This 2016 Smith & Fison 000 is a beuatiful guitar with Alpine spruce top and select Indian rosewood back and sides. It is built of all solid woods, wood binding and purfling, and a French polish shellac finish. It is designed to be loud and responsive, with an even piano-like frequency response, perfect for both fingerpicking and flatpicking.
SHAPE AND BODY WOODS
The Smith & Fison 000 is based on a 1930s Martin 000 with subtle, but significant changes to the body shape in order to give it a more beautiful form and bring the shape of the lower bout closer to a circle for acoustic reasons. The back and sides are select, dark AAA Indian rosewood with matching rosewood binding cut from the very same pieces. The simple maple purfling is intended to accentuate the beauty of the shape and draw closer attention to the stunning rosewood.
The top is a AA/AAA spruce grown and harvested in Switzerland by the renowned Florinett Brothers.
The trees are cut only in winter according to the phases of the moon to ensure superior
qualities for instrument building such as lower initial moisture content.
After seasoning the spruce has the characteristics of older wood and better long-term stability. The same wood is used for the internal bracing as well.
In my view as a builder, the greatest impact on the sound of an acoustic guitar comes from the ‘trinity’ of body shape, bracing, and top thickness (including the final finish). The latter – top thickness – is especially important and difficult to get right for two reasons. The first is the so-called “cube rule of stiffness” means that the stiffness of a material and its height don’t have a linear relationship, but a geometric one. So a material that is one unit high and two units wide would have a stiffness (1)3 x (2) = 2, whereas one that is two units high would be (2)3 x (2) = 8 and so on. This physical fact, plus the very small dimensions of a top’s thickness, means that small changes in top thickness can mean very large changes in the top’s stiffness and thus its ability to resonate well. For example, thinning a guitar top from 3mm to 2.7mm, a change of 10% in dimension, results in an almost 30% change in stiffness.
While this might seem like unnecessary complication, it has an enormous impact on building a great guitar. Most guitar builders thickness their tops to a particular dimension, say 3mm, knowing that even the weakest piece of spruce they use will be strong enough at that thickness to withstand the pull of the strings. But the stiffness of two pieces of spruce of equal thickness can vary widely. In practice, this means that most builders thickness their tops so that the weakest pieces are strong enough and all the others are significantly stiffer than they need to be. Only a small percentage of their guitars will have an optimal stiffness and those will, ironically, be those with the weakest and therefore least desirable pieces of wood.
The solution is simple but rare: deflection testing. First, chose the stiffest piece of spruce one can find to ensure great potential for loudness and response. Second, arrive at a top thickness by slowly thinning the top until it achieves the desired stiffness by testing the top’s deflection with a set weight. In this way Smith & Fison guitar tops combine the best possible properties of spruce with the thinnest possible dimension for each individual top.
The bracing of the top is strongly influenced by the traditional scalloped X-bracing of 1930s models. This bracing gives the guitar a quality of sound similar to those traditional models, while keeping the top flexible enough to maintain volume and response.
Finally, the interior of the guitar has a thin shellac finish to further enhance the acoustic reflections and to slow down the effects of humidity change.
The guitar is finished entirely with a hand-rubbed shellac French polish. As such the finish is entirely natural, made of pure shellac and olive oil, easily reparable, very thin, and ideal for accentuating the beauty of the wood. For this reason, the back and sides have not been pore filled, instead leaving the natural grain of the rosewood to shine through.
In contrast, most guitar makers err on the side safety and choose a thicker, highly durable, gloss finish. This makes a good initial impression on the buyer, like a shiny Ferrari, and can withstand quite a lot of abuse. Unfortunately, these finishes are rarely reparable, their thickness significantly dampens the responsiveness of the guitar, and they hide the wood behind a layer of glossy plastic.
In the end, there is no perfect guitar finish. Each finish is a series of trade-offs. Shellac French polish chooses beauty of sound and appearance over ease of application and durability.
The bridge is handmade after an early Martin pyramid bridge. The bridge, bridge pins, and fingerboard are all fine ebony, crafted with the brass eyes to match the golden color of the top, maple purfling, tuners, and gold Evo frets. In this way, the decorative elements of the guitar are considered as a whole, not as simple elements of “bling” to be added as an afterthought.
The neck is a chunky, C-shape, made of mahogany and fitted with a dual-action truss rod accessible inside the body. A mortise and tenon joint with lightweight bolts attaches the neck to the body and allows for easy neck adjustment in the future. The heel cap is ebony as well.
The tuners are Stew Mac Golden Age tuners, made in all likelihood in the same factory as Waverly tuners as they one and the same company, in a beautiful relic brass finish with cream nobs.
The nut and saddle are both unbleached bone, notable for its golden color and superior hardness to bleached bone.
The slotted peg head is laminated on both front and back for beauty and additional strength in case of a fall.