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Talking Guitar: The wonderful world of Casimi Guitars

We first met Casimi Guitars after the 2014 London Acoustic Guitar Show at our old showroom back in Fulham. I remember the day well because none of us knew what to expect. We get asked quite a lot here at TNAG to view luthiers work for either advise on the instruments they are hoping to sell in the marketplace and representation of their brand. So having been approached by these two South African guys a few times about their guitars was nothing new to us. So of course as we do with all enquirers we arranged an appointment and put the kettle on.
Neither of us could have imagined what was in store! Matthias and Mathew brought in two guitars. One was a C1 Standard and the other a C2 Signature. After picking up our jaws from the floor at the sheer elegance and unique flow and style of the guitars we began inspecting. Beautiful ... just beautiful! The design of the headstock, to the rosette motif, to the fiberboard to the hollow bridge with magnetic sting cover ... everything about these guitars was original and stunning. They had managed to fuse the essence of their country and brand into a modern style luthiery build instrument but cleverly retaining the heritage and feel of the acoustic guitar we know and love so well.
But what did they sound like...The C2 had an extraordinarily powerful and muscular tone, with an immediate response and crisp bite. Perfect for the modern day fingerstyle player of today. Whilst the C1 had a smooth rich and intelligent sound, designed for both the fingerstyle player and singer-songwriter.
So then and there Casimi Guitars joined the roster of TNAG luthiers!
We managed to squeeze some time in with the guys at Casimi Guitars to talk about their stellar year, gorgeous new workshop and what is to come for the rest of the 2017 and 2018!

BM: Hi Guys, Great to catch up. Tell us what is new in the world of Casimi Guitars?

CG: Hi Ben, 

Thanks for putting this together.

First off, this year we find ourselves in a new workshop and our build list has suddenly filled up for the next two and a half years. So its an exciting time for us replete with healthy challenges and much attention from around the world. including some exciting builds for some American clients (a first for us).

After a rough year with the CITES debacle, we are finally getting on top of the situation. This has also forced us to look at using alternatives to rosewoods. As a result, we have switched to using wenge as a standard tone wood and also for inner double sides with fantastic results.

We are planning a lot more trips to and from Europe in the coming years to deliver guitars and procure wood, so we are looking forward to that. All in all, the world of Casimi guitars is a very exciting place to be right now.

BM: It seems a lot of luthiers have moved into new shops this year, you guys included. You upscaled into a great new space. Tell us why the move and what the new space is like.

CG: Yes! We made the move at the end of last year and it couldn’t have been better. 
It's amazing what a bit of extra room can do for headspace and production efficiency. It feels like we can breathe and stretch in the new space.

Our previous workshop was in a very beautiful part of cape town (Right across the road from the cape point nature reserve), but it was very far away from home and rather small. Very rustic and charming, but the new space has amazing light, is two minutes away and has enough room for us to operate at maximum capacity. Also, we no longer have the problem of baboons raiding our kitchen:) and there is enough room for rehearsals and concerts too.. something we’d like to do more of down the line.

Casimi C2 Signature African Blackwood 2016.

BM: This has been an incredible year for Casimi Guitars, with every instrument we have spec’d out pre-selling before they arrive in the UK. How does it feel to now be seen as one of the most desirable instruments in the world.
CG: Well, Its wonderful of course. It's an incredible thing to receive such affirmation for one's efforts. It has been a long road to get to this point and many sacrifices were made along the way. Our designs are pretty out there and there were a lot of sceptics to navigate. but luckily we are both mad enough to risk it all and stick to our guns... The saying “Boldness has genius” seems to have been born out by our story. It really feels like we’ve arrived, but also like things are just kicking off. We are both super excited about the future and looking forward to making many beautiful instruments. The idea that we get to contribute something beautiful to this crazy world and hopefully contribute to the evolution of this unique instrument we call the steel-stringed guitar is very inspiring! 


BM: Can you tell us a little more about the unique process both you and Mathew go through when designing your rosettes and headstocks?
CG: To answer this question adequately, will take a little backstory..

The three signature features that any of our guitars can be augmented with are the hollow headstock, the carved rosette and the hollow port magnetic bridge. All these signature features are designed in such a way as to encapsulate and exemplify our overall design philosophy. That is “Form follows function, remove everything nonessential and follow the flow”. In nature, the laws of physics govern the movements and forms of everything. To us, this principle is well expressed by the ellipse. It expresses the laws of mass, momentum, inertia and gravity in its constant movement. It seems to accelerate through the wide sections and slow down through the tight sections of the curves. Just like the Parabolic arc of an object in flight, a pendulum in swing, a planet in orbit, or a racing driver on a track. So we have adopted this archetypal form for pretty much all our work with the exception of the fingerboard. Its ultimate expression being in our signature features. Another cue we have taken from nature is that of the holistic system. Each part is part of the whole and integrates with all the other parts in a synthesis to form this whole. (This principle is also true for music). So these signature features are designed to be part of the whole instrument and to augment the whole, in the same way, that the crest of a bird might do, or the stripes of a tiger.. or the solo after the second chorus.

Then there is the customization aspect. 
If not otherwise specified, we like to employ indigenous motifs from the area of origin of the wood of the back and sides. However, we also leave this open to special requests from clients who might have some ideas of their own. Depending on the client and their preferences, we’ll enter into a dialogue with them about ideas they may want to explore for the inlays of the rosette, sound port and other special features. 
This usually includes a few drawings from Matthew to map out ideas for the inlays until a final design is settled on. Then we document this inlay along with the rest of the build.

BM: We are big fans of the hollow port bridge and magnet feature you offer on your guitars. What inspired you to come up with this. What do you feel this adds to the guitars.

CG Yes, its a lot of fun:) The satisfying snap of the cap clicking into place is a lot more appealing than those pesky bridge pins creaking around.
The idea arose originally because Matthew was playing a lot of gigs and hated having to contend with bridge pins whenever he snapped a string. inevitably one needs some sort of tool to extract the relevant pin and it all takes far to long while the audience fidgets awkwardly...

There are a few different options out there for pinless bridges, but almost all of them require the strings be held by the bridge alone... On a steel stringed guitar, this poses some serious challenges over the long term. Few glues are up to the task of single-handedly holding back 80 + kgs of tension from the strings, (picture a large man doing pull-ups from you bridge and you can clearly see the challenge) so this means using other hardware to help. but adding nuts and bolts to the bridge is not ideal since it adds extra weight. (Ideal weight for a steel string bridge is around 34 grams). the advantage of bridge pins is that they maintain the strings position through the soundboard and bridge plate, so the whole bracing structure and soundbox is employed to hold that tension. Also, its easier to get a good break angle over the saddle if the strings go through the deck. So we tasked ourselves with solving this problem. To come up with a design whereby the strings use their own tension to hold themselves in place through the soundboard. This means they release themselves if snapped while maintaining proper break angle and receiving maximum support. Since there were now no bridge pins to cover the recesses, we devised the magnetic system to hold the cap in place. So far this new way of doing things has proved itself very neat and efficient.

BM: We recently sold our first C3 Fan Fret. Which arrives next month. How was the build process of this guitar?

CG: As always, working with ABW is an awe-inspiring process. The C3 is a large bodied creature and ABW paired with this model is a pretty thunderous combo. All the cavernous space and massive spectrum one could hope for. Also, this is Casimi’s first official fan fret build, so we are very excited about it! 
We decided to go with a 26” long scale to 25” short scale with the perpendicular fret at the 6th position. We had to rethink the bridge a bit for this, but we’ve managed to keep the modification very quiet on the eye. An interesting point to ponder for us was the angled nut and how to resolve it in an aesthetically pleasing, yet functional way with our hollow headstock. In the end, Matthias had the brilliant idea of twisting the angle of the headstock to resolve the junction of the two plains of the fingerboard and headstock. The result is a very discrete and seamless solution. 
Overall its a very comfortable guitar. The fan affords even more ergonomic comfort than our normal set up and adds the 22nd fret position as an added bonus for those speedcore widdlers out there!


BM: We are incredibly excited to receive the first Maple C3 next year. What is your favourite tonewood to work with? And what do you feel gets the most out of your guitars?

CG: The short answer is probably African Blackwood... However, that is not exactly the most accurate or interesting answer since it is also based on personal bias and musical tastes. (Rather like a favourite colour.) 

While African Blackwood affords the builder an incredible tonal palette and heaps of power and sustain without losing definition, the real secret to great tone is found in the art of balancing the overall build. One has to step back and look at what one wants to achieve with a specific instrument in order to establish the most appropriate materials. A very simplified example would be to ask the question: Is it a for playing complex music with fast runs and percussive riffs? or is it for playing spacious moody pieces with subtle layers of delicate chords? Each of these guitars would be best suited for different woods and build styles. The first guitar would probably require something like a great mahogany with very quick attack and a bright raspy precise voice.. maybe ten minutes of sustain would be less important in such an instrument, but the second guitar would probably be better suited to one of the Dalbergia. Quick attack would be less important than notes which bloom slowly in rich textured tones that linger for as long as possible. These things need consideration and once that question is answered, finding the correct ingredients and blending them in the right way is what really makes a great instrument.. much like any master chef will tell you. Get the best ingredients, bring them together with experience and love in the right way and you have an outstanding meal.. bring the best ingredients together without experience and love and you likely have a terrible meal.

It's also the case that a lot of people place too much importance on the wood itself. More important than the wood of the back and sides is the overall construction, bracing, size and of course the centrepiece of tone, the soundboard and ultimately the luthier. 
All tone woods add colour to the mixture, so which colure is our favourite? 
As we invite more and more kinds of wood into our workshop and gain the experience of adding them to the pot, I can say that what shines through is always our unique Casimi tone, regardless of which woods we use. So perhaps a good answer to this question would be that we like to combine colures, but our subject matter and style remains consistent. As far as our favourite colures are concerned, however, African Blackwood and German or Adirondack spruce make a great combo. 

But getting back to the maple C3. This is going to be an interesting creature. On the aesthetic side alone, few things catch the eye like a good piece of quilted maple. On the tonal side, maple typically gives you a lot of clarity and definition. So using this in the larger bodied C3 where the size of the instrument lends itself to expanded bass and cavernous natural reverb, is a great idea. A very clear yet rich sound is what I would expect to achieve with just these two elements of the build.

Casimi C1 Signature Ziricote

BM: Why did you decide to specialise in 12 Fret guitars?

CG: We both gravitated towards the 12fret body join at the earliest stage. Matthias being a classical and Flamenco player, found this a natural position. I found it was a more comfortable position, so the prototype C2 which was built as my personal gigging guitar was built in this way. However, we also found that it affords us easier access to what we are looking for tonally and it just works well as an integrated part of our whole recipe. Its not that we rule out the 14th fret option, (we have also made a few)  but we found the 12 fret gives us the best possible setup for maximum tone and power. If you think of the soundboard like a pond and imagine throwing a stone into the center, you’d see the ripples reach the edges simultaneously in an even pattern and the resulting interference patterns would have comparable symmetry. 
If you throw the stone in closer to one side, you’d see a different scenario play out. Firstly, the ripples would reach the closer side sooner and the further side would see a weaker group of waves arriving later. Then the interference pattern would also be asymmetrical and more chaotic.
The first example is comparable to the 12th fret body joint build. The bridge is pushed back to the center of the soundboard and the energy arriving in the soundboard is distributed evenly across the whole surface.
The second example is comparable with the 14th fret body join. The bridge is offset from the centre of the soundboard towards the sound hole. The string energy arrives at this point and has an uneven distribution across the deck. essentially, there is less of it by the time it reaches the tail end of the soundboard and the sound hole ends the stronger waves sooner. If the objective is to activate the whole top and by extension also the back, the 12 fret position does this more easily.
This is not to say that you can’t build a perfectly acceptable guitar with a 14th fret body join, but within the context of our recipe and tonal goals, the 12th fret join certainly gives us more to work with and makes it easier to achieve everything the instrument can give us.
Add to this an extremely deep cutaway, and one of the main reasons for doing the 14th fret join in the first place falls away. i.e easy access to the 21st fret (standard on all our models).

Casimi C2 Signature - 12 Fret

Casimi C1 Standard - 12 Fret

BM: We are very excited to host an event here at The North American Guitar Showroom on 29th November. Do you have anything special planned for us?

CG: For us it's going to be a real treat to be in the same room as two of our instruments, some great players, some of our clients, our good friends at TNAG and other appreciators of fine guitars! Also, we are really looking forward to seeing TNAG’s new space!
We’d like to be able to enjoy hearing our guitars being played by some great musicians, tell a bit of our story, answer questions and perhaps show some slides of our workshop and process.. or whatever is going to be most interesting for people. 

An Evening With Casimi Guitars

BM: We have two more stunning guitars on order for 2018. A C2 Signature in African Blackwood and a C1 in Koa. What can we expect from these guitars? Anything new in store for these builds?

CG: Working with these two kinds of wood is always a special experience! I’ve spoken about ABW, but Koa is also truly special if you can get your hands on the right stuff. Luckily for us, we are blessed to know some exceptional wood suppliers.

It will be our first fan fret C2S, so that's something we are looking forward to.
You can expect some more variations on the themes for the rosette based on motifs from Afrika. I’ve enjoyed a foray into asymmetry for the C3S fan fret rosette inlays and that's something I’m looking forward to exploring more.

Also, we’ve been enjoying playing around with adding details to the back strip. So there will probably be more of that. Otherwise, you can expect our signature Casimi tone and as always, we endeavour to make every guitar that leaves our workshop the best yet, so there will be some steps forward in production, tone, and overall quality.

BM: Thank you so much guys and again thank you for producing such inspiring instruments. We look forward to another sell out year working along side you both.

For more information on our incoming Casimi Guitars please email us or call us on +44 (0) 207 835 5597.

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