I built the first Froggy Bottom Guitar in my lower east side apartment in 1970 during my first year as shop foreman at Gurian Guitars in NYC. The guitar was built for my friend, bluesman and singer/songwriter George Gritzbach. It was shaped like a Gurian Jumbo, with mahogany back and sides and a German spruce top. The building methodology was straight from the Gurian workshop of that era – classical free form without a mold to hold the shape, and a non-detachable Spanish-style neck. While shaped like a Gurian JM, the bracing was quite different from the Gurian approach in layout, proportion, curvature and height. It was my own.
For the next four years while I worked at the Gurian workshop, I continued to build guitars for individual friends, one at a time. Each person that I built a guitar for had a completely different description of what their guitar of choice would be. I got to play and evaluate a great many guitars from the late 19th through mid 20th century, and to hear thousands of guitars of all quality levels in my own hands and in the hands of others.
What pleased one person might be the worst imaginable guitar for the next person and vice versa. After my second guitar it was clear that I had to build my instruments with detachable necks, and with each subsequent one it became more clear that the real joy for me personally was in figuring out as best I could what would be the best possible design for THIS guitar and THIS player.
Guitars are about design, materials and proportion. In the beginning, almost everyone advised me to figure out what MY guitar design should be and then to figure out how to produce that design efficiently. They were concerned with my being able to feed myself. Fortunately I was too stupid or stubborn to listen, and the list of friends and then friends of friends who asked for guitars kept me busy. There came a night in 1974 when I went to bed without an order for another guitar. While I had a hard time falling asleep that night, the phone woke me the next morning with an order for three guitars. Since then, I’ve never once gone to sleep at night without another guitar to make the next morning.
Understanding early on that I had an entire language of descriptive terminology to learn was both daunting and helpful. Frequently someone would say something like….. “I just LOVE this guitar, but why doesn’t it have any clarity as I play farther up the neck on the first two strings?” or “The bass in this is big and loud, but really muddy and unclear…” Each new project brought new desires and new goals and LOTS of new descriptive language about what a specific player wanted in his/her new guitar. Without even seeing it happen, it became clear gradually that my work was going to involve making what others wanted out of their guitar, and NOT what I wanted to make. This made several things essential:
- A methodology for building my instruments which was as completely flexible as possible, so that each and every part of each guitar could be varied around that players needs,
- A commitment to a level of communication with those I was going to work with that allowed for talking thoroughly about the range of what is possible in steel string guitar design, and
- A need to explore and source supplies of a wide variety of the very finest tone woods available from around the world.
While classical guitars are instruments developed through a single builder or family, with the concept being an ongoing long-term refinement of their design, steel string guitars have a family tree with more numerous branches. Think of all the variations you’ve seen or heard in guitars with steel strings! Tiny parlor guitars, huge jumbo guitars; 12 string, 7 string, 8 and 9 string guitars; high strung guitars, baritone guitars; guitars disguised as mando-cellos with eight strings in courses; guitars for rhythm, guitars for lead, harp guitars……. The list of possibilities goes on and on, and each player who knocked on my door had their own ideas about what would work for them, and why.
So my job has always been first to understand what would best serve my client and then to determine how to create that through design and available materials. I have never sought to re-invent the wheel; from thirty feet away a Froggy Bottom looks a lot like most traditional guitars of the last 120 years. The methodology we developed for Froggy Bottom, though, is where the difference lies. Given our ability to change literally every component in each of our guitars limits how many guitars we can make. This, in turn means there has to be a LOT of clear communication between guitar maker and player, and it means we must remain a small company.
After fifty years our guitars are still built one-at-a-time, with an overwhelming devotion to human craftsmanship. While we use modern CNC technology, it never imposes on the use of human skill and creativity.
Each guitar we make is created to a clear picture of what the intended result will be, by a tiny group of master craftspeople who play guitar themselves, seriously. Simply, we make tools for self-expression for people who are sincere about making music. They may be famous players whose names are household words or someone you will never hear of, but they share a desire to use the guitar which allows them the greatest possible range of expression in making the music they imagine.
We know we are not for everyone, but we also know that we are uniquely capable, for many guitarists, of building a guitar which they’ve only imagined is possible. In the first half of the 20th century the Packard Motorcar Company used the slogan ”Ask the man who owns one…..”. If you aren’t concerned with a guitar that looks like the newest device for intergalactic travel, but rather one that sounds better than you’ve ever dared imagine, and whose craftsmanship looks better and better the closer you look and is made of the finest woods on earth, you may want to explore this website very thoroughly and give us a call. We’d love to talk with you about what you’ve been looking for.