The Kostal OM Cutaway in The Tree
Ben Montague: Jason we are incredibly excited to have this guitar coming into TNAG HQ next year. What inspired you to go for an OM rather than a Modified Dreadnought for this build?
Jason Kostal: I love the OM and consider it, and the MDW, my two favourite guitars that I make. The MD and Jumbo are really all about power and projection, and many of my clients need that because they are performing, or want that deep, resonant bass that the larger bodies create, but for me, playing guitar is an intimate experience that I want to enjoy on my own, and the smaller bodied guitars do that perfectly. The OM is balanced, articulate, and warm in all of the ways that I want a guitar to be. It gives me everything I need to enjoy the playing experience. I can play it aggressively or I can play it subtly and hear the nuances of each note in both cases. There is slightly less of a bass response overall, but to my ear that makes the guitar feel more balanced and less overpowering. I like that, and it allows me to focus on my playing and it makes me a better player. The creation of the MDW allowed me to refine this even more, but the OM is still the universally acknowledged guitar for being a multi-purpose instrument really geared towards fingerstyle but capable of everything else you throw at it. If I had to pick a Desert Island guitar, an OM would be the one that I would take with me.
INCOMING - Kostal OM in The TREE Mahogany
BM: In your words, what is it about The Tree Mahogany that you love so much?
JK: What is there NOT to love about this wood. The most important thing to me in a guitar is tone, and the tone that I create is more about the building process and knowledge of the luthier than it is anything else. Wood has some inherent properties that if you know and understand the wood, you can work around it to some degree. I say this because the tone is always the most important thing, but with The Tree, we get to be a little ostentatious for a moment and it is all about the visual beauty. The Tree is quite literally the guitar equivalent of owning a Bugatti Veyron. There are only a finite amount of them, owning one conveys a feeling and image of exclusivity on so many levels. This is truly the rarest wood on the planet. There has only been ONE tree to have ever existed of this species with this figure, and since it was felled in 1969 and used by the furniture industry for so long, it is pretty much gone. The wood that we are using is not original raw billets, but rather billets created by finding someone's coffee table that was made out of the Tree in the 80s, and cutting it up into guitar sets. George Lucas had his entire office created out of this wood as well, so it is extravagant and beautiful and luxurious in a way that no other wood is or can be. I know we like to fool ourselves sometimes and say that we don't want that kind of extravagance, but it feels pretty amazing to own something that no one else can own. We can always find more rosewood, koa, etc, but in this case, every piece of wood used and maintained is a billet of wood that is no longer available, and that resource diminishes every year. At some point in the near future, this wood will no longer exist as a building material. It sounds wonderful. It has a deeper, more dry sound than normal Honduran Mahogany to me, and I like that as it makes the fundamental come through which adds to the playing experience. The guitars made of this wood, in the hands of an accomplished luthier are truly magical, but what steals the show with this wood is the way that it looks. It is stunning beauty and rich, ornate colors that very few in this world will ever have a chance to own or make a part of their collection. It is increasingly difficult for me to get my hands on this wood, and the price just keeps going up at a rate that makes it almost unfeasible to work with. If you are in a position to add a guitar like this to your collection, not only will you enjoy playing it, but you will have the added bonus of knowing that you own something that will become more rare and elusive with time.
BM: We absolutely love your rosette work. Have you anything special lined up for the rosette of this guitar?
JK: For the rosette, I played around with some wonderful greens. I love the way that it looks against the yellow German Spruce top, and I love the way it looks against the orange background of the back and sides. It's a bold colour that will soften over time and looks beautiful on this guitar.
A stunning stained glass Rosette on a previously sold Kostal OM in Beeswing Mahogany.
BM: You have once again been hit by surgery this year, and yet you were back in the workshop within a few days! How on earth do you do it?
JK: It was so wonderful to see the support from all your friends and followers of your work? I have always been fortunate that I heal quickly, and life has been accommodating enough to give me multiple opportunities to verify that. We all have things going on in our lives, some far greater than just a surgery to repair or reset the body. How we approach those things or deal with them determines if they make us stronger or hinder our progress. I don't believe in obstacles as a stopping point, I look at them as a problem that needs to be solved...like a crossword puzzle, and I love solving problems. If there is a wall in front of me on my path, I don't just stop and stare at the wall and think "Well, I guess this is the end of the journey" or feel like a victim because there is a wall in front of me where the journey should have been easy. Instead, I look at the options... I can go around it, over it, under it, blow it up and charge through it, or choose a different path entirely. I view a lot of the issues in my life as being things that will make me stronger when I am able to find a solution that works, and I welcome them into my life... whether it is my own personal healing and setbacks or the little things that come up in life every day. We all have stuff to deal with, so I just choose to deal with it. Having a huge network of friends and family definitely helps, but it starts with you and your own thought process. The mind is far more powerful than we give it credit for, and if you tell yourself you can do something that you will be able to do it.
BM: We are looking forward to seeing you in Woodstock in a few weeks. Aside from the Koa MDW we have just sold, what else are you exhibiting?
JK: The only other guitar that I will be exhibiting at Woodstock is a Walnut OMC that is also coming over to TNAG. Walnut has always been one of my favourite woods, but it is definitely underrated in the guitar community. One of my favourite guitars when I was growing up was a Taylor W-14 that I had and performed it. It just had a beautiful tone that I have never forgotten. I don't know if all Taylor guitars made out of Walnut sounded great, but this one was definitely special, and so too have been the walnut guitars that I have built so far. It is warm, powerful, yet yielding when it needs to be. It looks beautiful under finish, and the colours are something you could look at for days. I am really excited about this guitar and know that it is going to turn some heads and change a lot of people's perceptions as to what Walnut is capable of.
Ben & Jason at The Holy Grail Luthiers' Dinner 2016
BM: Thanks Jason...as always so great to chat with you!
Watch out for a full interview with Jason at this year's Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase at the end of October.