Fay Guitars

Simon Fay Guitars

FAQ

I’ve compiled a FAQ that also includes my thoughts on a range of lutherie-related topics. Some of these may prove useful during the commission process, especially my opinions on tonewood combinations and scale lengths. Click on the headings below to expand | collapse information on that topic.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

I’ve compiled a FAQ that also includes my thoughts on a range of lutherie-related topics. Some of these may prove useful during the commission process, especially my opinions on tonewood combinations and scale lengths. Click on the headings below to expand | collapse information on that topic.


  • Bracing, Double Sides, and General Construction

    Bracing Design
    I aim to build guitars that are vibrant, loud, and responsive -- producing a full, open tone with exceptional balance and clarity. In this effort, I have created a bracing design that allows the soundboard to remain very flexible but still have significant strength in key locations. For the back bracing, I employ a unique variation of the traditional ladder bracing. The most notable feature being a centerseam brace that runs uncut through each ladder brace and into a pocket at the headblock and tailback. It is my belief that this design helps the guitar resist rotation of the headlock and the consequent flattening of the back radius - a scenario which eventually requires a neck reset. Hide glue construction is used for the soundboard bracing, back bracing, and bridge joint.

    Double Sides
    I build with double sides as in the tradition of concert quality classical guitars. Not only are there significant structural advantages to double sides (resistance to cracks and neck resets) but I believe there is potential for tonal improvement as well. The theory is that sides with more mass and rigidity help the top and back work more effectively.
    Please Note: Double sides are not a cost cutting measure and should not be confused with the low-quality laminates found in entry-level guitars. On the contrary, double sides add more labor cost and material expense. I am currently using highly prized Port Orford Cedar for the interior lamination due to its phenomenal stability and resistance to splitting. Port Orford Cedar is much coveted by the Japanese in the upkeep and restoration of their historic temples. Additionally, Port Orford is an aromatic wood with a wonderful smell - in my opinion, second only to Imbuia as the best smelling wood in the world.

    General Construction
    The overall design and structure of my instruments is based on solid engineering principles. I build very lightweight guitars that also manage to be exceedingly strong. The double sides and top/back bracing are effective in preventing structural deformation from string tension. The neck construction is quite rugged and each of my guitars are built with neck angles that rest slightly above the height of the bridge giving excellent saddle height even with low action. I have spent years honing my woodworking skills and the result is that every joint in the guitar is carefully prepped and glued with accuracy and precision. Both the interior and exterior of my instruments display obsessive attention to detail and hand work that results in sharp, crisp lines.

  • Custom Neck Profile

    Custom nut and saddle widths are no cost options. Non-commissioned or "spec" guitars go out with a 1 25/32" nut width and 2.25" string spacing at the saddle. If you have moderate to large hands, you might consider a 1 13/16" nut width. Personally, I find this makes for a very comfortable fingerstyle neck. Another thing I do is ensure that the outermost strings are not positioned too close to the fretboard edge, something that a surprising number of guitar manufacturers get wrong. The wisdom of this kind of layout becomes immediately apparent when string bending further up the neck.

    A custom neck profile is a no cost option. My standard neck is the approximate shape and depth of a Taylor neck. I would classify the neck as a C-shaped profile of moderate thickness. If you have a specific neck profile in mind, I can make an exact copy if you provide a template with dimensions -- contact me for "How To” instructions.

  • Fretwire

    For fret material, I have switched exclusively to Jescar EVO gold fretwire. The EVO wire is comparable to stainless steel wire in terms of durability and most players will go a lifetime without needing any kind of fretwork (leveling/replacing).

    I don’t offer stainless steel fretwire as I believe the SS fret material imparts a tinny quality to the note. A couple years ago, I ran a quick simulation with one of my guitars using different fret material. I always thought it was very unlikely that fretwire could have an audible effect on tone. Nevertheless, my conclusion after this simulation is that SS fretwire imparts a slight “ping” during the initial attack of a plucked string. The only explanation I can think of is maybe the string isn’t staying seated against the SS fret due to its hardness but instead bounces or vibrates against the fret during the initial phase of the attack. The harder I plucked the strings, the more apparent this was to my ears. The overall tonal effect is a subtle hollow quality during the first millisecond of the note. I was quite surprised at this result as I had used stainless steel frets early in my building career and didn’t perceive any difference. In fairness, I would say that most individuals would completely miss the tonal artifacts of the various fretwork choices.

  • Guitar Cases

    All my guitars ship with a custom-fit Calton case. You can pick from a wide array of exterior/interior colors to make the case uniquely your own. Please note that certain exterior color choices like glitter, splatter, or granite are additional cost options. In my opinion, Calton makes the absolute best guitar case on the market both from an aesthetic and functional standpoint. The fiberglass shell is impeccably crafted and the interior fit is always perfect. The old style Calton cases were a bit on the heavy side but the new Calton guitar cases built in Texas are only slightly heavier than a carbon fiber case while still offering the renowned Calton protection and durability. Visit the Calton website for more details on what makes these cases so special.

    I also offer other case options including: Karura, Hoffee, and Visesnut. The Karura is equal to the Calton in terms of quality and offers the strongest outer shell in the industry. Karura has the best latches of any case manufacturer and while the interior fit is well-designed and executed, I do prefer how Calton and Hoffee approach the interior fit, particularly in regards to how the headstock is supported. The Hoffee case is a superb case with a fantastic interior fit but the exterior of the case isn't quite as nicely done as the Calton or Karura. Both the Hoffee and the Karura are carbon fiber cases and weigh a bit less than a fiberglass Calton, which is still noticeably lighter than a plyboard constructed case like Ameritage.

    The Visesnut is a rather interesting case. It is a hardshell foam case like Hiscox and doesn't offer the protection of Calton, Karura, or Hoffee. However, the Visesnut case is astoundingly lightweight and has a great looking exterior. The Visesnut adjustable fit mechanism is functional but not on par with the interior fit offered by the others. The Visesnut case is the one I recommend to folks who don't need the protection of a flight case but want a high quality case that seals well and is feather light.

  • Guitar Finish

    The finish is an integral component of the guitar and is an especially important variable in responsive guitar construction. The great dilemma of guitar finishing is that durability and protection come at the expense of tone. As of 2021, I am applying an ultra-thin urethane coating on all my guitars. This finish material is beautiful, durable, solvent resistant, stable, long-lasting, and does not cold check. With meticulous care, I am able to apply a remarkably thin urethane finish that rivals French Polish for tone.

    If you are interested in reading my thoughts on different finish materials and why I've chosen urethane for my instruments, then click on the link below:

    My Thoughts on Guitar Finish

  • Hide Glue

    I am often asked if I use hot hide glue in my instruments. The answer is yes - but only for certain parts. All glues have specific situations where they excel and I don't believe hide glue is the best glue for every joint in an instrument. Here are the glues I use:

    • I use a high-grade epoxy formulation for the side lamination process and for the headstock veneers. Epoxy doesn't contain water as do most glue formulations (hide glue and PVA glues like Titebond) and this completely eliminates the possibility of warping during the gluing process.
    • I use hide glue for most of the joints used in the body of the guitar - joining the plates, top and back bracing, bridge, etc. I don't actually believe hide glue improves the guitar’s tone in any way. PVA glues like Titebond dry very hard albeit not quite as hard as hide glue. However, a proper glue joint should not have any sort of visible glue line between the parts but rather serve as a microscopic bond between two carefully mated pieces of wood. Based on that fact alone, I find it unlikely that any sort of tonal improvement could be gained from using hide glue over other hard drying wood glues. In my opinion, the real advantage of hide glue comes from its usefulness during repairs, allowing new joints to form over old joints without the removal of old glue. It also doesn't cold creep, which is extremely advantageous for the bridge joint.
    • Lastly, there are a several gluing operations where CA glue and PVA glues are ideally suited and extremely convenient -- rosette, inlay, fretmarkers, and binding.

  • Intonation

    Intonation refers to the pitch accuracy of an instrument. As most players are aware, the act of fretting a string increases the string tension and causes the pitch to go sharp. For this reason, the saddle is moved back from its theoretical position to lengthen the scale length to compensate for the sharpening effect of fretting a note. However, this slight increase in scale length then causes problems for the open strings. The above is a simplified description of the problem but should give you a feel for why intonation is necessary on a steel string guitar. The bottom-line is there are several ways to go about achieving good intonation. I have settled on the following solution which I think yields very good results. I move the entire nut forward slightly from its theoretical location and intonate the saddle based on the string’s note at the octave. It is also important to note that having a perfectly flat fretboard with very little neck relief and low action at the nut help eliminate some of the biggest contributors to poor intonation.

  • Is It Really Handmade?

    This is a question that seems to frequent the various online guitar forums. First of all, to be semantically correct, the entirely handmade description does prohibit the use of power tools. However, I think most people use the term to imply that an object is carefully crafted by an artisan rather than mass produced in a factory. The majority of the work I do is powered by my own strength rather than electricity. I use an array of chisels, files, rasps, saws, scrapers, and planes to prep the various parts for assembly. However, I also employ an assortment of power tools for specific operations and also to do the basic prep work for most aspects of construction. Some of my processes incorporate mostly hand tools and others mostly power tools. For example, in the manufacturing of the headblock and tailblock, I use a bandsaw, disc sander, and drill press for most of the work and only use a small block plane to fine tune the surfaces. For the neck profile, I use a bandsaw and a shaper to dial in the neck thickness and then use a spokeshave, chisels, rasps, sandpaper, and scraper to carve the neck, heel, and volute.

    Regarding CNC equipment, I currently use this equipment only for the creation of my fretboards and this process is outsourced. CNC equipment is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand they are incredibly useful but they also substitute computer/programming skill for woodworking skill. There are certain things that CNC's can do that would be incredibly time consuming and/or potentially impossible by hand. For example, a CNC can cut route each fret slot just shy of the fretboard's edge so that no binding is needed to hide the fret tang - performing this task with hand tools in Ebony would be an immensely time-consuming task. CNC's are also incredibly useful for complicated inlay work and template/jig creation.

    Both power tools and CNC's create new possibilities but also lower the woodworking skill needed to manufacture a component. Most power tools still require a tremendous amount of technique to use and I personally view them as a great way to speed up what would otherwise be mostly grunt work. CNC's are wonderful tools but you absolutely lose a human component with their incorporation into a process. I believe they are invaluable for certain part manufacturing and inlay (which is quite expensive when done entirely by hand) but also believe they can turn the build process into assembly work if every part is milled on a CNC. Nevertheless, the assembly process itself requires a great deal of woodworking skill. The binding process alone is something that would be a tremendous challenge for most woodworkers. In conclusion, I think that all of these tools have a place in the shop of builders but I hope that the use of automated tooling is selectively utilized and never entirely replaces the use of hand tools.

  • Neck Joint

    My guitars are built with a mortise and tenon bolt-on neck with the fretboard extension glued to the soundboard. My personal opinion is that the fit of the joint is more important than the style. In a good neck joint, the neck is held tightly against the body of the guitar. Both dovetail and bolt-on style joints achieve this in slightly different ways but the resulting structure in a well-prepared joint is nearly identical. The primary reason I use a bolt-on neck is because it is allows me to utilize a thin heel profile while still crafting a very strong neck. With the mortise and tenon design, I am able to make a wide and deep tenon for the neck and by inserting a mahogany dowel through the tenon region (in the direction of fretboard to heel), I can provide plenty of strength in one of the weakest areas of the neck. A dovetail joint would not allow me to do this resulting in a structurally weaker neck and restricting my heel design to a more traditional style. Another advantage of a bolt-on neck is that it is easier to disassemble and is, therefore, more repair friendly.

  • Product History

    I started building guitars professionally in late 2007 and have always focused on just one model -- an analogue to the Orchestra Model (OM). This model has had three very different iterations:

    • OM (2004 - 2009)
    • Modern OM (2009 - 2012)
    • Model One (2012 - present)

    (2009-2020) — During these years, I outsourced my polyester finish to expert finisher, Joe White.
    (2021-present) — All finish work is done in-house with an ultra-thin urethane coating.

    Fit & Finish
    The construction quality of my early work was very good. There were aspects that needed improvement but overall, I believe the guitars were noticeably better than what most high-end factory brands produce. Over the years, the build quality improved at a slow but steady rate. Many processes were modified/refined and allowed me to improve the quality of my work. In addition, the many thousands of hours of experience allowed me to hone my woodworking skills with both hand tools and power tools. It has taken me years of dedication (and a bit of OCD) to get to this point but I can honestly say that the fit and finish of my current work is as good as it gets.

    Tone
    Sound is a very subjective thing and very difficult to discuss without a point of comparison. My early work sounded very good. The volume was excellent and my guitars were vibrant and responsive. They had a big, open sound and were Lowdenesque in terms of their timbre. Early on, I think my biggest struggle was obtaining a fat treble response. In late 2009, I introduced my Modern OM guitar model. Tonally speaking, this design was a radical departure from my previous work and my focus shifted to a much more articulate and balanced sound with a fatter treble response. I have since continued to refine my work and elevate my guitars to the highest level.

    Design
    The aesthetics of good design might seem obvious but let me assure you - it is easy to build an ugly guitar! I think that I have always had a sophisticated design sense but recognizing good design and creating it are two entirely different things. I have always tried to walk my own creative path and I credit that decision with helping me to grow as an artist. Over the years and through myriad design iterations, I have gained an understanding of what does and doesn’t work well in the context of a guitar. In particular, proportions and overall design coherence are incredibly important to me. I lean towards a clean, modern style and have a body shape and supporting elements (headstock, bridge, rosette, neck/heel, etc.) that work well with that aesthetic.

    Prototype Guitars (2004-2007)
    I built a number of what I call prototype guitars while I was still a novice/amateur builder. The build quality was decent but inferior in many respects to your typical Martin or Taylor. I was primarily concerned with gaining experience rather than making perfect instruments, especially since I was not charging anything for my time. All of these guitars were sold at material cost plus a couple hundred dollars for shop expenses. You can easily recognize my prototypes because of their unusual looking pinless bridge design. I have noticed that a few of these guitars have been bought and sold several times over the years and have watched the asking price increase dramatically. My only concern is that these prototypes are sometimes referenced as being a good deal in comparison to what my current guitars sell for. I want to make it clear that these early guitars are in no way representative of my current instruments nor are they covered under warranty.

  • Scale Length and Multi-Scale Guitars

    I offer several different scale length options:

    • 24.0” Scale
    • 24.0” Based Multi-scale (24 — 24.5” recommended)
    • 25.0” Scale
    • 25.0” Based Multi-scale (25 -- 25.5” recommended)

    The advantage of the 24.0” short scale is improved ergonomics for the fretting hand, especially with difficult chord formations. However, the short scale requires a heavier gauge string set to create the necessary tension with the end result being a nearly identical overall tension as the longer scale. Interestingly enough, the short scale is still easier to fret despite having the same overall string tension.

    There are some noteworthy tonal considerations regarding scale length. Without doubt, the longer scale does sound better. The high-end is very sweet on the short scale but there is a decrease in the bass response. The overall effect is what I would call a smaller “soundstage” (to borrow a term from the audiophile community) with the short scale yielding a less grand/expansive sound. The decision to go with a short scale is, therefore, a personal choice regarding the value of the ergonomic benefits gained. If at all possible, I recommend you strongly consider the multi-scale option if you are commissioning a short scale instrument.

    The chart below (not visible on phones) provide information on string gauge sets and give the string tension at multiple scale lengths. Please note that the tension chart is based on standard tuning. For example, medium gauge string sets are not allowed on my regular scale guitars in standard tuning but if you are playing in dropped tunings then they would actually be recommended. The value of the John Pearse New Medium string set is that it is a mixed light/medium gauge string set and is an even tension set. The benefit of this string set is that it sounds great both in standard tuning and in dropped tunings. As such, I recommend that most players just stick with the JP New Medium, Elixir HD, or similar light/medium mixed gauge set.

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  • Soundboard Runout

    Runout refers to grain direction and is responsible for causing a two-toned soundboard where one half of the soundboard is darker/lighter than the other. For a detailed explanation on the cause of runout, please view this article by Frank Ford:

    Grain Runout

    While runout isn't a structural or tonal issue unless it is severe, I strongly dislike its appearance and go to great lengths to find soundboards that will have a perfect color match across the centerline. Once you become aware of runout, you will notice that a large percentage of acoustic guitars have it and that it was also quite common in older instruments as well. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to source Adirondack, Engelmann, and European Spruce tops without any runout. I often place very large orders for the highest grade tops when they become available and keep only 5% or less of my order. I reject many beautiful tops with exquisite grain just because there would be a slight color variation across the center joint. The process of eliminating soundboards with runout is quite difficult. I spend many hours combing through a soundboard order to determine which tops don't have runout and that also meet my other soundboard requirements (light, stiff, cross-grain strength, and good cosmetics). Despite my best effort, I still sometimes find that tops with a little bit of runout will slip through -- these tops get noticed after they are joined and fine sanded. Rather than proceed, I discard the top and continue on with a different top that doesn't have any runout. Under my current price structure, I actually make less profit with the Engelmann and European Spruce top options when compared with the base Sitka Spruce top, which are much easier to source without any runout.

    As is typical of the rest of the industry, I have seriously thought about allowing some runout in my soundboards. Eliminating severe and moderate runout is easily accomplished as it is very noticeable and quickly identified. Nevertheless, I personally feel that much of the aesthetic value of my guitars comes from a beautiful top with perfectly even color. Soundboard runout breaks the visual coherence and I know I just wouldn’t be happy building an instrument if any runout were present.

    Please Note: My comments about runout are restricted to a viewing angle that is roughly perpendicular to the soundboard surface. It becomes an impossibly difficult task to locate soundboards that won’t show some color differentiation across the joint when viewed from acute angles. I notice this quality more with Engelmann than any other Spruce species, especially in tops with a lot of medullary rays and shimmer.

  • Tonewood Cost and Upcharge

    For most options/upgrades, the upcharge is due to additional labor. However, the pricing for tonewood options is a little bit different. I see this question asked often on internet guitar forums and some folks seemed genuinely confused as to why there is a discrepancy between the actual cost of the upgrade to the builder and the cost to the customer. The short answer is that the price structure is based on the dynamics of running a business. For example, most luthiers have a sizable inventory of very expensive tonewood and sound business principles state that this capital investment must turn a profit or else it becomes a poor investment. There are also other considerations that affect pricing such as the time involved in sourcing the wood, the workability of the material, and the replacement cost if the wood is damaged during construction. Furthermore, the cost of instrument grade tonewood can vary dramatically and is continually on the rise. Over the years, I have collected some of the finest back/side sets you will ever find and some are truly irreplaceable. I have priced these sets accordingly but please realize that there are often cheaper options available. For example, I quote Cocobolo as an $1,500 option but that is for the middle quality range. It is possible for me to offer Cocobolo for as low as $750 and as high as $3,000. The same applies to many other tonewood species.

  • Warranty and Humidity Control

    I would like to discuss the warranty concept in greater detail. Almost every manufacturing defect will quickly reveal itself after the guitar has been strung up. Issues such as finish problems, bad glue joints, poor neck geometry, bad fretwork, and unstable soundboards/backs should all be evident within the first six months of ownership. My track record for quality is excellent — to date, I have only needed to do one small cosmetic repair for one of my guitars. However, I have had several customers contact me regarding problems with their instruments relating to action and neck angle problems. Every single situation was quickly resolved when the clients realized they were not properly humidifying their instruments. In all of these circumstances, the customers thought they were being diligent but we came to discover the RH was closer to about 65% or higher. The end result of such care is most certainly an instrument with a weakened structure along with potential finish issues and small cracks in the top/back. A weakened structure might result in braces coming loose or possible neck angle issues. Guitars are simply not built to expand and contract over and over and still maintain their correct geometry. In fact, once a guitar has become severely wet or dry, chances are it will never return to its original form. Please note that the warranty does not cover problems caused by excessive humidity or dryness. If you have any questions about how to accurately measure the relative humidity and ensure a stable RH environment, I would be more than happy to discuss the topic with you.

  • What Wood Combination Should I Choose?

    I would first like to say that there are many wonderful tonewoods and I am of the opinion that there is no BEST wood combination. Secondly, without using one of my instruments as a benchmark, it is simply impossible for me to know what wood combinations you will prefer. Lastly, it is very important to experience the differences between Spruce, Cedar, Mahogany, and Rosewood before choosing your wood combination. The best advice I can give is to go play a specific brand and body size in many different wood combinations to get a grasp on how these woods effect the sound.

    I always recommend choosing the soundboard first and then the back/side wood. The difference between Spruce and Cedar/Redwood is striking and will serve as the primary voice of the guitar. Once you determine whether you want a Spruce top or a Cedar/Redwood top then you should consider what wood to use for the back/sides. I tend to view back/side woods as falling into three general categories: Mahogany, Maple, and Rosewood. Rather than providing an in-depth analysis of the various wood species, I prefer to focus on what I consider to be the main tonal difference between wood species — their overtone complexity. The reason I focus on overtone complexity is that it is a fairly easy way to differentiate and choose a tonewood. You will likely never get folks to agree on what specific qualities Mahogany and Rosewood each possess but most everyone will agree that Rosewood has greater tonal complexity than Mahogany. The scale below is how I perceive the overtone complexity of these woods when used in my instruments — arranged from left to right in order of increasing complexity.

    Soundboard Complexity Scale
    Sitka     Adirondack     German     Engelmann     Redwood     Cedar

    Back | Side Complexity Scale
    Maple     Walnut     Koa, Mahogany     Ebony, Ziricote     Rosewood

    Rosewood Complexity Scale
    Indian     Cocobolo     Brazilian, Honduran, Madagascar     African Blackwood

    I would like to mention that Spruce | Rosewood is the combination that most players gravitate towards. This combination is very versatile and has a clear, rich tone that sounds great with the vast majority of genres and playing styles. Lastly, I'd like to recommend the following article by luthier Dana Bourgeois. It is an excellent article that you may find useful.

    Tapping Tonewoods by Dana Bourgeois

  • Hygrometer Calibration

    Click on the link below to access a tutorial on hygrometer calibration:
    How To Calibrate a Hygrometer


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