Froggy Bottom Guitars: A History
Starting his woodworking career in a Connecticut boat works at the age of 10, under the tutelage of craftsmen– some of whom had come up working and sailing square-rigged ships in the late 19th Century – Michael Millard brings a unique perspective and set of skills to the task of building of individual instruments for individual musicians.
In 1970, Michael built his first Froggy Bottom Guitar in his apartment on New York’s Lower East Side. He bent the guitar’s sides on the ‘hot pipe’ – a heat riser running through his kitchen to the floors above.
Froggy Bottom Guitars was born.
“I saw from the very beginning that I wanted to make a guitar for an individual player. I wanted to make more variety in response to people – real people. I did not want to start a big business; I did not want to become a guitar manufacturer. Ever.”
In October of 1970, Michael had begun working at Gurian Guitars on Grand Street in New York City. Gurian had learned the free form craft of building classical guitars without confining jigs or forms from luthiers Gene Clark, David Rubio, and Manuel Velazquez. Gurian adapted these techniques to build steel string guitars. Michael’s skills and perspective on craftsmanship – gifts from from his mentors in the boat yard – were a good fit for Gurian’s classical free form building method and aesthetic.
Michael’s first two Froggy Bottom Guitars were essentially Gurian shapes with significant adjustments: a lighter and different bracing pattern for the top and – what has become a Froggy Bottom trademark – high, thin, and highly arched back braces, which produced two lively and active plates for the instruments.
“Every Froggy Bottom I made after that,” Michael says, “has always been my own work.”
In 1973, Michael moved with the Gurian shop to New Hampshire.
In the spring of 1974, Michael left Gurian to build Froggy Bottom Guitars full time. Over the next twenty years, in New Hampshire and then Vermont, Michael built one Froggy Bottom Guitar at a time, for customers who were almost exclusively working musicians.
Slides shot in 1974 by Rick Hege in Michael's shop in Richmond, NH
For fifteen of those years, Michael was spending about half his time as a working musician. Orders came to him by word of mouth, as well as through personal contact with other players.
Michael quickly came to value the personal interaction with players who had different needs and desires for their guitars. From the very beginning he enjoyed working with players who took each guitar for what it did best and played to its strengths.
The flexibility of Gurian’s adapted classical construction techniques allowed Michael to be more responsive to the hopes and desire of his friends and customers in the design and fabrication of their guitars.
Over time, the combination of his close interaction with players and this free building process allowed Michael to correlate specific characteristics of guitar design, materials, and construction with their effects on the function and voice of the instrument.
“Our methodology, our mission as guitar builders, and our determination to remain personally connected to each guitar– all conspire perfectly to limit the number of guitars that come out of the shop.”
In 1994, as Michael was considering adding a CNC machine (a Computer Numerical Controlled router) to his shop, Andy Mueller joined Froggy Bottom Guitars. Andy brought a wealth of experience working with similar machines from his background of making high speed wide-format, IMAX-type motion picture cameras with his dad.
Andy and Michael built Froggy Bottom Guitars together for fourteen years. Andy has since left the shop to pursue work as a classroom teacher. He remains a friend and his tenure in the business and the shop continues to have a positive impact at Froggy Bottom Guitars.
Today, there are five people involved in the building of Froggy Bottom Guitars: Michael Millard, Eric Goodenough, Michael ‘Moose’ Raymond, Adam Buchwald, and Larry Sweeney of Squeakswe Finishes.
Over the past twenty-five years, we have offered Petria Mitchell’s custom engraved heelcaps and endgrafts as a way of personalizing these guitars. Our Fortieth Anniversary guitars also feature the work of highly regarded engravers Doug Unger and Glenn Carson. Each engraved piece is unique and done to order and is painstakingly married to the instrument by hand.
As we celebrate forty years of Froggy Bottom Guitars, Michael has built something on the order of 5,000 different guitars. And each Froggy Bottom Guitar has been crafted for a specific client or player.
Given his expertise at tailoring an instrument’s function and sound to a particular player, Michael builds every Froggy Bottom Guitar body and carves every neck. The purfling, spraying, decoration, and set up of the instruments are accomplished by different members of the Froggy Bottom team.
Striving to remain connected to individual players and their instruments, the Froggy Bottom shop builds approximately 100 guitars a year. Froggy Bottom Guitars are custom built for individual players or made to order for a select group of exceptional dealers.
The goal of the company remains to build instruments that are capable of responding to and exceeding the functional needs and desires of individual players, and to provide guitars that spur the imagination and music of their owners.