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TogaMan GuitarViols - Hand built by Jonathan Wilson - Sylmar, CA - A.D. 2018

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Frequently Asked Questions

Julio Revueltas deeply bends the b string

The most frequently asked question:

Can't I just bow my regular guitar?

Well, yes, you can (a little). You may be able to bow the high E or low E strings (the way Jimmy Page did). That's pretty much it. A traditional acoustic or electric guitar has serious limitations when it comes to bowing. First of all, in order to bow individual strings, it is essential that the plane of the strings is arched (not flat like a typical guitar). It is possible to raise bridge saddles on the middle strings of an electric guitar and chain-saw the sides for bow clearance. This works well for bowing individual open strings. The problem is that the raised action on the middle four strings is high off the fingerboard to the point where play-ability (action) and intonation are seriously affected. It is essential that the fingerboard is rounded (deep compound radius) in a consistent plane with the strings (like a cello or violin).

The other problem is with pickups and amplification. Magnetic (electric guitar) and under-saddle (acoustic) pickups do not work well when strings are bowed. (in fact, they sound like crap-to be blunt). The sound is thin, scratchy, weak, and "AM radio" like when compared to plucked sound. This is due to the fact that bowed strings vibrate in a horizontal motion (direction of bow) as opposed to a round (all directions) motion. (I learned this the hard way!!) The proprietary bridge/pickup systems on my GuitarViols (US Patent # 7,230,174) addresses this. It is fun to A/B the difference between this and conventional pickups.

Can't I just modify my guitar for bowing?

You can; with very limited results. It can be fun for some weird "haunting and groovy" noises (with effects) on the occasional track. That's pretty much it. The limitations and drawbacks that I have outlined in the previous paragraph pretty much sum it up: Limitations suck, don't they? To achieve musical results, you really need the right instrument (not a modified one). Consider the following tool analogy: you could (sometimes) turn a Phillips screw with a tipped flat-head screwdriver, but, wouldn't it be better to use a Phillips screwdriver to turn a Phillips screw? Using a flat-head screw-driver to turn a Phillips screw is a drag isn't it? You get my point.

Which GuitarViol is Right for Me?

These days, we offer Electric, ElectroCoustic, and Acoustic GuitarViols--but which one is right for you? Check out this guide to help you decide.

Why not just use an E-Bow?

E-Bows generate a sustain that is more similar to feedback in timbre. They excite the strings by means of an electric magnetic pulse. (Very cool product, by the way. Go buy one! They are still less than $100.00 US.) They are good for contrast because they are different. A very usable device but definitely not a bowed sound.

Do you sell your pickups/bridge so I can modify my [popular electric guitar]?

Okay, one more time: Even if I did sell my BOWD HORIZON bridge (I don't) , it would be a lot of hacking and trouble just to modify the body to make it work. The other problem is still going to be the neck. Might as well replace the fingerboard, indeed the neck. What a freaking mess!! At the end of the day, it still would not be easy to balance and play. It is much easier, less trouble, less expensive (believe it or not), and far better to have me build you a proper instrument. I am pretty good at this. (really! Just read the testimonials!)

Imagine, if you will, a guitar that is designed to be bowed as well as plucked. Imagine a Viola with frets that is tuned, held, and played like a guitar. It is a wonderful secondary instrument for guitar players. My latest GuitarViol (US Patent # 7,230,174) design is the result of almost three decades of research, trials, and development. Yes, there is a learning curve to bowing (I am still learning!). The rewards are worth it.

Can I switch my GuitarViol between E (standard) and B (baritone) tuning?

The short answer is "yes and no"--watch this video for more information.

"Is there a specific´╗┐ reason the Guitarviols are so expensive? And can we ever expect a Guitarviol to be sold at a realistic price? (as in $100 - $600 is what I consider a 'realistic' price)"

Click here to watch Jonathan tell the story of how he got into building bowed guitars.

25 years ago I was just a kid who had a crazy instrument in my mind. Everybody laughed me out of the room. Luthiers. Companies. Classical musicians. Nobody "got it". So, I went out to build an instrument that my "Music required" and no one else "got". Okay, so I did that. Then, others became interested and I began building a few for them. Next thing you know, film composers began keeping me busy, (But, wait, I wanted to be doing what they were doing! What happened here?). Anyway, I build by hand. Not a factory. Not a commodity. Boutique. Not G.C. Big companies are indifferent. Think it was cute but had no "mass market". So, I persevered. Even considered "production" some years back. In the US, especially a smaller firm, it is impossible to build an instrument like this for the price range you mentioned. Can't break even, pay employees, keep the lights on etc. Monthly nut is too damn much. That is why any guitar you buy for $100-$600 is made in China. Period. End of story. To do that, one has to have a lot of capital to fill a container full of dubiously built instruments. (I did not get into this to be some greedy "Suit", just wanted to make a few instruments and some music..... ) Again, what I build are not "commodities" but custom hand built instruments that takes serious work. There was a time a few years back where I had an investor who wanted to do a big deal with this. Too bad he did not know he had cancer.... Most folks, even musicians do not "Get it". Just a few brave adventurous artists with some "Cajones". Trust me, Classical or Bluegrass musicians won't convert. GuitarViols attract true "Sonic artists" (usually art rockers or film composers). So, the market is narrow. (Much like the Chapman Stick, few players but they are usually the exception and not the rule. Most greasy folks in a big chain store would not know what to do with it).

The other end of it is that when one lives in the US (California really sucks!), has to keep a roof over family's head, pay for health insurance, Taxes, and basically "play by the rules", it is anything but cheap. When the math of what is required per man hour + materials has to meet those needs, it can be expensive. If you only produce a few a month working full time + evenings etc. that price tag is what it is. Period. End of story. Now, if thousands wanted one from China .... The "Suits" are indifferent. They do not even return my calls (some are even friends!). So, until that day arrives where every kid on the block "has to play GuitarViol", it will be built by these hands. The same hands that answer the phone. The same ones that return emails. The same ones that call suppliers. The same one who has to "Cubicle Dive" and then get some work done in the shop. Wait, "there are only so many hours a day?" Yep. Now if you can convince Fender (or some worthy licensee) that they would be complete idiots not to license my Patent and bring me on with a favorable agreement, and mass market it, then I'll build you one! Until that day....

Seriously man, I hear you. "Realistic" takes on a whole new meaning when you live in my world. I am boutique, not popular public fashion. It is how I roll. I wanted this thing so badly, I had to devote my entire life to it. .....would you like fries with that? 

What are the differences between "Custom" production, "Limited" production, and "Factory" production?

CUSTOM PRODUCTION seems like a straight-forward term. Some luthiers (Guitar/Violin builders) specialize in Custom orders of one of a kind instruments and generally do not build the same thing twice! (So if you have that idea of a 150 string monster harp guitar with double kick pedals... those are your guys!). There are no repeat builds, molds or Jigs. Each build has to be engineered before it is executed. There is usually some improvisation and decisions made along the way. Custom builders thrive on novelty and variety! As such, the build output is generally far slower of a process when it is not a routine instrument. (Consequently, they are usually the most expensive per unit because of all the added engineering time). Most often, one man does everything "hands on" in this scenario. This includes not only the build itself, but office, phones, communications, ordering supplies etc. etc. etc. A variant of this scenario is where a large manufacturer has a "Custom Shop" where a master luthier (employee in this case) focuses on each build all day long (because he/she has the luxury of a big company support staff to handle all the other details). They can focus really well on their work! On the other hand, "custom shops" mostly resemble limited production within a bigger company in that these are often custom versions of factory stock instruments. The quality is generally high as their names go in it!

LIMITED PRODUCTION is quite similar to Custom Production with a few key differences. Special jigs, machine fixtures and molds are made and it is more routine as repeat builds of the same essential designs (with some variations in woods and finishes) are produced. Like custom production, a single Luthier (and maybe a small team) handles all aspects the builds. The Luthier's time and attention is often divided and diverted because of all the hats this Luthier has to wear. In limited production, there is often a long backlog (wait!) because of the man power limitations, diversions, time, and resource strain a micro builder operates under. Efficiency is the Achilles heel of this type of operation. At it's best, there is enough work in the queue to be insanely busy (backlogged) but still limited in resources to hire a support staff and become a "factory" or even medium size firm (which is not always the goal - many boutique producers prefer to be small and forgo the larger corporate culture for a variety of reasons - another conversation in and of itself). Builders of this type with highly regarded reputations turn out most excellent work (because their name goes on it!). It should be pointed out that there can be some bleed-over between a "Custom" and "Limited Production" builder definitions.

[NOTE: GuitarViols inc. aka TogaMan GuitarViols, Jonathan Eric Wilson-Luthier would be considered limited production operation]

FACTORY PRODUCTION (Manufacturing) is exactly as it's name implies: A fully staffed and tooled up operation in a large commercial facility. Factory production is by far the most efficient (but with far higher risk and way lower margins). Essentially a production line of trained hourly workers doing the same task real well at meager wages. There is usually an operations manager, foreman, and support staff to handle all the other tasks (Marketing, Sales, Shipping, Supplies, Accounting, Product Development and you can imagine the rest of the list right down to who cleans the bathrooms). This scenario requires a lot of capital for the first few years and is by far the riskiest because of all the staff and overhead expenses required to pull it off. The margins are far thinner and a steady high volume of sales is required for any longevity. It may take a while until a new team is efficient and lasts the test of time for profitability. Many fail before they get enough traction. Some companies contract with other offshore factories. This still is risky for a non established company because when the container arrives, it has to be warehoused and sold!! Sometimes the product is poor and there can be some spoilage. Lots of sales reps knocking on the doors of indifferent music store owners who are often reluctant to risk their cash flow on unproven lines. Quality control can also be the bane of factory production. Some firms import "mostly built" product, finish it, and have skilled specialists perform the QC (set up and corrective work). Alternately, there are a few domestic OEM firms who contract work. The one bane for the fledgling manufacturer is that if a bigger company places a larger order, the small fish becomes a low priority and, consequently, time erodes resources to the waiting small firm who still has to pay its bills. Mass manufacturing at relatively low margins is best left to the big boys or a board of proven executive talent with access to resources to burn. Long established companies have the brand recognition and experience to play in these big leagues that are unfortunately dominated by a "race to the bottom" retail system.

Please feel free to contact me anytime if you have more questions. I am actually a really cool dude...