Talking Guitar: Jason Kostal - Recreating the MIM Maple Jumbo Model...
Last year we got to spend some one on one time with our dear friend and luthier superstar Jason Kostal at his workshop in Pheonix, Arizona, which was where we started discussing the possibility of bringing in a very special recreation of his Kostal Jumbo Model (built in German Spruce and Highly Figured Maple) that is a permanent feature in one of the most prestigious musical instrument museums in the world The MIM (Musical Instrument Museum).
In this weeks talking guitars we discuss the story of the Jumbo Maple, why Jason loves his Jumbo Model and what he looks for in a set of Maple.
BM: Tell us the story of how the Jumbo Maple found its way into the iconic MIM.
JK: I have been very fortunate to have a few guitars on display in the Musical Instrument Museum, the largest instrument museum in the world. The first one was the very first guitar I made while still an apprentice at Ervin Somogyi's shop. MD#31 was my very first guitar in which I was able to take the ideas in my head and make them a reality. This guitar enjoyed a three year display at the MIM and is now owned by legendary guitarist Todd Rundgren. The second guitar that went on display, which replaced my MD, was my very first OO. This was a prototype for me, and the people at the MIM thought that it would be a great guitar to have on display and once again they asked if I would be willing to display it for a three year stint. While the OO was on display, I built the Maple Jumbo, JC#52. It was a guitar that I had envisioned since my time at Ervin's, and really wanted to make. I didn't have a buyer lined up, but really wanted to make that guitar, and so I built it as a guitar that I would ultimately keep for myself. What makes this guitar so special to me is that it is the first time I tried a lot of new ideas out...a decorative back strip, laminated nut and saddle, as well as a different bracing pattern and radius on the top. The guitar was getting ready to be lacquered and I had just posted pictures of it online for everyone to enjoy when I was walking in the shop, and tripped, and dropped the guitar onto a vice. The vice literally punched a 6 inch diameter hole right through the middle of the back. I had already shown the world what it looked like, and so I had to find a way to finish the guitar. Over the next few months I removed the back from the guitar, and was able to make a new back using a flitch matched set of maple from the same billet while laying out the inlays as precisely as possible. I ended up making the new back almost identical to the first one, and finished the guitar with no one aware of what had happened. When I got the guitar back it exceeded my greatest expectations, and I truly fell in love with that guitar.
I was so proud of it I took it to the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase that year, and multiple people offered to buy it. I repeatedly told everyone it was not for sale, until an opportunity to sell it came for more than it was valued at, and I took the offer. I never forgave myself for selling that guitar though, and a little over a year later the owner of the guitar decided that they wanted to commission a new Brazilian Rosewood guitar from me, and I jokingly offered to build it in trade for the maple Jumbo. He agreed, and I ended up getting the maple guitar back. A few months after the guitar was back in my hands, the MIM approached me about donating a guitar for permanent display. The previous two guitars had been on loan for 3 year blocks of time, and now they wanted something as part of their permanent exhibit. At that time, the Jumbo guitar was the most intricate guitar that I had made to date, and I decided that this was the guitar that I wanted the world to see. When the curator found out he was getting that guitar, he changed his plans, and received approval to build a stand alone display for that guitar which now sits at the entrance to the North America exhibit. The display is all by itself, and allows the attendees to see the guitar on all sides. I am so proud of this instrument, and honored to know that it will be a testament to my work long after I am gone.
BM: What is it you love about your jumbo model?
JK: The Jumbo model for me, when I first decided to make it, was going to be what I used for my 12 string guitars. As my prices increased, I realized that it would be rare for me to actually get an order for a 12 string guitar, and so I decided to offer it as a 6 string model as well. I am glad that I did. The Jumbo is not for everyone as it does have a large lower bout, but the overall playing experience, to me, is like an OM on steroids. You have the balance and articulation of a OM coupled with the power and bass of an MD. It is a beautiful guitar in every way and I love listening to it and playing it when I have one in the shop.
BM: What do you look for when sourcing a great set of maple?
JK: Maple has a pretty consistent tone to it whether it is hard or soft maple, I don't find much deviation between the two so usually when I am sourcing one of these woods, I already have an idea of how it will sound, which allows me to focus on the visual aspects of it. In flamed/ tiger maple, I am looking for close and straight figure that is consistent from edge to edge. With quilted maple, I am looking for symmetry and depth so that when finish is applied it looks like you are truly looking at a group of clouds. Tonally I look for something that has a nice tap tone and a bit of sustain. This is less complex than a rosewood or mahogany, and so I am going to find a piece that I feel I can manipulate within the build process as opposed to relying solely on its inherent tonal properties.
BM: Many people tend to shy away from Maple as a tonewood due to its brightness. Tell us why you love a maple guitar?
JK: Before I studied with Ervin, I believed that every wood had its own inherent properties, and you just had to accept them and be happy with it. Given the sound you were looking for, we would know right away if the right guitar should be made out of rosewood, mahogany or some other wood. This always bothered me though as it made me realize that I had stacks of wood that would now be unusable because it didn't have a certain tap tone to it. Ervin taught me that, while these properties are there, thay can be manipulated to some extent if you understand the build process and how each step affects the outcome of the guitar. Its kind of like if you want to maximize storage in an automobile, you get a pickup truck, and if you want speed you get a sports car, but that is not always the case. A good builder can build you a pickup truck that has speed or a fast car that has more storage than normal. This is how I approach my building process. What I find with woods like Maple, Koa, and a few others, the primary experience people have with these woods is with manufactured guitars... Guild, Taylor, etc. These companies build every single guitar the same way, and so the wood properties color the sound, and you, as the buyer, have to find the one that works for you. With a luthier built instrument, we can manipulate that somewhat, and temper certain qualities and augment or increase others. Maple has a very beautiful sound, which is why you hear it in archtops and violins, but it is also naturally very bright, which does not always lend itself well to steel string guitars and fingerstyle pieces. A luthier, though, can increase the bass response through various construction methods, warm the trebles and balance the mids, and you end up with a beautiful guitar. Maple, like Koa, is not for everyone, but I believe it makes a truly exceptional guitar in the hands of someone that knows and understands the wood and their construction techniques.
BM: If you could build a guitar for yourself today what would you build?
JK: As I get older I tend to gravitate to my smaller bodied guitars with smaller lower bouts and shorter scale lengths. If I were to build a guitar for myself today it would be either an OM or an MDW in Brazilian Rosewood (It really is the benchmark by which we evaluate all instruments, but has become very cost prohibitive) or Honduran Rosewood (my current favorite wood) with a German Spruce top. It would have a cutaway, and probably a Manzer wedge, and would allow me to play pretty much anything in my repertoire without issues. They are incredibly versatile instruments, and I would be happy with one of those two as my sole instrument.
BM: Jason as always great to chat with you and such an honour and a privilege to represent your beautiful guitars and your brand name. We cannot wait to receive this iconic instrument into The North American Guitar showroom.
For more information on this sensational guitar please do not hesitate to contact us on +44 (0) 207 835 5597 or email email@example.com.
Have a wonderful weekend!