by Ryan Thorell
I was thrilled when Guitar Sessions editor Stephen Rekas asked me to write about Thorell Guitars and particularly the new Thorell Frank Vignola signature model. This guitar has a unique position among all of the great guitars that inspired it. The model was designed in collaboration with guitarist Frank Vignola, to reflect the styles of the acoustic jazz guitarist.
I wanted this guitar to be equally as functional in the wide range of venues and studio atmospheres that it would see. It was built to be feedback resistant and sing with a strong acoustic voice. This 'hybrid' as Frank likes to call it, is based on a crossover version of parallel-braced carved plate guitars, Viennese ladder-braced guitars, and the soundboard parameters of Maccaferri-designed guitars. The resulting tone is huge, thick and rich yet sweet and very intimate sounding. The instrument possesses very good separation, and enough bass response to thicken up the low end without muddying chord response. Although it is more on the dry and warm side of the Selmer Maccaferri, the Vignola model still has some sweet spank to it, fully exploited by the great FV!
Frank first approached me to build him a guitar after playing one of my Legato models in New York. He didn't realize that 15 years prior I had studied with him in Arizona. Needlessly to say I was totally stoked. Frank is one of my all-time favorite guitarists, and the chance to develop a fresh new guitar around his virtuosic talent, that is some luthiery sugar right there!
I offer a full line of archtop and flattop guitars, and am soon releasing my solid body guitar, the Sexy Sadie. [Watch out for that one. It's something totally different!] The guitars are always designed in collaboration with players, and then exhaustively redesigned around their needs and taste. Because of the relative low quantity that I build, I have the opportunity to really custom tailor a guitar to a particular client.
The aesthetics of the guitars are deeply rooted in tradition; I love to reflect the look, feel and vibe of Old World and vintage instruments and I've had the great good fortune to study with some of the best. Through my guitar building apprenticeships and my repair and restoration experience, I have had the opportunity to examine great instruments up close and gain insight to their response dynamic.
As a kid I ran around my grandfather's woodshop, which was dedicated to Victorian home and old wood-cased radio restoration. I spent two years in an apprenticeship with renowned furniture maker Chris Gochnour, who writes extensively for Fine Woodworking magazine. Through these experiences I learned to deeply appreciate the organic value of wood as a material, and to allow it to simply display its qualities as a visual focal point.
Also in the archtop family, The Sweet E is my version of the traditional archtop, sweet and lowdown, fat and sexy. The Legato is built around a contemporary woody sound and aesthetic, achieved by and designed around walnut and cedar body woods. Another archtop that is getting a lot of attention right now is the nylon-string Gianina. This model incorporates the same unique bracing that the FV model uses and the throaty sustained tones of a Selmer, all built to respond to nylon strings. This is the ultimate bossa sound, and it projects with a degree of clarity that allows it to be useful in a jazz ensemble atmosphere.
Tom Ribbecke taught me to consider the soundboard's interaction with the strings with respect to changes in the Z-axis. This fundamental approach to archtop design accounts for the success of the instrument. Rather than adapting the traditional archtop to respond to the dramatically reduced tension of the nylon strings, the Gianina is an approach to elevating the soundboard of the classical guitar to achieve clarity and harmonic separation. Add a touch of Selmer spank and you've got a rockin' little fiddle!
You can check out these guitars along with my popular flattops at http://www.thorellguitars.com/. My instruments are sold direct and through my favorite broker Cliff Cultreri at http://www.destroyallguitars.com/. Cliff is extremely knowledgeable about a wide range of guitars and represents a vast majority of the most gifted builders on the scene today. He is also very gifted in fitting a particular guitar to each client, and understanding truly what is required. You can also see my guitars in action all across the country, in the hands of Frank Vignola and other endorsing artists.
I would be proud to design a custom Thorell guitar for you!