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Talking Guitar: Michael Bashkin of Bashkin Guitars

Michael Bashkin is hands down one of the nicest guys you are likely to meet. His gentle manner mysteriously hides the genius within, and his personality shines through on the utterly mindblowing instruments he builds.

Following a meeting at the NAMM show where we spec'd out our next Bashkin builds, we recently spoke to Michael to find out more about how these guitars are shaping up.

Ben Montague: Hi Michael, How are you! Tell our readers what you have been up to recently?

Michael Bashkin:   Hi Ben.  It's been a busy year so far and I just got back from the NAMM show where I recorded several interviews for my guitar podcast series, met with suppliers, sought out new items for my guitars and of course witnessed a lot of inspiring guitars of all kinds.  I also just completed a few builds and am getting ready to start on the next several guitars which include the 4 guitars for TNAG.  And if that's not enough I am working on a new website.

BM: For those readers who don’t know the history of Bashkin Guitars and your journey as a luthier can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in the industry?

MB: I started out post-high school with my sights set on becoming a  professional photographer and worked in several commercial studios in NYC.  After awhile I wanted a change of scenery so I moved out the to the Rocky Mountains to continue college as an art major with an emphasis in photography.  It was during this time that my interests shifted to Forestry which occupied me for the next several years and culminated in a graduate degree in forestry and a job as Soil Scientist for the US Forest Service.  All the while I was an avid albeit average guitar player.  One day I went to have my guitar worked on and took a look at all the tools and guitars in the shop and the proverbial light bulb went off and I just knew I wanted to start working on guitars.  I spent while doing repairs in a local music store and started building guitars in the little free time I had.  Eventually, I left my Forestry job to work on guitars full-time and that was over 20 years ago.

Bashkin Multi-Scale OM Cutaway - Honduran Rosewood.

Bashkin Multi-Scale SJ Cutaway - Honduran Mahogany.

BM:  Can you please describe the Bashkin sound?

MB:  Every Bashkin guitar I want to be incredibly responsive and continue to sonically accelerate with more energy input from the player.  Within that my preferences are for a guitar with crisp articulate bass with a brassy attack.  On the mids and high end, I want more information around the note and more even mix of the fundamental and overtone series.  Another way to think about it a dry vintage tone on the low end and a more contemporary rich tone on the highs and mids.

Here is our good friend Michael Watts demonstrating our previous sold OM Cutaway in Honduran Rosewood...


BM: When searching for a specific tone from an instrument what qualities do you look for in a particular set of wood?

MB:   There is a lot of tapping, flexing and listening to the wood and every piece has its own intrinsic leanings towards a particular best sound it can produce.  So through a combination of experience and measurements, it is about finding the right piece of wood for a guitar and the player.  If I want a guitar with a complex tone with a fast attack I tend to gravitate to the lower density spruces like Engelmann or Italian spruce.   If I want something that has a stronger fundamental and more headroom I prefer the higher density spruces like ADK or Carpathian.  Then once I have chosen the top I search for the right back and side match.  The back and sides woods colour the tone of the top and some too much high degree than other.   It all starts with the sound I am trying to achieve and which woods are the best fit for that guitar. 

BM: You feel very strongly (as do we here at The North American Guitar), about the sustainability of woods in our industry. Tells us a little about alternative wood options you like working with and their individual qualities?

MB:  There are so many great alternative tonewoods that are available to builders today.  I think the bottom line is that the traditional woods that builders and players cherish are becoming more legally restricted, more expensive and lower quality.  So I think it is incumbent on and prudent of guitar makers to lead the market towards the use of non-traditional tonewoods and alternative materials.  We can show that there are viable options to the growing scarcity of traditional woods.  One wood that I am particularly interested in is Indian Bay Laurel.  Which is one of the woods I am using for the guitars coming to TNAG this year.  It's a  really nice looking dark coloured wood and one could mistake it for a rosewood.  Indian Bay Laurel has a great return of energy and some other nice physical properties.   I think it will make a great guitar and I am excited to build with it.

TNAG's set of Indian Bay Laurel for our SJ, Cutaway –serial # 154.

BM: You have been classed as one of the world finest guitar builder, how does it feel to hear peers and collectors speaking so highly of your work?

MB:  It's an incredible compliment to have your work recognized and appreciated.   I have dedicated myself to the craft of guitar building and always strive for improvement since I started.  And if players and builders appreciate the work then it's incredibly satisfying and also humbling to hear.  it's really nice to have my guitars played all over the world and now nice to have younger guitar makers tell me that some of my designs and methods have inspired them

BM: Every luthier has their own magical techniques for creating their identity of sound. What is your approach to voicing your guitars?

MB:  I'm sure my approach to voicing share many similarities with other builders and of course a few differences. Perhaps unlike some other builders, I don't ascribe to the lighter is better. I tend to leave more wood in the guitar. I feel the wood imparts certain information into the tone that I like to hear in my guitars. If there is not enough wood the tone can become and unfocused and I hear more of the strings than the wood.  I want to hear the right mix of both. 

BM: Your headstock and end graph work are some of the most talked about in the industry. Just talk us through the torched wood process.

MB  The torched wood process is something I have been doing for quite awhile and it a technique that is borrowed from a type of woodworking called marquetry.  I take the pieces off and put them in hot sand that has a temperature gradient and it gives this wonderful shading effect.  Some species work much better than others and that the process can even bring out colours and figure in the wood you would not see otherwise.  It can be a bit of a finicky technique and it's easy to overdo it.  Also as I heat the wood the heat can distort the shape so often it takes several tries to get the right shading effect and shape for an inlay.

 Cocobolo endgraft with Holly lines.

Burl and Koa endgraft, bound in Koa (see more of this guitar in Legacy Series)

Rosewood and Burl endgraft, bound in Ebony

Indian Rosewood headstock overlay segmented in leaf-vein pattern, bound in Ebony with Gold and Snakewood Waverly tuners.

Art Deco style Redwood Burl headstock overlay bound in Ebony with nickel Waverly tuners.

BM: In a bit of detail can you please describe your bracing structure?

MB:  I've borrowed from a bit of the old and a bit of the new. I use a modified traditional x brace pattern and earlier in my career I studied voicing with Ervin Somogyi and some of those contemporary ideas are in their as well.  It's also not a static design and each guitar is a little different depending on the top and back.

BM: This is a classic question we like to ask all our Luthiers….What are your favourite materials to work with? 

MB:  I'm a big fan of spruce and I like the stiffer spruces like ADK, Swiss and Carpathian. For b/s I really like mahogany guitars for the dry woody tone

BM: We have 4 outstanding instruments on their way to our London showroom this year. Tell us a little bit more about the SJ’s and OM’s we have coming in. 

MB:  Let's start with the two OMs.  One has a Carpathian spruce top coupled with a new tonewood I am really excited about called Katalox.  Its common name is Mexican ebony which automatically gives you some idea of its properties;  dense with rosewood like tonal qualities.  It will have nice overtone component coupled with the clarity and snap from the Carpathian spruce top, and some nice visual accents that you and I have discussed.  The second OM is also a Carpathian top and beautiful set of flamed European Maple, but nothing flashy on the aesthetic end.  This is a guitar I'm am going to try and say the most with the least amount of visual information in a more classic simple design.   Both these guitars will also have a new symmetrical bridge design. 

TNAG's set of Katalox for our incoming OM.

The first SJ is with Indian Bay Laurel and again Carpathian spruce top.  You can tell I like this wood a lot!  The Indian Bay Laurel is one of the new alternative tone woods I am excited about using and getting out there is the guitar world.  The final guitar is a multi-scale SJ  cutaway with an arm bevel, and Swiss moon spruce top over a really old set of Mahogany back and sides.  This guitar will have several unique inlay designs that will incorporate the torched burl elements we discussed earlier.

Here the incoming Bashkin Guitars in more detail:

Bashkin OM European Flamed Maple / Carpathian Spruce - £7,450.00.

Serial # 152, 2018.

  • Top - Carpathian Spruce 
  • Back and sides - European Flamed Maple
  • Neck - Honduran Mahogany
  • Headstock overlay - Ebony bound in Ebony with maple veneer line inlays
  • Back of headstock - Ebony
  • Binding - Ebony with Maple side purflings
  • Purfling - Santos with Holly veneers 
  • Rosette - Burled woods
  • Bracing - Adirondack spruce top, Sitka spruce back
  • End graft - Ebony
  • Kerfing - Spanish Cedar 
  • Tuners - Waverly’s - butterbean/nickel
  • Frets - Medium (.080x.040")/ hemispherical ends
  • Bridge plate - Maple
  • Nut/saddle - Bone 
  • Bracing/bridge glue - Hot hide glue
  • Bridge pins - Ebony
  • Fret markers - Amber inlays
  • Truss-rod - Stainless steel - 2 way 
  • Bridge - Ebony
  • Fretboard - Ebony bound in Ebony 
  • Nut width/saddle width - 1.75” / 2.25”
  • Scale - 25.4”
  • Dimensions - Lower bout 15.1”, Waist 9.1”, Upper Bout 11.1”
  • Depth at tail/neck: 4. 125”/3.125”
  • Finish - Nitrocellulose lacquer

Bashkin OM Cutaway Acoustic Guitar - Katalox / Carpathian Spruce - £8,750.00

Serial # 151, 2018. 

  • Top - Carpathian Spruce 
  • Back and sides - Katalox
  • Neck - Honduran Mahogany
  • Headstock overlay - Katalox bound in Ebony 
  • Back of headstock - Katalox
  • Binding - Ebony with Maple side purflings
  • Purfling - Santos with Holly veneers 
  • Rosette - Burled woods
  • Bracing - Adirondack spruce top, Sitka spruce back
  • End graft - Ebony
  • Kerfing - Spanish Cedar 
  • Tuners - Waverly’s - butterbean/nickel
  • Frets - Medium (.080x.040")/ hemispherical ends
  • Bridge plate - Maple
  • Nut/saddle - Bone 
  • Bracing/bridge glue - Hot hide glue
  • Bridge pins - Ebony
  • Fret markers - Amber inlays
  • Truss-rod - Stainless steel - 2 way 
  • Bridge - Ebony
  • Fretboard - Ebony bound in Ebony 
  • Nut width/saddle width 1.75” / 2.25”
  • Scale - 25.4”
  • Dimensions - Lower bout 15.1”, Waist 9.1”, Upper Bout 11.1”
  • Depth at tail/neck: 4. 125”/3.125”
  • Finish - Nitrocellulose lacquer

Bashkin SJ Fan Fret Cutaway Acoustic Guitar - Honduran Mahogany / Swiss Moon spruce - £11,250.00

Serial # 150

  • Top: Swiss Moon spruce
  • Back and Sides: Honduran Mahogany
  • Neck: Honduran Mahogany
  • Headstock Overlay: Rosewood bound in Rosewood with inlay
  • Back of Headstock: Rosewood
  • Binding: Rosewood with Holly and Rosewood side purflings
  • Purfling: Rosewood with veneers
  • Rosette: Torched and segmented burl
  • Bracing: Adirondack spruce top, Sitka spruce back
  • End Graft: Mahogany/Burl and Holly veneer
  • Kerfing: Solid Spanish Cedar with Rosewood
  • Tuners: Waverley gold with Ebony knobs
  • Back Xbrace Cap: Rosewood
  • Bridge Plate: Rosewood
  • Nut/Saddle: Bone
  • Bracing/Bridge Glue: Hot hide glue
  • Bridge Pins: Ebony/Abalone dot
  • Fret Markers: Buffalo horn inlays
  • Truss-rod: 2 way stainless steel
  • Bridge: Ebony
  • Fretboard: Ebony bound in Ebony
  • Nut width/Waddle width: 1.75 / 2.31
  • Multiscale: 26-25.4
  • Dimensions: Lower bout 16, Waist 9.9, Upper Bout 11.9
  • Depth at tail/neck: 4. 2/3.25
  • Finish: Nitrocellulose lacquer

Bashkin SJ Cutaway Acoustic Guitar - Indian Bay Laurel / Carpathian -  £7,950.00

serial # 153, 2018. 

  • Top - Carpathian Spruce 
  • Back and sides - Indian Bay Laurel
  • Neck - Honduran Mahogany
  • Headstock overlay - Ebony bound in Ebony 
  • Back of headstock - Ebony
  • Binding - Ebony with Maple side purflings
  • Purfling - Santos with Holly veneers 
  • Rosette - Burled woods
  • Bracing - Adirondack spruce top, Sitka spruce back
  • End graft - Ebony bound in Ebony
  • Kerfing - Spanish Cedar 
  • Tuners - Waverly’s - butterbean/nickel
  • Frets - Medium (.080x.040")/ hemispherical ends
  • Bridge plate - Maple
  • Nut/saddle - Bone 
  • Bracing/bridge glue - Hot hide glue
  • Bridge pins - Ebony
  • Fret markers - Amber inlays
  • Truss-rod - Stainless steel - 2 way 
  • Bridge - Ebony
  • Fretboard - Ebony bound in Ebony 
  • Nut width/saddle width - 1.75” / 2.25”
  • Scale - 25.4”
  • Dimensions - Lower bout 16”, Waist 9.9”, Upper Bout 11.9”
  • Depth at tail/neck: 4. 25”/3.5”
  • Finish - Nitrocellulose lacquer

BM: How do you deal with obstacles in the build process? 

Overcoming obstacles is just part of making guitars and I don't know of any builders who has not faced some real challenges at one point, and more realistically at several points. For me I always make myself take the long view and then it is obvious what needs to happen to overcome some issue with a build.  You just have to put your head down, be resilient, take the long, and know that sometimes things don't work out. Like a particular set of wood and that you are really enamoured with only to find out it has some unrecoverable defect like a pitch pocket late in the build process.  There is nothing left to do, take a deep breath and start over.

BM: What plans do you have for 2018 and beyond?

MB: I've got several articles coming out in the Guild of American Luthiers magazine based on a workshop and lecture I gave at the last convention, and am authoring a meet the maker article with my long-time friend and great guitar builder Harry Fleishman for the same publication. I'll continue to produce my monthly podcast for the Fretboard Journal. I've got some really great guest lined up for the coming year.  There are of course a lot of guitars to make and that is going to occupy most of my time.  I also do repairs and restorations out of my shop with the assistance of some budding luthiers.  As a hobby, I started playing the bass guitar and hopefully can start the power trio I have been dreaming of since high school.  Finally, I hope to find myself in the UK and at TNAG later this year with several new guitars.

BM: Thank you, Michael. It is such an honour to represent your stunning guitars and we can’s wait to receive our guitars this year! Ben

For more information on Bashkin Guitars and these absolutely stunning incoming OMs & SJs please contact us on 0207 835 5597 or via email.

Have a great weekend.

Ben

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