luthier

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