The woods I live in are deep. Because of the hills, valleys, and density of the trees, it's not hard to enter those woods and feel everything outside them disappear. The hillsides become a barrier to the truck and train sounds that might otherwise be heard in the distance if you were up on the ridge. I notice that a lot of the trees growing in my woods are sassafras. Nothing very large. A few maybe in the 6" range. More in the 1 or 2" range. The woods are thick with a very high canopy of tall oak and hickory trees, so the smaller ones stay small.
This past year, I came into possession of some superb roughsawn sassafras, cut from larger trees in the area and air-dried. At first, I wasn't sure what I'd do with it, but as I was moving it around the shop, it sounded alive. I tapped and it... tapped... back.
This guitar is the first I've built using sassafras for an entire body. It resembles oak or white ash at a glance, but it's much, much lighter weight than oak. And it taps differently. Oak seems to absorb the noise a bit, but sassafras really resonates. It's also an extremely stable wood - almost grey-green in color - that smells like camphor or mentholyptus as you work it.
The Daemon* design is new, too. It has all the telltale lines that make it easily recognizable as part of the WJJG pantheon with the asymmetry, offset waist, logarithmic curves and contours, but the offset of the waist and horns is just a little more pronounced for this one. The result is one comfortable, sleek and dynamic guitar.
Some guitar players prefer a short upper horn, while bass players love longer ones like this. One thing that bass players understand is balancing the neck and getting the low frets on a longer scale length within a more comfortable reach . That's something I understand as well. The upper strap button is located at the 12th fret, putting it at the halfway point on the 25.5" scale. This is important, because this is a smaller bodied guitar balanced against a full 24-fret, 25.5" scale neck without a big proportion of the body weight back behind the bridge.
There are so many nuances of guitar body design that I've studied extensively and continue to develop. The offset waist and cutaways that I use keeps the upper horn from appearing TOO lengthy in relation to the whole instrument body, but still allows it to maintain good balance and fretboard position. The lower cutaway allows for easy access to the 23rd and 24th frets.
And when I begin to carve the contours of a new body design, it may look completely different in the beginning than what I end up with in the end. My methodology is a great example of how the theoretical gives way to the practical. I can draw guitar bodies until my hand can't hold the pencil, but that doesn't make those guitar bodies practical or ergonomical until I actually bring them to life in the shop, making adjustments as I see fit to balance comfort, fit, and practicality with visual impact.
The last 3-4 years has been one solid research and development program for me regarding guitar design and ornamentation. I don't simply take a copyrighted design of someone else's and alter it. That's not within my own professional ethic and I hope others show my work the same respect. Each primary design of mine has been developed from the ground up. Sure, some wonderful guitars have been built in the past that could easily be copied over and over, intellectual property boundaries be damned, but I like to think that the best is yet to come. Besides, if we never searched for an original thought or a better mousetrap, we'd still be doing cave paintings and living to the ripe old age of 35.
I do have stylistic preferences and design quirks that I keep returning to. You, the viewer, can quite probably discern that. I don't think a consistent style is a bad thing. As a matter of fact, as a commercial studio artist with a large arsenal of styles to suit a variety of commercial applications, I've often looked longingly at artists whose work is so uniquely stylish and wonder what my own style should be. Consider the session musician who is adept at playing whatever the score calls for. If that session musician creates his or her own music, what mode of style do they choose? It has to be made personal. I have to select the elements and characteristics that most move me and use those as a general pathway. I weave off and on, but still travel in the direction of a path I just plain like.
Electronically speaking, this guitar features a pair of reverse-wound Searcy String Works P90s. Winding one of them in the opposite direction of the other creates a humbucker when both pickups are selected.
Cherry is one of my favorites for necks. It's kind of a midway point between walnut and maple. It's closed grain makes for a very smooth neck when finished. This one is wetsanded to 1000 grit and is smooth as silk. The profile is a soft V to both get the mass out of the way and produce a stiffer neck.
The headstock is a dropped 6-in-line tuner configuration with an inlaid ebony logo and layer of black-dyed maple.
On the back of the neck, you've likely noticed the glyphic "tattoos" of inlaid ebony. The layer of black-dyed maple is more obvious here, adding a nice touch to compliment the glyphic ornamentation and vice versa. Also note the vollute I like to add, even to a dropped-down headstock for yet another extra touch.
The finish on both neck and body is a cherry-tinted Danish oil. The tint gives the sassafras a nice warm tone and really livens up the cherry neck. Both have been wetsanded to 1000 grit for super smoothness that has to be felt to appreciate.
With a 25.5" scale length, 24 frets, and P90s, this is one organic rock'n'roll machine. The P90s and scale length make it twang with the best of 'em, so country and blues are right up this guitar's alley, but it's also got those clean, clear jazz tones in spades.
Of course, a part of the story here is the sassafras. I was as surprised as I could be and never imagined that sassafras has such excellent characteristics for electric guitar making. It's light, it's stable, and it's highly resonant. It's a softer hardwood than walnut, but definitely harder than basswood, which is a very popular species for building electric guitars.
Initially, I searched for references to sassafras and its use in luthiery. I found some mention of it and its stabilty, but I could only find one example of its usage in the construction of a dulcimer. So, after only a small amount of deliberation, I decided to find out for myself just how sassafras performs for the body component of one of my guitars. I'm more than a little pleased that I can now enter my experience with sassafras into the reference books and thankful I have enough on hand for more guitars.
*The name "Daemon" isn't meant to connote a dastardly demon, but moreso a companion or component similar to the daemons of Philip Pullman's book, The Golden Compass, that were an integral part of the characters' nature. This daemon's name is "Sassefrax," a handle I derived from a number of historic and cultural origins of the word "sassafras" such as "sassifrage," "saxefrage," "sassafraz," and so on.
The Daemon Sassefrax Specifications
Neck: cherry, dropped-down 6-inline headstock,dual-action trussrod
Fretboard: East Indian rosewood, 12" radius, Mother of Pearl sidemarkers
Scale length: 25.5", 24 frets
graphite, 1 5/8" width
volume, 3-way selector
Finish: Danish Oil
Weight: 5 lbs, 12 ounces
PRICE: $3,200 currently available