Advantages of a Handmade Guitar

     Our mission at Portland Guitar is to make a guitar that is tailored to your needs. We strive to be your personal luthier. Buying a guitar from us is more than just the instrument, it’s our commitment to make it fit you and your playing style. Jay, the head luthier, has been building guitars for 15 years and has been woodworking his whole life. In addition, he is a mechanical engineer. He strives to use this knowledge to make a guitar that will stand up to time and nature.

     The advantage of a handmade instruments over a factory-built guitar is that the luthier-built guitar is optimized. A factory-built guitar is produced so that it does not come back for warranty work. Companies working to sell many guitars don’t want them to come back with problems. They are overbuilt. This affects the sound quite a bit and dampens the volume, response and sustain. There are many voicing considerations that are much easier when working by hand and when designing for an optimized tone. Another reason is that In a factory the only goal is to make the guitar, there is less care put into each piece and the unique wood that is being used. When building by hand each piece and part is considered on its own and as part of the whole. There is more spirit in this guitar.

     We fight against the standard of planned obsolescence in products. Our instruments are made to hold up over time. We have three goals when designing and building an acoustic guitar. These are to make it sound good, to make it play well and to make it last for a long time. By achieving these goals, it creates an instrument we are satisfied to give to the world. In the following I’ll go into the details of what our guitars do to stand out in each category. Portland Guitar has a variety of inventions and innovations that work to satisfy these goals. As well a combination of hand craft and high precision machining used to deliver a quality guitar.    

     We make instruments that have playability at the forefront of our minds. The way we design and build guitar revolves around making a good user experience. We use a variety of hand tools and computer-controlled machines to achieve this. In combination with our innovative technology we strive to make an experience tailored to you. From a normal builder the guitar that is built is the guitar you’re given. With us we build the guitar so that it can be adapted to your style.

   The action is set medium low at the first fret. We can personalize this. After you’re playing session, if you’d like it slightly lower or higher, we will create a new nut built to your desires.

     As you travel up the fretboard the action once again may be too high or too low to your preference. In this case our easy adjustable cantilever neck allows you to make changes to the action on the higher frets. A hex key can be inserted into the heel of the neck, where the strap pin is. A bolt inside is turned slightly with the key and the neck angle changes. You’re able to perform a neck reset in seconds and change the action up the fretboard.

AN Adjustable cantilever guitar neck on an acoustic bass guitar changing the guitar action from high to low

Check out adjustable neck


    As the guitar ages and becomes accustomed to the tension on it, adjustments to the truss rod will need to be made. This is accessible from the headstock, elegantly built into the design.

    The saddles are split because of our perfect intonation bridge. This allows us to insert a shim underneath any string. This lets us change the action for each string. These changes allow the action of each string to be dialed in.

a split saddle acoustic guitar bridge to adjust guitar intonation

 Check out split saddle bridge

    The fingerboard angle can be set so that it comes over the top of the body. At this angle there is a gap between the top and the fretboard. This “floating fretboard” makes the higher frets easier to access.

     The neck is hand sculpted at the end to ensure it is smooth and even throughout with a comfortable taper. If needed, we can swap our necks out. If you prefer a different neck radius but like how a body sounds, we can make a new neck to change it out with.

     After the importance of playability, the next most important feature that we focus on is musicality. We want this guitar to sound good. We want to build for crisp notes with bright highs and deep bases. Making these instruments sound good is much more art than science. Each change that we make might have some effect on the tone, but it isn’t until it all comes together that we can derive a result.

     The sound of the guitar mainly comes from the shape of the body. We follow a martin style shaping. A bulbous lower bout and a curvy upper bout. It is made to look natural. The bodies allow for enough air to enter to make a loud sound.

      The next part that affects the tone is the woods used. Only the highest quality woods are used in our instruments. Our woods are quarter sawn grain or close that has been aged and dried. We never use laminate woods and stick to two-piece tops and backs.

     The frets are routed by machine. This ensures that they are perfectly spaced and creates an articulate fretboard. Each note is at an optimal space between the others.

     The next most important part that affects the tone is the top. A lighter top makes for a more responsive guitar with brighter notes overall. There is longer sustain and a slower decay of each note as well. A lighter top can transmit the energy from the air into the body and act as a coupled oscillator more effectively. We achieve this through a variety of methods. To begin with the top is sanded down evenly to a minimal thickness. This opens the top up to the higher frequency resonances. The edges of the top are sanded thinner than the middle to provide a more constrained surface for the edge to sit on.

     Our bracing is optimized to allow for strength along the length of the top and flexibility laterally. This makes for the higher order resonances to come out more. It creates a more responsive top as well because of its lightness in structure.

falcate guitar bracing in a bowl mould to show different bracing

Check out falcate bracing


     The air-brushed lacquer finish is made to be as consistent and thin as possible. This keeps as much weight off the top as possible as allows it to be more responsive.

     The intonation is perfect. The compensation at the 12th fret allows for the right amount to be used regardless of climate, strings, or playing style. The adjustable saddles can be moved back and forth to make the sound right.

     The braces are optimized to be the perfect blend of strength and flexibility. The top is stressed by a tension arm and the braces are sanded down until they provide enough support to withstand 160-180lbs of tension. This is the tension applied by the strings. By doing this it ensures that the top isn’t over braces and ensures that it will be the most responsive.

     Before each guitar goes out each fret is checked for buzzing. If there is then an adjustment is made to correct it until there is no buzzing left. We want to make sure this sounds excellent.

    The next goal that we strive to build for is longevity. It is said that the guitar is created so it’s on the edge    of tearing itself apart. The stress from the strings creates forces that want to rip the guitar apart. The strength of the joints, the evenness of the parts and the hardware used will determine whether the guitar will last of breakdown. To our benefit they are made from wood which is durable. A well maintained and cared for guitar can last generations. It’s our goal to make this guitar a part of the world for as long as possible. It’s a fact that the guitar will undergo changes as they age. The neck will sag due to the tension from the strings. The top will belly due to aging and tension and a myriad of other changes that happen. Portland Guitar builds to counteract and work with these forces.

     There is carbon fiber included in our braces. This counteracts some of the bellying that occurs over time. As the wood ages and expands the graphite doesn’t, it holds everything around it in place. Thus, keeping the top from moving out of shape.

     As the neck angle changes over time a normal guitar would need a neck reset. This one will never require that. With a turn of the adjustment bolt the neck angle can be changed. This adjustment ensures that the guitar remains playable through time.

    We use the best hardware we can. That is Gotoh 510 tuners. They have an excellent gear ratio and don’t breakdown.

     Countless hours are put into each guitar. The combination of high-tech machining and hand-crafted finishing creates the perfect environment to build a quality instrument. Many hours go into designing the files to run the computer-controlled router. There are many setbacks and tools that break on the way to making a process that is repeatable and yields the right result. This work is done though to give the most precise parts from fretboards to necks and nuts. With the heavy lifting done this way more time can be spent working on the details of the instrument. Hours are put into hand sanding out each scratch. We look at the wood with a magnifying glass to find them.

     Our frets are flat and beautifully dressed as pearls. The CNC creates flat surfaces that the frets sit on ensuring that there is a large amount of fret crown. The frets are shaped minimally because of this precision. The frets are sanded to a 0.001” precision between all the frets. This ensures that there is no buzzing and the feeling is smooth and natural.

     Our finish is a water borne lacquer. This is a wonderful finish because it forms a hard shell that is resistant. The finish is applied to be as thin and even all the way through. This keeps the weight of the top and the rest of the body down. It is a brilliant high gloss natural finish that brings out the characteristics of the wood and has a mirror shine.   

     Jay is a mechanical engineer who has worked with wood his whole life. He understands its structural properties and what makes it work and fail. He worked as a failure analyst for many years. This experience imparted a drive to make objects that don’t fail. Making something that lasts is the greatest gift to give. As such Jay stands behind his instrument and will fix any problems that may come up.

     Every guitar is unique, and each takes a different route to creation. Jay loves each guitar like a child and hates to see it go. So, he hopes that it goes to a good home where it’ll get played often. We strive to be your personal luthier. From the initial setup to maintaining and caring for the instrument. We want to make sure that this guitar fits you and your playing style. Our unique innovations allow for these guitars to be modeled after what you want and not what we want as builders. There is an immense amount of options you can choose for this guitar. With easy and quick adjustments, there are many actions that can be played at and different sweetness that can be added using the intonation adjustments. From one guitar many are playable.

     A good guitar makes playing easy and fun. The setup, sound, feel and interaction you have with the guitar changes based on how it was built and how well it was built. Some people will play a bad guitar for a long time and become familiar with it, then years later they get a better guitar and admit that the first one was bad the whole time. If you can cut that off and get a good guitar at the beginning it makes the entire process of playing guitar more fun. By interacting smoothly with the instrument, it requires less thought to play. When you can feel the response of the guitar in your body and it sounds crisp it’s easy to get into the zone. Once that happens it becomes secondary to play. Every guitar forms an intimate bond with the player. It is a device that humans use to express emotions and feelings, so it becomes very personal to use. Music is a very deep instinct within us. Guitars have existed for a long time and by using them taps into that. There are different guitars for different times, some feel comfy and others are fancy. There is a guitar for every purpose.

     We want to deliver a guitar that sounds good, plays well, and will last a long time. This is achieved through a variety of methods. We have innovations and inventions that accomplish this as well. If you have any questions of comments please let me know.


Check out more about falcate bracing

Check out more about adjustable neck 

Check out more about falcate bracing