When we think of innovation, style, and sonic possibility, one of the companies we think of first is McPherson Guitars. If you have been a follower of Heartbreaker Guitars for any amount of time, you will be very familiar with McPherson’s name, and may even be familiar with their highly eclectic guitar models. This is a company with an incredibly broad scope in the context of what they envision their lasting impact on the guitar community to be. From their wooden acoustic models to their unique carbon fiber series, these guitars are masterfully well-built, and possess some incredibly fine intricacies and details that truly show how much thought is being put into the construction and mechanics of how these guitars function. To paraphrase Matt McPherson himself, the ultimate goal of McPherson guitars is to create the finest acoustics guitars that have ever been conceived of, and to bring all of the best elements of each preexisting guitar together in order to create a sonic force that is unparalleled in its construction and sound capability. In this installment, we are going to highlight the construction and quality of McPherson’s main guitar lines, while also touching on the philosophies behind many of the decisions made in reference to the build.
In the 1970’s, a young Matt McPherson was inspired by a performance he had seen on the Johnny Carson show of a performer from Japan doing a Johnny Cash cover. This gentleman had constructed his own guitar, and this would prove to be a key moment in Matt McPherson’s life. Years later, after he had already begun to make a substantial impact in the field of designing archery bows—compound bows in particular—he came to the realization that these bows he was so well-acquainted with were, in essence, stringed instruments. A great deal of the mechanics behind creating stable bows focus on the vibration of the tool, and to what extent it will impact the optimization. The process of making bows shoot in an untroubled and smooth manner involves the dampening of vibration, the exact reverse process to expanding the tonal quality of a stringed instrument. His ultimate thought process led him to the belief that if he fully understood the process behind dampening sound, he should also have a competent understanding of how to increase that vibration, leading him to begin developing the now-recognizable McPherson guitar models. While we are touching on the mechanical aspect, there are a few noteworthy elements of the McPherson build that have come to define the company, from both a visual and utilitarian perspective. These would be the Offset Soundhole, the Cantilevered Neck, and the Carbon Fiber Neck Reinforcement. From Mr. McPherson’s perspective, moving the soundhole away from the middle of the soundboard and further up on the side of the guitar was a very deliberate decision. Putting a hole in the middle of your top wood drastically shortens the soundboard and restricts the amount of space that is available for air to be pushed through. With a longer soundboard—in addition to the neck, cantilevered off of the top wood—the guitar is allowed to resonate much more freely, leading to a substantial increase in sustain, clarity, and an overall refinement and equalization of the guitar’s tone. While speaking of the neck, the guitar is further improved through its usage of carbon fiber to reinforce the neck, and to use as the truss rod. They believe that they have created a neck so stable that it does not need to be adjusted, and that their specific set parameters for the neck are the optimal specifications for these guitars. Taking all of this into consideration, let’s take a step further, and go through a selection of McPherson’s Wood Acoustics.
In looking at McPherson’s selection of their wooden acoustics, one can immediately notice a level of quality simply by the design of the guitars. These models are beautifully crafted, commonly contain beautiful examples of high-grade wood, and come with a variety of appointments that allow for distinction between these models. Whether you are playing a combination of Bearclaw Sitka over Granadillo, Red Spruce over Pau Rosa, Engelmann Spruce over Madagascar Rosewood, or the classic Sitka Spruce over Indian Rosewood, these guitars all possess incredible tonality and clarity, while boasting a distinct sound from one another due to the wood. In McPherson’s wooden acoustic series, they are differentiated by two distinct body styles: The MG, and the Camrielle. The MG is described by its jumbo, dreadnought-style body that is meant to accentuate the lower, resonant part of the tonal spectrum. Alternatively, the Camrielle is a more compact body style that focuses on responsiveness, expression, and adaptability of playing styles. Between these two models, there is an incredibly wide sonic variety that is made possible by the building style. Although the difference in body style allows for a good deal of sonic variance, the reliability and tonal consistency of these instruments is blatant to players and spectators alike. Their equalization is unparalleled and offers just the right amount of each sect of the scope of the tonality. They produce deep, rich lows, responsive, tempered highs, and a mid-range that leaves the high and low end unimpeded, instead broadening the resonance of the guitar by adding just the correct amount of low-mid and high-mid range. For flatpicking or strumming, these guitars remain sonically consistent, and have been able to stand up to any music or playing style. The theme of consistency and reliability is all too apt to describe McPherson’s other main line of guitars, in their Carbon Fiber Series.
“A guitar made almost entirely of carbon fiber? Why?” is a question that we at Heartbreaker get quite frequently in relation to McPherson’s other most-recognizable line. However, this question never seems to need an answer, considering that every time that same customer picks up and plays a McPherson Carbon Fiber, their question of “Why?” is immediately answered. These models are tried and tested by luthiers and players alike, and they all come away with an incredibly positive experience. While these guitars are made (almost entirely) of carbon fiber, their sound is nigh-indistinguishable from that of a wooden guitar, and the experience of playing them feels remarkably similar. They are highly durable, resistant, and incredibly stable. Common guitar issues are brought on by humidity, elevation, heat, cold, rain, and the typical movement and reshaping of wood. These carbon fiber guitars experience none of those issues, and are ready to face any sort of climate conditions that you can put it in. Currently, there are two different lines of Carbon Fiber guitars that McPherson produces: the Sable line, and the Touring line. The Sables are based on the Camrielle body shape and are equally as tonally consistent as their wooden counterparts. The Touring models are a ¾-size body, intended to be a much more high-end version of a travel guitar, and possess a tone that drastically defies their size. With both the Sables and the Tourings, you have a selection of customizable components to make the guitars unique. For their top finish styles, you can choose between their Original Pattern finish, Honeycomb finish, or Basketweave finish. Additionally, you choose the color of your hardware—from Satin Pearl, Gold, or Black Gunmetal. With the Touring models, as a special accent, they have included a series of colors that travel along the body binding, as well as along the outer edge of the soundhole. Among others, offered colors are Red, Orange, Blue, Green, Yellow, Pink, and Black. Finally, the Carbon Fiber models are also noteworthy for their signature Blackout Edition models, which are characterized by the Black binding, nut, bridge, and hardware, for a sleek and uniform look. Best of all, the Blackout Touring models are only available at Heartbreaker Guitars! Check out our latest video on these incredible Blackout Editions!
From my perception, there are two different types of guitar companies, both equally valid in aspiration and concept. The first, is those who seek to create a wide range of eclectic models that are vastly differentiated from one another by any observable aspect, leading to a wider market reach, and attempting to create products for a more broad group of players, taking account of those who may not identify with their primary products. On the other hand, you have the companies—like McPherson—who place the quality of their product in the execution. McPherson Guitars have a storied history, one that came out of a very well-reasoned theory about vibration, and the way that sound moves. Though McPherson’s guitar models are currently restricted to four unique lines, they have very clearly addressed that their mission is in consistency of quality. Additionally, variation comes in the form of the unique woods that they employ, as well as the many aesthetic appointments that come along with these guitars. McPherson is a company that understands the value of their flagship, which takes shape in the form of their principles of design. Their priority seems to always come back around to further-developing the scope of a guitar’s tonality and taking the sound into a place that may previously have been thought not-easily achievable. In the modern day, where so many aspects of art and utilitarianism seem to be recycled from previous eras, McPherson is taking their creative energy, and attempting to create something entirely unique. As a player and guitar enthusiast myself, I find this to be an extremely admirable quality for a company to have, and we fully look forward to seeing what beautiful products McPherson brings to us in the future.