Talking Guitar: Loïc Bortot of Bouchereau Guitars
We were delighted to catch up with Bouchereau Guitars luthier Loïc Bortot to find out more about his lutherie journey and the build process of our first two Bouchereau guitars that we received from him.
TNAG's Richard Poll: Hi Loïc, How are you? 2020 has been a very strange year. How has it been for you?
Loïc Bortot: Hi Richard, I am doing great. Thank you for having me! 2020 has been a strange year indeed. Even if my day to day life hasn’t been drastically troubled, the biggest upset 2020 brought me (and probably many other builders), is the cancellation of all the guitar shows. At this point, guitar shows have become my bread and butter with regards to reaching new clients, getting orders on the table and bonding with fellow builders and the guitar community overall. Consequently, my building schedule has lightened quite a bit. Fortunately, I still have plenty of projects to come on the bench.
Despite this setback, 2020 also brought great opportunities. The extra time in my schedule gave me the chance to improve my workshop and procedures quite substantially, as well as letting me put more time in non-commissioned extra special guitar projects. So, stay tuned!
For those readers who don’t know the history of Bouchereau Guitars and your journey as a luthier, can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the industry?
It all began in 2011, when I started a 3 years training at the Quebec City National Lutherie School. There, I learned all the basics I needed to be able to start in the industry, from computer assisted design to marketing, accounting, and of course guitar building. Right after my graduation in the summer 2014, I started renting a bench in a shared workshop in downtown Quebec City. It was at this time that the Bouchereau brand was born, proudly wearing my mother’s maiden name. Besides building guitars, I was also employed as a guitar tech in a big guitar shop in Quebec, which was a great experience for me. A year later in summer 2015, I found a nice place to set my own workshop, where I have been working up to this day.
RP: You were born in France, and are now based in Quebec, Canada. How did growing up in France, and moving to Canada, influence you as a guitarist and then as you became a luthier?
LB: There is a sentence I like to tell people sometimes, which is: “Many guitar builders are failed rock stars”. This statement applies to me quite well. In fact, like a lot of my peers, I started playing guitars before building them. I started playing when I was about 15 and got to a decent enough level that allowed me to play with other people a couple years later. We were playing mostly old school rock’n’roll, blues, folk, and a bit of prog. At the time I was inspired, thanks to my dad, by the great bands that lulled my childhood: Pink Floyd, The Doors, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, etc. Those were the influences that guided my first steps as a player. At the time, I also spent many evenings roaming the open mic events happening weekly in Bordeaux (3 or 4 every week). There was a tiny but warm and welcoming community of people who were participating in every event. It opened my musical horizons quite a lot. Good times! This is as close as I ever got to being a stage guitarist, but I think I would never have been patient enough to truly try to make a living out of music.
Although I never had any experience in woodworking, by the age of 22, I was so in love with the guitar that I figured I would love to learn how to build them. It’s hard to describe, but I had the deep feeling that it could be my true vocation. I was pretty open-minded about where I had to go to learn the basics of guitar building. Unfortunately (but maybe for the best), there are very few training or apprenticeships offered in France, so after a long research for different guitar making courses all around the world, I applied for the National Lutherie School of Quebec City. There were many advantages to go for this particular school and I had been attracted to this region for a long time. So, I landed in Canada in 2011, and my life has been mainly focused around guitar building ever since. Today, I am still playing the guitar of course, and I have finally been able to improve my finger style technique in the last 3 or 4 years. Although playing is mainly a hobby for me, it is also very important as a builder to be able to see my guitars from a player’s perspective, and to take them for a test drive, especially in finger style. I also started playing the piano (a lot of it) about 3 years ago.
RP: How would you describe the Bouchereau ‘sound'?
LB: It is paramount for a builder, to be able to determine the sound they are looking for, and like many aspects of guitar building, you have to take inspiration from the greats. In my case, my luthier’s ear was greatly influenced by Don Ross’s PS15 album, which is a gem, Antoine Dufour rocking his Beauregard guitar is also at the top of the list, among Jon Gomm, Justin St. Pierre, Carl Tosten and many others. I am also quite fond of guitar demos made by various guitar dealers around the world. I am thinking about Will McNicol, Stuart Ryan, Dustin Furlow, among others, who make a remarkable job at showing what a guitar is capable of, and whose demos are fascinating to listen to from a builder’s stand point.
Bouchereau guitars are primarily oriented toward fingerstyle playing. Although I like to keep them pretty versatile, I love a guitar that has a complex and full tone. I give a lot of importance to balance between low, mid and high range, especially for small to mid-sized guitars like the Mistral or MJ models, which can be challenging. I like when a guitar has a deep, grumbly bass response when striking a full chord; and a complex mid to treble response, full of overtones. Even if they are not primarily intended for that, I like my guitars to be able to deliver in pick strumming as well. At the end of the day, it also comes down to my client’s preferences, and I am glad when someone asks me to tweak things a little bit, so the guitar fits perfectly their expectations.
RP: Your guitars are wonderfully modern variations on traditional models, how would you describe your approach to lutherie?
LB: Thank you, you are right, my approach is very much at the crossroads between tradition and modernity. It would be very presumptuous to think one can entirely reinvent an instrument, without taking in account the centuries of evolution that occurred before them. However, we are living an utterly exciting time for guitar making. It is quite clear that the instrument keeps evolving more and more, with luthiers being at the forefront. Today, there is so many talented builders out there, each one bringing their own approach and pushing the boundaries. It contributes to making this business very challenging, and also very thrilling. I think my work falls within this trend. Almost every model in my lineup is a modern take on traditional models.
As your question calls for a long answer, let me describe my approach in more detail:
To obtain the sound I described in the previous question, I need to build my guitars in a certain way. For the top, my approach is mainly focused on stiffness to weight ratio. I try to obtain light tops that are also stiff enough to last for decades. I also want the back of my guitars to be responsive and to work in relation with the top. Trough out the process of building a guitar, I note every single data I can gather such as, top/back/box frequencies at different stages, top deflection, weight, wood density, thicknesses, etc. Now I am starting to have a pretty good database, which helps me to get the next guitars even better. I combine this scientific side with a more intuitive and sensitive approach. So, every time I build a guitar, I kind of train myself feeling the top stiffness and listening to the tap tone, to try to develop my ability to feel my work in a more sensitive way. The other more structural elements of my guitars are built to last. I build fairly heavy mahogany scarf jointed necks, reinforced with carbon fiber and a truss rod, which helps for sustain. I also want the side rim of my guitars to be very stiff, so I make my own solid laminated linings. My neck assembly method is a bolted tenon mortise joint. I put a solid mahogany block inside the box under the fretboard, so the neck will never wrap down into the top.
In terms of aesthetics, I like sobriety, but I also like complex and fine details, so I try to find a balance between both. When I build a guitar, I kind of choose an aesthetic theme for it. Most of the time, its complexity depends on my client’s wishes. I generally prefer going with few different wood species on a guitar to remain within the same color scheme, and I love to explore on what I can do with the wood, just by cutting it or arranging it in different ways. My visual signature has been evolving quickly during my first 2 or 3 years of activity. I think it is pretty defined right now, but I will keep it evolving for my entire career. I have to confess, I really love spending hours making tricky aesthetic features, inlays, rosettes, etc.
To conclude on this, I would say that one of the most exciting thing for me as a builder is that it is an endless learning process. Many builders have told me, even after 30 plus years of experience, that they are still discovering things. I think it is necessary to keep the passion alive.
RP: When searching for a specific tone from an instrument, what qualities do you look for in a particular set of wood?
LB: That is a great question! Firstly, I think that the structural and sound producing wood parts of the instrument should be as quarter sawn and straight grained as possible. The set of cocobolo that is on the MJ.C you have in inventory at the moment, is a good example of what I consider to be a perfect set of wood. It is not always easy to source wood produced especially for instrument making. It requires particular attention to harvesting and drying, which of course increases the costs, but makes a lot of difference. Working with a properly harvested tonewood matters especially for the guitar top, of which structural and acoustic role is crucial. In Canada, I work a lot with logger extraordinaire Maurice Roy, who in my opinion, produces the best Sitka spruce and Red Cedar on the market. I am currently working on my connections in Europe to source high quality European spruce.
Then of course, different wood species will have different tonal properties, which can be used to tilt things a little toward the result you are looking for. It is when you pay close attention to this, that you realise wood is a very complex material. You can find unexpected tonal qualities in tonewood that wouldn’t seem to be the greatest on paper. A good example of this for me would be Sitka spruce. Despite being one of the heaviest spruce species, it is also one of the best in terms of acoustic behavior, and it can produce a nice bassy warm tone when worked properly. Red cedar tends to be very rich and responsive, but has to be worked very carefully, to be able to support string tension over the years. European spruce also has amazing properties, comparable to Engelmann spruce, which allows a very dynamic response and sparkling trebles. The back and sides wood also plays a significant role. Although, I see it more like a complement to the tonal behavior of the top, it surely does add some color and a crucial backup to the sound overall.
When it comes to choosing a particular tonewood for a guitar, all these elements have to be considered, on top of all the other aspects that can affect your choice or your client’s. So, tonal properties, aesthetic, weight, cost, etc. All of these matter. But what matters most at the end, is how the luthier will be able to get the best out of the material they are working with.
RP: You offer a variety of models, which one would you say is your favourite as a guitarist?
LB: I truly have a crush on my Mini-Jumbo (MJ) model, which is the most recent in my lineup. It is the exact shape of my Jumbo (Maelstrom) model shrank to the size of an OM. It makes for a pretty small and ergonomic body with the round and smooth lines of a Jumbo model. Very suitable for a balanced and complex tone, perfect for finger style, I love it!
RP: This is a question we like to ask all our luthiers. What are your favourite materials to work with?
LB: Great question again. I love working with Sitka spruce, such a great top tonewood, with amazing tonal and structural properties. I love working with pretty much all Rosewood species (I am even getting used to Cocobolo!). I got the chance of working on a Brazilian Rosewood commission a couple of years ago, amazing material to work with. I love working with Mahogany for the necks, no question why it is one of the most sought after material for the task. I love working with quilted Sapele, quite an underrated tonewood, but it has good acoustic properties, looks amazing and smells really good (which is a considerable feature for a luthier). I am also slowly starting to enjoy maple.
RP: How do you deal with obstacles in the build process?
LB: The building process of a guitar is a succession of steps that lead to a completed instrument. Each step can and has to be perfected, if you want to improve the efficiency, and the overall quality of your work. This is why I spend many hours making new jigs, fixtures, customizing tools, etc. In terms of design, the guitar is a fascinating thing, which carries several acoustic, structural, ergonomic and aesthetic challenges. These design problematics have been addressed in various ways by luthiers over the years, and the answers to these challenges keep improving.
There are elements in my design that you will not find in a traditionally crafted guitar (like for instance a Martin or a Gibson). The most obvious I think would be my raised fingerboard design. I will not go in too much detail about that, but basically the fingerboard elevation replaces the neck angle that is the traditional answer to the neck / body / string architectural problematic. I would also mention the solid linings which improve drastically the side rim rigidity. These are among the answers I found to deal with the obstacles in the building process.
The lutherie community is also very friendly and supportive for the most part. Talking about these challenges with many of my colleagues also helped me to improve my techniques for sure.
RP: Do you get to play your guitars much yourself?
LB: Besides a couple of early guitars I still have around, I don’t really keep any guitar in stock for long. However, I like to keep my newly made instruments to settle for a couple of weeks before shipping them, which gives me some time to explore what they’re capable of. Other than that, I don’t get to play my instruments that much myself.
RP: We recently received our first Bouchereau Guitars from you, the Mistral and the MJ.C, what can you tell us about these instruments and the build process?
LB: These two have been very exciting to build, and having them made especially for TNAG made them even more so. The spec of both guitars is very interesting. It was great to build my very first cutaway variant of my MJ model for you guys, which also features a “squared” arm bevel. A luxurious but classy combo I think. The Mistral, although it features a very simple spec, was also a thrilling build. I think the Indian Rosewood and German spruce combo will always be a winner. I had the pleasure to document the building process of these two guitars in detail for our building thread.
RP: Stuart Ryan expertly demoed the guitars when they arrived with us, how does it make you feel to see and hear your guitars being played?
LB: Stuart has done a masterful job at showing what these two are capable of, as he always does. As a builder, hearing your guitars being played by a master musician like him is one of the best feelings ever. This is also one of the reasons why I miss guitar shows so much. I really enjoy having great musicians taking my guitars for a test drive or for a demo concert. That is always a treat!
RP: What does the rest of 2020 and 2021 have in store for you?
LB: As I said previously, the extra time in my building schedule let by the cancellation of all the shows, allows me to put more time into optimising my workshop and rethinking some procedures. I was fortunate, earlier this year, to receive a governmental subsidy for new equipment, which I am in the process of purchasing and installing at the moment. I am currently finalizing a very special build (probably my most ambitions so far), so stay tuned on my social media channels, more to come very soon. The next big project will be to prepare about 8 necks, 8 bridges and laminating linings for the next builds, which should start by the beginning of winter. My website is also being remade. I am working hard on this at the moment, the brand new Bouchereau guitars website will be up very soon! This is how I see the rest of the cruise towards 2021. As we are still going through uncertain times, I really hope that the guitar shows that have been postponed to next year will be actually happening, and that the crisis we are living is soon enough going to be behind us.
Scroll down below to see our first two Bouchereau Guitars in action:
This MJ.C jumbo model features a wonderful straight-grained Cocobolo set for the back and sides, with a Swiss Moon Spruce top. The Honduran Mahogany neck is topped by an Indian Ebony raised fingerboard. The body has a clear gloss polyurethane finish while the neck has a satin finish.
Loïc gave us his thoughts on this gorgeous build:
"The MJ.C (Mini-jumbo) model comes in quite a fancy spec, with a stunning set of tightly grained Cocobolo Rosewood, paired with high grade Swiss Moon Spruce. It features a Florentine cutaway and a "squared" arm bevel. I think the back didn't need any back strip addition, as the beauty of the wood speaks for itself. The binding for the guitar is black Ebony with thin Maple purfling."
The Mistral is Loïc's OM model and this guitar is made with a gorgeous set of Indian Rosewood for the back and sides, with the sides lined with laminated Spanish Cedar, and a German Spruce top. The Honduran Mahogany neck features a Carbon reinforced, double acting truss rod, and the Indian Ebony fingerboard is raised over the guitar's top.
Loïc Bortot on this Mistral model:
"The Mistral model is basically my version of the OM model, the typical fingerstyle and soloist guitar. It produces a reactive response with complex overtones and harmonics, which allows a very nuanced playing. This guitar is a valuable tool that can feature many ergonomic and aesthetic options. A very versatile instrument that represents the essential pillar of my product lineup. I decided to go with Indian Rosewood for the binding as well, underlined with a subtle maple veneer purfling (as you can see on the back strip)."
If you'd like to know more about these wonderful Bouchereau guitars, then please don't hesitate to reach out by calling us on +1 615-383-8947 or +44 (0) 207 835 5597, or by emailing us here.