Originally I wanted to play like Eddie van Halen, the only thing I needed was a guitar like he had. That kind of guitar wasn't available in any guitar shops where I grew up so I decided to make one. Although my taste in guitars and music has changed, the reason behind my desire to build guitars is the same. In a way I'm still looking for a certain sound as a player, like when I started.
Someone once asked me "what is the best guitar?" I told him that the best guitar is chosen by the player. The player knows what the best guitar for his needs is, and the Luthier's job is to know how to get that, what woods to choose etc…
The most important thing is always the sound. Even though on my Selmer / Maccaferri guitars the role model is quite clear, we may understand the "original Selmer sound" differently. Although I try to be absolute with all the details, I still think there are some things that shouldn't be copied from old Selmers.
For example, the construction itself had its weak points that I have upgraded on my Selmer models, whilst of course maintaining the original sound. It can be said that the top of the guitar has a resonating area and then the top has other areas that have more "structural responsibilities".
One of the weak points on old Selmers is the area around the sound hole and the neck joint area. Because of this, neck angles have changed and string action has got higher. On many old guitars this was compensated by lowering the bridge more and more, - without solving the problem with the neck angle. Of course we need to remember that few guitars of any brand from this period have survived without the need for a neck reset.
The neck profile of the original Selmer is also one thing that some players dislike, I have changed the profile slightly making it more comfortable to play, whilst still maintaining the original nature of the gypsy guitar neck.
Today we have facts available about species of i.e spruce, how some particular piece differs from another. It's important to understand the relevant facts. It's the luthiers job to know those significant issues which are affecting the sound that audience hears when a musician is performing on stage. I have been lucky to play with many great players in my own band, Hot club de Finlande and also in many other projects. During the years I learned what is expected from a guitar.
The building process on AJL gypsy guitars is actually very close to the original Selmer process. Ebony fingerboards, neck woods & neck blocks are selected, sawn, dried and seasoned. They're stored in a controlled climate to maintain the right humidity during the construction process. Carefully selected European walnut is used on Selmer / Maccaferri style necks. maple on Gypsy-Fire models and maple and mahogany on archtop necks.
The backs and sides are hand laminated using very old stock of pre-Cites Brazilian rosewood. The wood has been logged over 40 years ago, as is the mahogany veneer. After laminating, the sides and backs are stored and dried for a couple of months before construction.
Bracewoods are selected without compromise, dried for years, sanded using a high precision drum sander exactly to desired dimensions, shaped and tuned after gluing to a European spruce top plate. I will get desired elasticity in order to be able to change something in that equation; everything else should be equalized so the change is based on documented measurements. Since this thorough documentation is used, I am able to handle the different characteristics of the sound.
Today, thanks to people who have spent many years doing research and creating, there are modern methods and processes for things that previously would have taken a lifetime of experience to master. For example, we know exactly what happens to wood during drying and aging, Modern technology can now significantly help in making these things happen in much shorter time scales, in many albeit not all areas.
My Friend, Master of Luthiery, Doctor Rauno Nieminen once said that if you want to know something about topwood, the only right way is to measure those certain qualities. It is really true, If you look at the wood, you only know how it looks! If you try to feel the elasticity with your hands, you only know how it feels, but you don't know its actual measurements. I look at the elasticity when sanding the tops so that they're never sanded to the same thickness, but they're sanded to certain elasticity. Speed of sound can also be measured in some particular pieces of wood. Mass can be measured, as well as moisture. It's a pity that the best looking topwoods are not usually the best sounding.
I was very lucky to get different batches of a very old stock of wood. My Brazilian rosewood veneers were cut about 40 years ago, similar to the mahogany which is used with rosewoods to laminate sides and backs. The Indian rosewood veneer was cut in the 70's and even all of the batches of 0.8 mm birch that is used to make the binding stripes had original tags from the 60's.