Instruments & Gear: Fine Lutherie

Bruce Sexauer Dreadnoughts

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A trio of custom flattops based on Martin’s classic blueprint.

by Teja Gerken
July 31, 2017

In his more than 50 years of building stringed instruments, Northern California luthier Bruce Sexauer has made just about every type of guitar. And while he’s become known as a specialist in vintage-style and modern small-bodies and mid-size flattops, he also enjoys building traditional dreadnoughts, which he calls FT-16-D (which stands for “flattop,” a body width of 16-inches, and “dreadnought” shape). Bruce recently stopped by the Peghead Nation studio with three of his dreadnoughts, and in this video, he discusses each instrument, with Peghead Nation’s Scott Nygaard playing the guitars.

The first guitar Bruce shows is built with Honduran mahogany back and sides and an Adirondack spruce top. “I built this guitar to be very traditional,” says Bruce. “It’s a straightforward guitar, pretty loud and articulate. It’s a very clear-sounding guitar.” The instrument differs from vintage design in that it has Amazon rosewood binding, and while it has an ebony fingerboard, Bruce also used Amazon rosewood for the bridge. “Rosewood makes a better bridge, and it’s traditional in a style-18 guitar, whereas you just cannot beat ebony as a fretboard material,” he says.

The second guitar is a D-28-style guitar built with East Indian rosewood back and sides and a Sitka spruce top. The guitar has traditional white plastic binding and white bridge pins, and was built with input from members of the Unofficial Martin Forum.

The third guitar was also built with East Indian rosewood and Sitka spruce, but has a more contemporary aesthetic. Rather than the plain-looking woods on the more traditional rosewood guitar, this instrument has a heavily bear-clawed top, more colorful rosewood, cocobolo sapwood binding, and Schaller tuners with wooden buttons. Bruce also tweaked the guitar’s bracing to create a more balanced tonality. As he did with the more traditional dreadnought, Bruce solicited input from an online community, in this case the Acoustic Guitar Forum. “The timbre of this guitar, to me, is more interesting,” says Bruce. “It’s not as loud, but balance, to me, is the true frontier of guitar making.”


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