Development History (USA)—Part II

First, let me say thanks to those of you who have thought kindly of the work that the SLM and Matsumoku teams did over the years.

Second, I’d like to answer a few questions that came up from the previous threads.

Rail Basses and Guitars

Remember that I advised you earlier that I’d take credit for all of the instuments that you liked? Well, I lied. Some of you indicate that the you really liked the Rail. In the interest of truth and disclosure, I have to say that the Rail was the inspiration of Ohwa-san.

Once the juices for invention started flowing at Matsumoku, Ohwa-san really came alive. During one of my visits, Ohwa started bringing out instruments of all sorts, of which one was the Rail Bass. I immediately liked the thing. There were some very interesting acoustical dynamics. The rails actually could be “tuned” and the resonance point of the pickup could be placed EXACTLY where you wanted.

Those of you that played Roto-Sound know by now that the metal density of a string controls the elasticity and subsequent Compression and Rarefaction of the sound wave. So, we could move the pickup to best impact the resonance of the bass AND its relationship to the amp/speaker team. Toshi played around with neck set angle, centerline and scale and ended up with a really unique bass.

The guitar was another story altogther. I messed around with it for months – filled the tubes with quickset foam, epoxy and a bunch of other RTV solutions and could never get rid of the resonance ring and harmonic feedback. I think that the rails became an instrument of their own. The bass frequencies, on the other hand, were low enough on the table that it was never an overbearing problem.

Serial Numbers

This is a mind blower and I’m sure that I have the formula somewhere. I’m a pack rat and there’s a little known spot in my boxes of notes, drawings, balsa guitar body models, clay renderings and other junk, where the serial numbers formulas, production notes and mechanicals, live. Someday, I hope to find the “spot” but for now, it’s elusive.

Pantera 390

I do know that we made 96 of the 390 class Pantera models in various colors. There were only about 48 of the curly maple ones made world wide, and only a “few” with the Bendmaster. Most maples were made without trem and others with the Kahler. Yep, I’d like to have one of those too!

Tim Harmon, a long term associate of mine has one. If I ever get more than $1,200.00 in my savings account I’m going to try to get it from him. After all, he has a bunch of my prototypes in his studio – several one of a kind, purely customs. If you’re reading this Tim, I’d like to have it! And, by the way, Trevor has MY Pantera and refuses to give it back. It was the first production Pantera 390 in the Caspian Blue. I want it back too and my son has told him so but he just won’t do it Smile

Harmonic Enhancer

Two types were made, active and passive. The actives were a combination of a compession, frequency comb and fixed parametric. They compressed the 400 to 2200k range and combed at the pot variable. So, you’d find your sweet spot, depending on the room dynamics, and you’d get some really sweet “alto” tones. Eventually we added a bass roll-off to the circuit to control some of the “wump thump”. Passive models were really a notch filter that was designed to pass mid-range and filter low and high frequencies.

Wood Aging

Wow, this could get opinionated and really kind of stupid but the original question had to do with the impact of the wood age and the structural and audio quality of the Matsumoku instruments. As some of you know, I was primarily an Acoustic Guitar designer with Alvarez and K. Yairi prior to the Electra and Westone time. So, the concept of wood age and quality of the wood is really important in that venue.

As far as structure, yes, the aging (drying) of the wood is key. The density of the wood is also important to the structure, weight distribution as well as audio properties. Dense woods have a higher resonant point than lighter woods. Wet woods don’t really resonate. Making a guitar with wet product, leads to cracking and decomposition when it dries. Did Matsumoku have better wood? Not really. We did Kiln dry the Canadian Maples, Sugar Maples and Rosewoods till most of the inherent moisture was cooked out so it was our best method of insuring a clean build.

The most important factor however was the factory location. Matsumoto is up in the Japanese Alps. Dry air, cool and crisp – just right for making guitars and storing lumber for open air drying. OK, so why can Yamaha make nice guitars in Taiwan, where it is 90% humid ALL the time when it’s not 90%, it’s raining? It’s YAMAHA! They spent about a zillion dollars and air conditioned their 585,000 square foot factory and placed climate controls on their lumber!

Korean instruments, have a problem unless there’s a very strict climate control on the wood AND factory floor. I could almost tell you that Samick product made during wet summer months would blow up, reverse bow their necks and pull finderboards away at the 12th fret. They didn’t sound very nice either. Aged wood? Good. Dry wood? Good. Wet wood? Bad. You know, you never hear about the really nice aged spruce that was sent to Bogar, Indonesia for manufacture in the Samick factory. The truth is that the aged, very nice, dry spruce ended up getting wet and moldy during the 100% humidity in the factory. Result, cracked wood and nasty finishes. Summary, the environment where the wood is stored and manufactured prior to finishing is as important as the quality of the paticular wood.

The Westone Name

Matsumoku owned the Westone name solely until SLM came along. We were given the name in the United States in exchange for our partnership. We really didn’t want to invest the intellectual property in the brand unless we had a controlling interest in the name and design and distribution rights in the U.S. Akira Takei, the factory’s trading director, set up Westone distributors throughout the rest of the world. Most, but not all, took advantage of the US designed and designated models. After Matsumoku closed, Akria acquired the name for all world markets with the exception of the U.S. where SLM retained the name and production rights. Akira, still handled world distribution but I think, eventually transferred the name to one of his distributors.

SLM never imported nor controlled production of the Thunder product. We really only distributed instruments that we, and in collaboration with Matsumoku, designed. While the Thunder, and other purely Matsumoku products, were fantastic instruments, I didn’t feel it appropriate for SLM to take credit. Another mitigating factor was the SLM guitar shop. Those instruments designed of specified by us, were carefully checked and set up by the 11 luthiers in St. Louis. We could compare the spec to the production and reject product that was out of range. If we didn’t have the original design metrics, it was impossible to control the quality.

Production Records

I’ve lost track of Akira in the last 10 years and he had access to many of the Matsumoku production docs. The last time I spoke with him, he was going to work for Toyota finding exotic wood for their high end Lexus class interiors! If anyone knows where he is, I’d really like to know too!

The rumors about the records being destroyed in a factory fire is news to me. The last time I saw the factory, it was in fine shape and tooling, wood storage and office equipment was being moved out. I think that it’s an “Urban Legend.” On the other hand, when Samick burned down in Korea, it took about 1500 of my Alvarez Regent acoustic guitars with it! But that’s another story in itself.

I’ve had a number of personal e-mail questions about the Bendmaster, Flip Flop finishes, types of wood and resonance points of wood relative to guitars in general, and will get to them as quickly as I can.

Where Have I Been?

Some have asked why I stayed away from the guitar biz for so long. Simple answers; – burnout, the industry shifted from one of ingenuity and inventiveness, to “let’s make it cheaper” and finally, legal issues/non-disclosure order/employment contract with SLM etc.

So, in the meantime, I’ve worked as a Practice/Product Manager, Solutions Architect Engineer for Matrix Integration and assisted in the production of the ’till Dawn demo album for Lucid Hue. I still wind an occasional pickup, design a few acoutsics and electics for pals and enjoy sitting around, over a beer or two, discussing this magical guitar industry.

That’s about all I can do for now, since I do have an actual job to attend to.

I hope that this info provides some entertainment for you.

Cheers!

Tom