Talking Guitar: The Gerber Sound
We are extremely excited to be bringing into the showroom some stunning new instruments from Gerber Guitars. To celebrate, we decided to catch up with the man behind the wood and steel...
BM: Hi Ryan, Welcome to The North American Guitar! Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your journey as a luthier.
RG: Thank you to The North American Guitar team for bringing me on board! We first met at the Memphis International Guitar Festival back in 2015, and it's a privilege to now get the opportunity to be a part of your shop. My journey as a luthier started with falling in love with the acoustic guitar. I began playing when I entered university, and started with the electric guitar, learning Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan tunes. This went on for a few years until I bought my first nice acoustic guitar, a Larrivee LV09.
The electric guitar quickly became confined to the closet, and the acoustic guitar caught my attention in a completely new way. I went on for the next several years, spending countless hours learning fingerstyle arrangements and writing my own songs. This bond with the acoustic guitar is what compelled me to try my hand at actually making one for myself, just for fun of course. Well, as you can imagine, that first guitar took over a year to finish, with very limited tools and resources, but it was well worth it. I'll never forget the excitement of hearing the first notes come from that guitar. It was enough to make me want to try again, and soon.
My second guitar turned out considerably nicer in terms of fit and finish, and at the time I was proud enough of my work that I took it to Nashville where I had the otherworldly experience of meeting Phil Keaggy, my guitar hero, as well as Robin at the Guitar Gallery. The Phil Keaggy story is for another time, but it certainly gave me the inspiration to continue taking steps towards learning the craft of lutherie.
Robin was also very supportive and told me that the guitar was very nice, but that I should come back after finishing 10 guitars. So I went home from Nashville, elated to have had my guitar in the hands of Phil Keaggy, and ready to get started on those next ten guitars. The rest of my story is a story of sacrifice on the part of my lovely wife, who has encouraged me and embraced my desire to make guitar making a vocation, and hard work.
I am self-taught in a way, albeit with the help of the many books written by masters of the craft, and the vast amount of information available online, close by my side. By nature, I am a problem solver, and I enjoy teaching myself how to do things. I'm perhaps a little stubborn in that way, and it's not always a good quality to have. But it has been an incredibly inspiring, enjoyable experience to dive into the mysterious world of guitar making, and I hope to be able to continue the path for many years to come.
BM: What is the Gerber Guitars sound?
RG: Because I come from a fingerstyle players background, my desire is to make a guitar that has power to sing with every note. In terms of balance and spectrum of sound, my guitars have a bass response that is balanced and not too loose or overpowering, strong trebles, and a mid-range that is present but comfortable. As I am making a guitar, I think of myself creating a living, breathing creature that is eager to respond and come alive in a musical way.
BM: I have read in many places you believe in the ‘active back’ approach to sounding your guitars. Can you elaborate?
RG: I believe that every part of the guitar, including the back, has the opportunity to contribute to the musicality of the instrument. I voice the back in much the same way that I voice the soundboard. I don't simply glue braces to the back which are cut out to a certain dimension, or made to look a certain way. Instead, each brace is carved to achieve harmony in the structure as a whole, and respond with a strong bell-like tone. It's also important that the back has a fundamental response that is a certain interval from the fundamental tone of the top.
BM: Can you describe your bracing structure a little?
RG: I have tried several different combinations of bracing on the soundboard over the years. Being self taught, requires trial and error, and a little risk. But what I have settled on is a traditional 'X' brace, with a lattice bracing pattern in the lower bout. The main braces are mostly tapered, with only a slight amount of scalloping to deepen the response. My goal is to build a soundboard with maximum stiffness to weight ratio, which maximises volume and responsiveness. So braces are thin, but not too tall, and have concave sides which are carved by hand with a large pattern makers gouge. The soundboard is very evenly supported. Backs are always ladder braced in the traditional manner.
BM: What are your favourite materials to work with?
RG: Swiss Moon Spruce is my favourite soundboard material at the moment. Everything about it makes it a wonderful choice for a soundboard for a responsive guitar. The stiffness to weight ratio is very good, it's light weight, but not too light, and it's consistent from top to top. I also like the even colour, and fine textured grain lines. For back and sides, that's a little harder, because there are so many amazing woods, some more in demand than others.
Unfortunately, not all woods which have great physical and aesthetic potential for guitar tonewood have the demand that they should, or possibly could. With ever strengthening legal restrictions on popular woods, that could soon change. So my favourite? That's too hard to say, but it would probably be something with great working properties, not too oily, not too porous, has great tonal qualities, liveness to the sound, and perfect quartersawn grain all the way across. I always prefer straight quartersawn backs over the more figured slab sawn examples that are often seen. I'm a bit more traditional in that sense.
BM: We have two outstanding guitars on their way to our showroom in London. Tell us a little bit more about the RL15 and the RL15+ models?
RG: Yes, I'm very excited about these two guitars! I picked out the nicest sets of Swiss Moon Spruce, Cuban Mahogany, and Macassar Ebony that I had in stock for both guitars. It was nice to have creative freedom in the design of these guitars, and I think that it lead to some nice design elements. Especially on the Cuban mahogany guitar, there are some subtle design elements that you may not notice at first glance, but hopefully convey upon closer inspection. Both guitars are representative of what I hope to achieve in any given guitar.
BM: You are unveiling our guitars at the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. Are you excited about the show and what else will you be exhibiting?
RG: I'm beyond excited for the show! This will be my second showcase event. There isn't anything quite like being in a room with so many world class instruments, and great people. If nothing else, even if I don't sell a guitar, the inspiration that is gained is worth the price of admission. I will be showing both guitars which will be heading to TNAG, and hopefully, a third guitar which will be an RL15+ model with beautiful Cocobolo back and sides, Swiss Moon Spruce top, and some interesting carved elements.
BM: What plans do you have for 2018 and beyond?
RG: Immediate plans for 2018 include moving into a new shop with a little more space - a welcomed change! But moving is a chore and I'll be happy to be done with it after it's over. I'm greatly looking forward to developing my collaborative relationship with TNAG and seeing what guitars may come from it.
I hope to sneak in a few non traditional builds with different woods, and maybe even find the time to try a few ideas that have been mulling in my head for the past couple of years, but who knows if I will find the time. I don't know what 2018 will bring, but I'm grateful to be along for the ride.
Thank you so much for your time Ryan, we are so excited to represent your incredible instruments. Watch this space for a further interview with Ryan from this year's Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase.