A few weeks ago I came back to an older guitar, which was build for me by a well-known local luthier in germany: Thomas Kortmann. Back in the 90s I ordered a custom Stratocaster from him with many unique design-features:
- Strat-body enlarged with longer upper horn for a very good balance
- Alder Body with Maple Neck
- Flat ebony fingerboard
- Extended fretboard on the high E side
- Full scalloped fingerboard
- Copper nut
- Fat neck-contour (around 2cm across the whole length)
- Natural Oil finish
- EMG 85 and SA Pickups, Volume, Tone, Three-way-switch
- Wilkinson Vibrato
- Sperzel Locking tuners
I came back to that guitar, because I needed to tune down to C to match the range of my singer Chris for a specific song. The BC Rich Stealth, which I used before for as my main guitar, could not handle the lower tuning so well. But when I restrung the Kortmann with 11-56 strings it sounded well defined and … hmmm … awesome (as the american would say). You know, if you think you love a guitar ( like I loved the BC Rich before), you think the good feeling is caused by specific features. Compared to the Kortmann the BC Rich is very different. The BC Rich has a slim neck-profile, lower frets, no scalloping, Passive PUs. It is very neck-heavy, features a Gibson-scale and a neck-through construction. And while I played it for such a long time I was convinced, that all these features are better than the features of the Kortmann. I felt a bit confused, when I shouldered the Kortmann again and after some days felt different again. Now I thought everything on the Kortmann is better and more suitable for my playing.style. At last I think it’s all caused by habit. If you play a guitar a long time you will feel accustomed to it, doesn’t matter how it is constructed. But there is a more objective point of view: the sound. And when I compared the recorded sound of both guitars I liked the sound of the Kortmann better for what I am doing actually.
With this experience in mind I feel the longing for another guitar in the style of the Kortmann. There are a few things I would change today. Some just to achieve a cool look, some to satisfy my changed needs. The most unique feature of the Kortmann is the extended fretboard.
I ordered it, because I wanted to keep my hand in the classical position and create a “Sitar-vibrato” on the high E-string. Meanwhile I can also vibrate with the classic Rock-vibrato, but I like to do both depending on the style. Over the years I explored, that the extension of the Kortmann is still a bit too narrow to create a wide vibrato. Therefore I want to add two or three millimeters on this side of the neck. I don’t use the Wilkinson-Tremolo anymore, because I could improve my finger-vibrato. Therefore I have decided to use a fixed bridge. Tone and Resonance should benefit from a fixed bridge, though I have to admit, that the Kortmann has already an amazing sustain with the Wilkinson tremolo. The long time test also uncovered the bad quality of the Wilkinson. It rusts, I loose screws now and then, which are hard to replace and the adjustment is not very stable.
Sometimes I get little scratches in the fretwire, which produce a nasty feeling while bending or doing vibrato, so I want a harder fret-material and stainless steel is the high quality standard of today. Though the EMG 85 already sounds great for the low C tuning, I could imagine, that an EMG81 with its clearer bass could sound even better. The new EMG81X should contain a wider dynamic range then its predecessor and bring some passive virtues on the table. Therefore I will go with a white EMG81X in the bridge position. And what’s about the cool look? The Kortmann looks very basic, more like a studio-workhorse and I want additionally a guitar with a more interesting look and appearance. Therefore to match the bright maple-fretboard I want to realise a brighter guitar: Light-blue finish with matching headstock, no position markers, white bridge Pickup, white Logo on headstock and maybe also on the upper side of the body, chrome hardware. Of course I could order another guitar from Thomas, but first I am a bit afraid of the costs, second since years I think over to make a guitar myself and actually I have time, because I am on a longer vacation. I feel encouraged in wood-working by the experience of many home-repairs, which I could successfully finish over the last years. A bolt-on construction seems to be not as risky as neck-through or set neck guitar. Of course I am in awe of the craftsmanship of luthiers. The critical points are for sure the neck-placement and the fret-adjusting, but I am ready to face the challenge.
So I sat down and listed, how the new guitar should look, which parts are required and what tools I need additionally. I list below the features of the new guitar
- Strat-body enlarged with longer upper horn
- Alder body with maple neck
- Bolt-on construction
- Solid blue color with white heartscore-logo and matching headstock
- No radius maple fretboard
- No postion-markers on fretboard, just side-dots (blue)
- Stainless Steel frets medium-jumbo
- Extended fretboard on High E, two mm more compared to the Kortmann
- Zero fret nut
- Reversed headstock
- Hipshot fixed bridge
- Hipshot Locking machines
- One EMG Bridge PU
Besides the parts for the guitar, which I have already ordered, I thought about, how I can save costs for tools and what I can do with tools I already have at home. This is the reason, why I have ordered a neck-blank, which is already routed for the truss-rod. Otherwise I had to buy a router. But there are some tools I have to buy additionally
- a wood chisel with hammer
- a fine saw (0,6mm)
- a fret file
- a wood planer
I think it’s possible to realize the routings without buying an electronic router, if I work carefully with the chisel and sanding paper. Actually I am waiting for the body-wood and the neck-blank and would start with the body contour. I can use the Kortmann-Strat as a template and imagine, that I first cut the body-form with my padsay before I go on with the chisel and sanding paper for the arm and tummy-contours. I will keep you updated how I progress and which experiences I make during the work.
If you like to know how the Kortmann sounds, listen to this track on bandcamp: