Dana Bourgeois: Wood Whisperer | Midwood Guitar Studio

Dana Bourgeois: Wood Whisperer | Midwood Guitar Studio

Posted by Robinson Earle on Dec 7th 2018

Dana Bourgeois: Wood Whisperer | Midwood Guitar Studio

Dana Bourgeois of Bourgeois Guitars is perhaps the most significant luthier in the modern acoustic guitar renaissance. He effortlessly imbues tradition with innovation, consistently producing instruments that are both precise and unique. While many builders start with a specific design in mind, Dana begins by deeply considering the tonewoods he has available to determine what kind of guitar they would like to be. An especially clean, responsive piece of mahogany might perform brilliantly on an unadorned “Country Boy”, while a dark, tight-grained piece of Ebony may prove ideal for a “Soloist”. He doesn’t just listen to the woods, however. He mines players for insights, too, taking careful notes on how different guitarists respond to his instruments. After all, the most important feature of any luthier or musician is not their hands, but their ears.

After teaching himself how to build and repair guitars, he got his “big break” designing what would become the modern OM in collaboration with C.F. Martin under the banner of Schoenberg guitars (the guitarist and dealer who introduced Dana to virtues of vintage instruments). Martin first introduced the 14-fret “Orchestra Model” in 1929, but it fell out of favor over the years with players preferring the larger dreadnought designs. However, as pickup systems got more accurate and sophisticated, acoustic guitarists became less concerned with sheer volume and started to appreciate the balance and control offered by mid-sized instruments. Dana noted this trend and further adapted the design to modern sensibilities by adding a smooth Venetian cutaway.

Dana’s OMs became so popular that when he asked Bluegrass legend Tony Rice to critique one of his dreads he said to make it sound “more like his OMs”. To accomplish this, Dana scalloped the bass side of the X-brace more than the treble, thus increasing the string to string balance without compromising the forward thrust and volume that characterizes the body style. By heeding the advice of the master guitarist, Dana was able bring the dreadnought into the 21st century by increasing its articulation in the higher registers.

Never afraid to deviate from tradition, Dana was one of the first luthiers to embrace an alternative to the dovetail neck-joint. His bolt-neck construction makes his guitars much easier to work on, and he is adamant that this design doesn’t sacrifice any tone. On the contrary, the ease of adjustment allows the player to dial in the perfect setup, which one could only assume would improve the overall sound.

He was also one of the early proponents of the re-introduction of Adirondack “Red Spruce” into modern guitar building. He recognized that the tops on many of the coveted old Martins were actually a different species than the now-standard Sitka. Scientific measurements have proven that Adirondack has the highest stiffness to weight of any of the spruces, making it the perfect top-wood for players who want more volume and bite. To this day he continues to explore and experiment with different tonewoods from across the globe.

More recently, Dana led the charge in the torrefaction of tonewoods. This technology was originally developed by contractors in northern Europe who recognized that by cooking their wood flooring prior to installation they could increase its stability in cold climates. By doing this to guitar tops, Dana is able to build new guitars that sound like they have already been aged to perfection. Of course, they still need to vibrate, but the chemical side of “breaking them in” is already taken care of.

Today he is located in an old mill in Lewiston, Maine with a team of about 20 total employees. He participates with and overseas every step of construction personally and an instrument will not leave his shop if it doesn’t meet his exacting criterion. They make about 400 guitars a year, some of which are currently available at Midwood guitar studio! Contact us for more information. Also, if you want to soak up some wisdom from the man himself, check out Dana’s monthly column in Acoustic Guitar Magazine.