Ian Schneller Interview

What inspired you to build your first guitar?

Vintage instruments can be magic. You can feel their history and the thought that went into many of the designs, but they had started to become cost prohibitive to me even 35 years ago.

I like unique things, and I have always had strong opinions about what I want mechanically and ergonomically from a stringed instrument. I hate shopping. I don’t like crowds, driving in traffic, or the commercial selection of most things available in stores. It just seemed like the best solution was to make my own.

What was your favorite guitar build, and what did you learn about the guitar making process from this build?

I think the Emerald Deluxe has to rank up there as one of my favorites. I made that for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand.

The pick guard is made of 600 iridescent emerald beetle wings laid up like ceramic roofing tiles and vacuum infused with epoxy. The guard is about 5/8” thick, so it had to be recessed deeply into the body. This created a dilemma with the mounting of the custom pickups Alex had ordered from the Creamery, in Manchester England. The pickups were made before the intricacies of the pick guard were known, so the mounting feet were too short for the thick guard. This necessitated a novel mechanical solution which resulted in even more amazing tone from the instrument. I had to cut off the pickup feet and permanently mount them with steel reinforced epoxy at fixed elevations. The need for pickup height adjustment is very real, so I made the entire pick guard height adjustable by placing springs under each of the pick guard mounting screws. This solved the mechanical issue and created a sonic interface between the strings and the pickups that is nothing short of astonishing.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case it was absolutely true. The lesson learned here is that the stricture embodied within the discipline of luthiery and of design in general is often unforgiving. When we stray from the beaten path of well established parameters, we often have to pay the price of engineering from scratch, other parameters that we had taken for granted. This time, I got lucky.

What are some of the differences between acoustic and electric guitar building?

An electric guitar needs to be geometrically worked out according to the tenants of luthiery. It’s performance is dependent on this. It’s tone is a byproduct of the materials it is made from and to a large extent the craftsmanship that goes into making it. One can argue endlessly about the tonal effects of various materials but I feel it is largely psychosomatic. I hear people say that Mahogany has a dark brooding tone, while Maple is bright with a sharp attack. I think it is funny how these descriptions sound as if they are describing the look of the wood as much as the sound. Coincidence? You decide

The selection of wood species and even the individual tree an acoustic guitar is made from has a profound effect on sonic performance. I made electric guitars for two decades before I felt like I was ready to open the can of worms of acoustic building. I then started with traditional formats and experimented from there. Subtle differences in bracing and thicknessing impact volume, transient response, frequency response, linearity, Etc. I still make more electric solid body instruments than acoustic ones, but I continue to delve into the acoustic realm.

Who do you admire as a luthier? Who has influenced your craft throughout your career?

The usual suspects, Although I don’t consider myself particularly versed in the matter. Loar, Fender, Nathaniel Daniels, Benedetto, Maccafferri, De’angelico, Stromberg, Larrave, Manzer

What do you think about before you build a guitar?

Historical context, precedent, application, cross pollination

What is the thing that bugs you the most about a bad guitar build?

Obvious fashion decisions at the expense of functionality. Sloppy work, ugly lines. Greedy stupid engineering.