Trent Palelei, King Billy Pine and Amboyna: A Not-So-Classical Guitar (ART & OBJECTS 2023)

Dean Agar
Video tour

I present for your consideration my take on the modern nylon-string guitar. This cross-over instrument retains the classical guitar’s silhouette while integrating contemporary features inspired by steel-string guitar innovations. Foremost among these features are the ergonomic body contours: an arm bevel and rib rest thoughtfully designed to enhance player comfort, cradling the forearm and chest. The soft curves are deliberately placed to reduce these two contact pain points and relieve the over-extended right shoulder allowing for longer and extended playing sessions. These refinements not only ensure a more accessible playing experience for individuals with smaller frames but also make larger guitars less unwieldy. The double cutaway design further elevates comfort while facilitating unhindered access to the upper frets. The amboyna binding and purflings scheme were made to provide a continuous flow transitioning from binding to body contours despite being punctuated by scalloped and mitred joints. To maintain the guitar's optimal weight, featherlight paulownia blocks provide the underlying support for the veneers. While the wood was selected for its lightness, it was also a surprising joy to carve with both the spokeshave and finger planes. Departing from the conventional fan bracing of classical guitars, this hybrid guitar uses curved sickle-shaped braces, known as falcate braces. The braces are heat-bent using a hot iron before being laminated into their desired curves and provide a robust midrange and sustained resonance to the instrument’s tone. My bracing design uses an asymmetrical seven-falcate arrangement to tailor the bass response to the player's request. For the soundboard I have chosen the distinctive Australian tonewood, King Billy Pine, renowned for its warm sonority. The back, sides, and neck have captivating fire-figured Amboyna, while the fretboard showcases the unconventional use of flame maple (on an acoustic guitar anyway). The maple, inlaid, bound, and radiused, delivers an exceptional left-hand feel akin to its steel string counterparts. Looking at the rosette in person, the intricate scale design creates a textured illusion, while a glassy French polish finish awaits the touch. Only on close inspection do the individual scales, each possessing its own distinctive grain patterns become apparent. This interplay of wildly dynamic amboyna grain against meticulously arranged scale inlays, all elegantly bordered, is a homage to an aesthetic that revels in patterns that harmoniously clash. A nod to the discerning customer's own style, one that defies conventions and celebrates bold pattern combinations. This guitar is a hybrid in both form and function and leans into the interplay between an abundance of antonyms and proudly counterpoint in its ‘not-so’ to the ‘classical guitar’. I really enjoyed making this I hope you enjoy it.

Images have been resized for web display, which may cause some loss of image quality. Note: Original high-resolution images are used for judging.