McPherson Guitars - Replacing Tradition with Precision
July 10, 20197 min read
We’ve reached an age where expectations fuel our lives. Throw a picture on social media that isn’t considered “normal” and one could start a civil war. “The way things are supposed to be” seems to keep a lot of people up in arms when their system is challenged, when their outline is changed or their way of life is altered. One could say McPherson Guitars is making an analogous impact on the guitar world, and they wouldn’t be wrong. What the McPherson family has done, however, is sacrificed traditional guitar building for precision luthiering and in doing so has created a very unique and high-end instrument. I’d like to tell you about a few of the things that sets McPherson apart from the competition, show you a couple of the amazing custom shop guitars they’ve created and a few of these handcrafted guitars that are available for purchase right now.
I’m not going to be the one to tell Clapton, Beck or Vai to “just try it” when they raise their nose with their first glance at a McPherson guitar (which they wouldn’t), but I have no problem saying it to you. In my late thirties, I still hear my Father’s voice when I look down at my plate and see something that looks different as my friends tell me “you’ll like it!” Did anyone’s mouth salivate when they first sat down in front of a plate of foie gras? Just take a look at this guitar.
Three things happen when someone first sees a McPherson. First, you’ll notice the eclipsing sound hole trying to escape to the South. Second, you’ll see the stunning craftsmanship from head to pin. And lastly, you’ll pick up a guitar that you won’t want to put back down.
The story, or theory rather, behind the sound hole is intriguing. I don’t personally remember when I first saw a McPherson guitar, and knowing now how they sound, how they feel and what goes into making one, I no longer see an offset hole; I see a McPherson. The three magic things every guitarist wants from their acoustic is volume, sustain and intonation. When McPherson first started making their prototypes, they’ll tell you their goal was the same as any producer: To give the customer the best product they can. An important part and possibly the most important part of a guitar is the material it’s made of. The reason one model of guitar may be double the price of a seemingly identical model with a different back piece is a combination of the rarity of the wood, the craftsmanship needed to turn that wood into a proper back piece and the known tonal attributes of said wood. The top of the guitar, while it shares the same reasoning behind it’s value, also often serves one more, very important purpose, and that’s to visually impress. So why mess with tradition? Matt McPherson explains the thought behind the offset sound hole.
“When you have a sound hole in the center of a guitar, what you end up doing is really cutting out a portion of the top that has potential. Potential to vibrate, potential to actually move air. So when we move the sound hole over to the side, the sound board now becomes now much longer. So not only did we make the sound board functionally longer, we literally cantilevered the neck so the neck doesn’t even touch the top. So, now we have a much larger surface area, in the neighborhood of 40% longer.”
Listen to a little or all of this video. Mike of Heartbreaker Guitars in Las Vegas is playing a McPherson Camrielle 4.5 with master grade sitka spruce over Indian rosewood. The way this guitar speaks back as it’s being played is incredible. The magic formula the McPherson’s figured out by offsetting the sound hole keeps this guitar on the top shelf where it belongs (when it’s not being played that is).
In Matt’s explanation as to why they changed the traditional face of the guitar, he addressed something important. McPherson aimed to get the most out of every component on the guitar, and the other thing that sets them apart from competition is their continuing efforts to get the most out of their top wood. From the top view it may be hard to notice what McPherson has done, but take a look from the side.
The floating fingerboard of the cantilevered neck. Another nod to the necessary respect given to the tone wood. Traditional guitar design pushes the fretboard just over the top wood with the neck being glued to the soundboard. With the twisting and turning and flexing and expanding, the movement of the neck is not something Matt McPherson wanted interfering with the tuned board. On top of tone are a few other benefits, including volume and preservation. Moving the strings a bit further from the top wood gives the player a more direct string pull meaning more power. The further you are from the top also means the less you’ll find your pick or fingers hitting the polished wood, keeping your one of a kind McPherson a superb instrument as well as an art piece. “McPherson isn’t the only guitar company with a cantilever neck,” you say? Matt has a few words on that.
“Our neck is made with a super high modulus carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is organic. When we put the extremely stiff, very expensive carbon fiber into the neck as the truss rod, now we have a neck that’s so stable it will never have to be adjusted, number one. And, number two, because it’s that stiff, the energy instead of being lost to the neck moving, more of that sound goes to the top.”
With that stiffness comes the inability to adjust the tension of the neck, but McPherson addresses that by shipping all their guitars with three custom bridge saddles; A low, medium and high. While you may be able to hop on Amazon and order a replacement saddle for your Strat, each McPherson has it’s own specific dimensions and measurements and replacing components they ask be done in house or by a competent luthier.
While there’s more to be told about the McPherson’s construction and ode to perfection, let me show you a few of their custom shop guitars. If these don’t raise a few hairs on your neck then you may want to invest in piano lessons.
The McPherson Picasso
The last time I went to a fine art museum I was excited about finding hair in my arm pits. But that takes nothing away from the appreciation I have for this absolutely stunning guitar. Featuring Brazilian rosewood, Italian spruce and covered in custom mosaic inlays inspired by Picasso’s Guitar, this art piece is tuned with the same precision as any of their instruments and is built to be played, if one has the courage. Over 74 hours were spent on the inlays alone and each of the mosaics, including the oval back back piece, are comprised of a total of over 425 segments of exotic woods, hand selected to truly give cognizance to the inspirator. The combination of rare woods and artistry make way to it’s $35,000 price tag. The other I feel obligated to share with you is one of their most prideful possessions, the McPherson 1776.
This Guitar is listed at Heartbreaker Guitars, this guitar is breathtaking. Read this incredible description from their listing: “The one of a kind McPherson 1776 Collectible Guitar. This is an Heirloom Guitar that will surely be one of the most collectible guitars in the history of guitar lutherie. Matt McPherson designed this guitar from beginning to end with the serial number "1776" paying homage to that historical time in American History. MG 4.0XP Flamed Cherry/Adirondack Red Spruce From Matt McPherson: As we approached the 1776th guitar produced by our shop, we decided to dedicate the guitar to the images this number evokes. With that in mind we set about to build a one of a kind MG 4.0XP in honor of July 4th, 1776. This exquisite guitar features a gorgeous Adirondack Red Spruce top along with Flamed Cherry sides and Flamed Cherry/Flamed Maple 3 piece back. Braced with Adirondack Red Spruce and Flamed Walnut this guitar has a bright crisp tone and unparalleled appointments. The fretboard and binding are made of Flamed Maple and match beautifully with the Mammoth tusk overlay on the headcap. Mammoth tusk inlays are also featured on the 3 piece Flamed Cherry/Flamed Maple Bridge, Label and Heel cap. Extensive scrimshaw work was done by Bob Hergert on the Headcap, Label, Heelcap, Bridge, Bridge pins and End pin. The artistry and detail of Bob s scrimshaw work is absolutely astounding. This MG 4.0XP is truly a unique work of art and deserving of closer look. Take a peek at the photo gallery to see this incredible guitar for yourself. This guitar comes with it's own custom hand made guitar display.”