By Bob Carlin
“Handmade guitars from another planet” proclaims the impressive and somewhat eccentric website of luthier Allan Beardsell. Scroll down, and you’re told that “Al Beardsell is a guitar maker who thinks differently (so you don’t have to)” and “Every Beardsell is unique.” Welcome to Al’s world, where “Al-chemy” is the buzz word and “artisan-Al” rules the kingdom from his workshop in the prairie town of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Beardsell’s fanciful fabrications have found their way into the hands and hearts of a number of forward-thinking players, including banjoists Bill Evans and Jamie Stone as well as guitarist Henry Kaiser. With a background in woodworking and the playing of fretted instruments, Allan Beardsell learned luthier’s skills by the seat of his pants. A one-semester night school course in instrument making led to his first builds, which in turn led to a 10-year stint doing guitar repair in Toronto. This led to more builds, then to a short course under luthier Sergei de Jonge, who has constructed guitars since 1970, and finally to Beardsell’s current occupation building custom creations.
Since founding his own shop, Beardsell has forged an original path in the world of fretted instruments. His creations include electric guitars resembling Gretsch’s wilder experiments, eclectic hollowbody electric banjos, unconventional jazz archtop boxes, brightly colored ukuleles, acoustic mandolins reminiscent of the Stromberg-Voisinet Kays from the Thirties but with side ports, and Art Deco classicals, manouches, steel-string acoustics and harp guitars that all appear to have walked off of a canvas by Picasso. The only governing rule for everything that emerges from Beardsell’s workshop is that the arresting designs be ergonomic and that the ergonomics work toward a better sounding instrument.
Given that every Beardsell instrument is custom made, it’s not surprising that this beautiful Model 3 (defined by its 16-inch lower bout) came about due to a misunderstanding between Allan and the customer. “I originally made this guitar for a client who has bought a number of instruments from me,” remarks Beardsell, “but I mistakenly built the wrong body size—the customer wanted a larger guitar. He had a very specific multi-scale fretboard in mind, which I consulted with Ralph Novak [the pioneer of the multi-scale Novax fan fret system]. That’s how we arrived at the 25- to 27-inch scaling, which requires different bracing as well as an angled bridge. The other features, including the woods, cutaway, side ports and arm- and back-rest bevels, were also specific requests for this instrument.”
The resulting instrument is a very unique guitar. The body’s sides are made from Leopardwood, a luxuriously grained tropical hardwood that is a member of the citrus family and found in South America and Australia. The solid wood sides harbor a secret, interior lamination, which Allan comments “is partly to add stiffness for projection and is also about providing a more stable platform for the top and back that minimizes vibrational transfer through the sides to enhance vibration through the air mode of the box. This means a better in-phase movement of the plates. Plus, it provides a more stable structure for the neck.” Two sound ports, which Henry Kaiser compares favorably to “the most expensive audiophile headphones in town, listening to the instrument through the best studio mics in the world,” adorn the bass side of the guitar.
To complement the stiffness of the sides, the guitar’s back is radially braced, allowing it a greater vibrational freedom of movement. The lighter colored center sections of sapwood in the two-piece Leopardwood back is echoed by the darker center section of the two-piece natural-finished Lutz spruce top, which includes a clear pickguard, black/white rosette and ebony bridge with 2.25-inch string spacing over the saddle. The body has a Selmer-style cutaway that is almost flat and perpendicular to the body and measures 11.75 inches across the upper bout, 4 inches deep at the heel and an additional 3/4 of an inch deep at the tail block.
The two-piece mahogany neck measures 1.75 inches at the nut and features an ebony fingerboard that meets the body between the 13th and 14th frets and extends from 19 total frets for the low E string to 24 total frets for the high E string. Reflecting the angles of the fanned fretboard, the headstock features an offset design where the Gotoh 510 black chrome tuners are mounted in a staggered arrangement. Ebony overlays on the front and the back of the headstock complement the ebony fretboard and contrast the reddish-brown hues of the mahogany neck. Beardsell describes the asymmetrical neck profile as “an ergonomic feature, which is a bit flatter on the thumb side and rounder on the finger side, with the high point slightly offset from the middle.”
The cutaway and the small, oval-shaped soundhole with its art deco-inspired black and white rosette evoke the classic Maccaferri/Selmer designs of the Thirties, but the sound ports, multi-scale fretboard, asymmetrical headstock and angled lower bass bout armrest turn that concept on its head. The guitar produces modern-minded tones as well, delivering the highs and bite of an archtop combined with the bass bark of a dreadnought.
Although this guitar’s body wasn’t as large as what the particular client had actually wanted, Beardsell has rectified the situation and is close to delivering a larger version of this featured instrument to his customer. As a result, this unique Model 3 guitar is currently available for sale at Dream Guitars, all ready to be scooped up by just the right player seeking a guitar that’s both visually and sonically stunning. In the words of the Beardsell web genie, “Al’s well that ends well.”
List Price: $9,883 (base price for the Model 3 is $8,000)
Find out more at beardsellguitars.com.
Guitar provided courtesy of Dream Guitars.