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Kunkel Guitar Features

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The top of the Kunkel Guitar is arched to a 28ft. radius. Flat top guitars that are built truly flat always have problems. Look at any old Martin or Gibson and you’ll see a belly between the bridge and the end block. The entire guitar is trying to “implode” into the sound hole. The neck block is trying to roll forward, raising the action on the strings and creating the need for a neck reset. Often the saddle, and sometimes the bridge has been ground down in a futile attempt to lower the action. By building an arch into the top, these problems are eliminated. There is a mechanical advantage to having the top stressed that fights these tendencies. It creates more of a neck pitch, the bridge is rolled back a few degrees, reducing the belly problem and the arch also resonates as a rigid unit in a more organized pattern much like a speaker cone. Bruce prefers Adirondack Red Spruce for tops and bracing. He’s found it to be the superior tone wood. It is not easy to find and costs more but there is an audible difference that is worth the trouble and expense. Cosmetically, Adirondack is not as pretty. The grain can be course and vary in width. He has found however, that the wide grain can produce the best tone and should not be considered inferior. It seems that people who think they’re guitar experts always look for very close grain lines in the top to determine quality and this is not always true. It’s like saying a piece of furniture is great because it has dove-tailed drawers. If you look at the great prewar Martin and Gibsons, you’ll find wide grain Adirondack Spruce tops on them. The “old boys” knew this to be great tone wood.

Braces are not only “scalloped” but also “sculpted”. Perfectly quartered sawn Adirondack Spruce braces are radiused to the tops’ 28ft. lens curve and glued in place. They are not preshaped, but sculpted in place with honed edged tools, then sanded to aerodynamic sections so that none of their rectangle cross section remains. This process is time consuming, labor intensive, intuitive work. It is work that cannot be duplicated with machinery. Hand sanding of interior structures is important because any surface left rough will attract dust, which in turn will collect moisture. Once sanded, all interior surfaces are sealed with water based sanding sealer and again sanded with 400 grit paper before assembly. This step helps temper the guitar. It will acclimate to humidity changes more slowly because it is sealed, reducing the likelihood of cracking. It also creates a more acoustically reflective surface and further helps to “marry” braces and plates into a more integral unit. Further, it helps seal out glue eating dust mites that can attack instruments stored for a long period of time in their cases.

Twelve scalloped braces are glued to the rim of the guitar in line with the ends of each back brace. These act as tone transmitters between the top and back and add greatly to volume and sustain. The rim itself is left thicker than normal at .100”. Most builders thickness their rims to .085” to .090”. The theory is much the same as the way a banjo produces tone; the sensitive membrane head supported by a rigid rim, connected solidly to a reflective resonator.

The heart shaped sound hole, although primarily an aesthetic feature, works amazingly well with the X bracing that supports the top. The end of the fingerboard has a “widow’s peak” shape that mates with the top of the heart. This is a difficult design to execute because the centerline must be perfect for everything to line up. Bruce has used the heart shaped sound hole since his first instruments in the early 1970’s and it is the Kunkel trademark. It harks back to his German heritage where it was traditionally used in primitive furniture, chairs, cradles, etc. It also pays tribute to his Scots-Irish MacDonald family and the heart shaped holes in the Appalachian Dulcimer. Does it affect the sound? Of course it does! If a round sound hole makes a round sound, then a heart shaped sound hole makes a heart shaped sound. It is “Music from the Heart”.

The Kunkel cutaway is very deep allowing full access to all the frets. It also is “open”, that is, it doesn’t close around the hand in the traditional manner. It is a “Venetian” style cutaway as opposed to the pointed “Florentine” style.

On high-end models, abalone binding is available around the top as well as an abalone back strip. Abalone binding around the heart-shaped sound hole is standard.

The Kunkel headstock shape is unique and is designed to produce a straight string pull which allows the strings to slide more easily over the nut, thereby facilitating accurate tuning. The head veneer is inlaid with a hand cut mother of pearl banner engraved with the “Kunkel” name and infilled with black epoxy. Beneath the banner is a rampant (standing and fighting position) lion hand cut from mother of pearl, which is taken from the Kunkel family coat of arms. The lion is also hand engraved and infilled with black epoxy. In the lion’s paws is a small heart, cut separately of contrasting pearl. The head veneers can be book matched of the same wood as the back and sides or may be ebony or rosewood. They can be bound or unbound. The back of the headstock where it meets the neck shaft is carved into a “volute” much like a violin or on a bluegrass banjo. This is a hand carved feature that sets the Kunkel Guitar apart. The edges of the tapered headstock are reinforced with wing blocks that greatly strengthen the design.

The Kunkel neck, unless otherwise specified is carved from one piece of quarter sawn mahogany. The shaping is thin and very playable and is totally hand carved and checked with specially made templates to a feel which Bruce considers the best he has ever found. The heel cap, which can be bound or unbound, is inlaid with an abalone heart and is of original design. The heel can be carved by Bruce to a pattern he has designed or he can design a special heel just for you. This decorative feature is time consuming and labor intensive; therefore, an additional cost but makes each guitar a unique “art piece”. The neck attaches to the body by means of two Allen head bolts and threaded inserts. Additionally, there are four bolts imbedded in the fingerboard extension that secure it to the top. Because there is no glue involved this “neck unit” can be removed in under ten minutes with no finish repair necessary. A neck reset can be accomplished in under one hour on the Kunkel Guitar, where on a glued in dovetailed neck you are looking at a major job that includes steaming the neck joint apart, possible damage to the guitar removing a stubborn neck and at least a spot refinish of the heel area. This would require several days and hundreds of dollars and the very real possibility of a guitar that will never be the same. There has been a great deal of debate concerning the dovetail versus the bolt on. Bob Taylor and the Fender Company broke the trail for the bolt on and they have certainly been successful. But what about sound? Bruce believes his bolt on is equal or superior to the traditional glued in joint. Why? Because the bolt-on is a “compression” joint. The butt of the neck is being pulled against the head block by the Allen screws, compressing the joint and making a forcible contact. The dovetail joint can greatly vary in fit and often has to be “shimmed”. Ill-fitting joints are filled with glue, which once dry forms, a barrier between the neck and the body. Also, if the neck needs to be reset, the dovetail is in the way of the delicate paring of the neck angle that has to be done. Once the neck angle is changed, the dovetail never fits and must be shimmed. The bolt-on is a “butt joint”. There is no tenon or dovetail so the neck angle can be changed with a hard sanding block. It can then be tried and removed as many times as necessary until the perfect neck pitch is achieved. And because it is compression joint, Bruce believes that tone, volume and sustain are superior or at least equal to any other neck joint. The neck and the body are separate modules. They are prefitted then disassembled and finished separately and reassembled. If at a later date one or the other needs to be repaired or even totally replaced, it is not a problem.

When collaborating with DR Auten on his “Heart of the Pacific” guitar, there were some design requests that have become standard on the Kunkel guitars unless otherwise specified. The frets are overlaid. They extend over the binding rather than the binding capping the fret ends. Kunkel’s standard fret wire is .095” wide x .045” tall. This is a fairly large fret that will not wear out quickly and will allow for several fret dressings. The fingerboard radius is 16” and the scale length is standard at 25.4”. The end pin and strap button are drilled off center, closer to the top. This feature makes the guitar roll naturally toward the player as it hangs from the strap, rather than away from him/her. In so doing, the player does not have to physically hold the guitar next to the body. A specially designed wooden armrest is available not only to protect the top’s lacquer finish, but allows the top to resonate without the damping effect of the player’s arm. Hand carved of wood to match the back and sides, the armrest is designed to have minimum contact with the top. It is finished with tung oil so that it will not stick to the skin or peel when it is exposed to sweat.

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