Published Feb 20, 2007Robert Godin built his first guitars in a small shop in Montreal over 30 years ago. The popularity of his first acoustic designs, the Seagull S6, has lead to Seagull becoming one of the premier acoustic guitar brands in the world, while his electric guitars are respected worldwide for quality of materials and craftsmanship. Crafting instruments under his own name since the 1980s, Robert Godin remains committed to exploring new concepts in guitar design and technology.
How did you get into designing guitars?
Well first, I played guitar since I was seven, but I started at around age 15, more customising guitars than designing. It was around 1965 when the guitar really started to happen. Before, the guitar was more a rhythm instrument in the band; it wasnt the leader of the band. But then around 65, many good bands happened with just guitars and as the playing and the style of playing changed, people had a lot of questions, a lot of problems. I opened my own shop at that time, adapting guitars for more the style of music of the day. Now we ship, oh, maybe 200,000 a year.
Whats the first thing you look for in a guitar?
If its an electric guitar, Im going to look at the scale if its a semi-acoustic guitar or a solid body. Im more a jazz-fusion player, so Im going to look for a certain style of guitar, more semi-acoustic for example. I like short scales for those types of instruments, pickups that have a medium output, not the biggest output, and I like to have an active bridge on my guitar. These are the features I would look for, but you are talking to a guy whos very particular. In general it might be different.
Why is the kind of wood important?
Even an electric guitar is an acoustic guitar. How it affects the guitar is by the weight of the wood. Thats the difference. We can talk different woods but at the end, the bottom line is how much weight is this wood compared to the others. If you want a very bright sound and high notes then you are going to take something very hard and very heavy. If you want something with more bottom end and space then you are going to take something light. Its about the movement of the wood. Im going to give you the example of a harp or piano frame. The bass is the long string and the high notes is the short one but when I hit the bass strings the movement is visual. You can see how it vibrates, but if you play a high note, its so fast and short that youre never going to see it vibrate. Then the guitar vibrates with an electric guitar for example, if the body is very hard wood, like hard rock maple, you have to loosen up on your neck, because the neck vibrates with the body. The strings are attached from the bridge of the guitar on the body to the neck, then when you hit the strings, both vibrate. If I have a very hard rock maple body, Im going to have to use a light mahogany neck, or I wont have any bottom on it: its going to sound thin and high. You see, its the movement of the wood that you have to control, and different weight.
What do guitar players need to know about technical stuff?
(Laughing) Professional players know nothing about guitars; they just play them. Thats why I give music seminars all over the world. I explain how the guitar functions to professional players because they have no idea. But when you know, its magic. You maybe dont know how to build a guitar, but if you know the effects of a certain wood, or a short scale versus a long scale, it can make a huge difference in playing and tone.