Paki-Bashing and ThomAnn

When I was much younger ( circa 1977)  I worked with a research fellow from London. He was an M.D.  One day as we were trading lies we got to talking about the kind of patients that came into the emergency room . At the VA it was quite common to have the ambulance pick up some poor old vet who had been on a bender and have him stay overnight to dry out. My friend Carl then told me that in London it was quite common to see south east Asians come in the emergency room.  Why ? I asked ? thinking that it was a common ruse to get immediate medical attention.  He said it in one word:  Paki-bashing. So where were we in 1977?   Flower power had withered away and Skinheads and punk came into the scene. We often think of punk and skinheads being synonymous but they’re not.  The unfortunate aspect of Skinheads was they represented an aspect of disenfranchised youths with little education and little in the way of prospects for work.  Remember this was back in the days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan when the nations problems could be blamed on too much government and Unions overreaching . If that wasn’t enough there was always the sentiment of Foreigners taking over the country and taking away jobs.  Sound Familiar? Of course. The long and short of it was Pakistani immigrants in the UK were often targeted by Skinheads and their likeminded ilk as favorite target for beatings. why? Or Why not? The best answer I can give you is that they seemed a convenient target. If you have to blame some one for the woes of your country why not some one different from you.

I digress:  My favorite subject :  the Cheap , the bad and the ugly.  Today’s topic hits on only one of the three , but has led to some ugly words among  Early Guitar members.

Check out the  struggle  between small minds and reason http://earlyguitar.ning.com/video/review-of-thomannde-baroque?id=2111060%3AVideo%3A20046&page=2#comments

If you don’t want to read the messages : here’s what it’s about : The Thomann baroque guitar is a baroque guitar that you can find on Ebay for about $700. It’s made by the same folks who made the famous $400 Pakistani renaissance lute and the  $1500 Pakistani Theorbo.  The original poster Rob McKillop was gracious enough to video a demonstration of one of these . His bottom line was : it’s ok , it’s not a great instrument , it’s pleasant enough and enough to get you going. Then the Paki- bashing remarks came and then the China bashing started. Amazing what  freedom of speech reveals. Since these rather harsh remarks came up Rob has withdrawn the video and has adamantly refused to make further comment on these guitars.  So… that leaves me with this story: A few weeks ago I was left with one of these Thomann guitars . It was exactly as Rob had described: small voiced , pleasant enough sounding , but not much there . Nice woods , nice design,  so, so workmanship. My first impression was the top was too stiff. This usually happens when the builder makes the top too thick or has oversize bracing. The notes tended to die very quickly with no bloom.  The top didn’t flex much. I was asked to put a new top on it.  New top or no the first thing to do is to open it up and see what was inside .

Thomann Guitar inside

]Voboam interior

From the pictures you can see that there is a huge amount of  heavy bracing on the top.  As builder Scott Tremblay put it :” I have bracing like that in my house…”   Compare that to the Voboam Guitar .  A few passes with a chisel and plane and all the braces below the second bar were removed. I taped the top back onto the body with masking tape and restrung  and retuned it. The difference?  Night and Day . The texture is characteristic of a baroque guitar, chimey , brisk and throaty. ( I’m starting to sound like a Wine snob , arent I ?). The volume has increased substantially.

More later as I finish up on this thing.

6.13.2011 :  I’ve managed to finish putzing on this thing today, here’s the run down: All the braces  below the second bar were removed. I replaced the top with no barring below , the result was a more  open sound , a longer sustain on the notes and more volume but… the top sagged in the area in front of the bridge. Even with a light stringing of 2.8 kg per string the top would collapse . A very small brace  9mm high x 3 mm thick was run diagonally across the lower bout . This provided some some cross grain strength circumventing the sag.  Other things that happened : the bridge was cut to lower the action and reshaped to lower the mass. The nut was cut down to lower the action. The fishing line frets were replaced with graduated gut frets to make fretting easier.  The rosette was altered by removing the perforated paper layer  and  the overall  thickness of the rose was reduced by  shaving with a plane to about 50 % of the original mass. And last of all a small scoop was cut into the side profile to allow the fingers to attack the strings without hitting the soundboard.  Last of last of all was the strings were replaced with a combination of Savarez nylon and  Aquila copper overwound strings.

The end result ? much improved playability! The sound ? a much fuller open sound with a much broader dynamic range. The notes now actually sing and bloom. The only disappointment is that the e string is still weak and does not sing above the courses  very well. I stand by my previous statements : the guitar as it was received  was barely playable  ; it was plagued with poor action, terrible strings and a small muffled voice.  The notes were tinny and had a very fast decay.  For those of you who bought one of these things , please take it it your local lute/ guitar maker and have the above done and you will be pleasantly surprised what a difference it will make!

5 Responses to “Paki-Bashing and ThomAnn”


  • I didn’t read through the discussion on earlyguitar.ning.com but your post explains why Rob pulled the video.

    Wow! I didn’t know that the bracing of a Voboam Guitar was that simple. Will be looking forward to more on the makeover.

  • Interesting, see what know how will do ya? It would be interesting to hear a side by side comparison of before and after, though at this point, impractical. Ah well, maybe next time?

  • Rob took down the link, I guess he got sick of the comments. He’s on the lute group I’m on, nice guy.

  • I’ve recently done some work on a Thomann Baroque guitar, pretty much along the lines that Mel has suggested. In its unaltered state it was no pleasure to play - it felt really dead under the fingers and sounded that way too. I changed the barring as Mel recommended, and I shaped the bars above and below the rose and scalloped their ends. The section of soundboard that butts into the fingerboard was slightly low on the treble side so I shimmed that up a bit to stop the buzzing at the upper frets.
    When I restrung the guitar there was a buzz on the open E string that sounded exactly like the string touching the first fret, but I traced it to a couple of tiny cracks in the rose - soon cured with some drops of glue.
    Over the last week the sound has developed nicely and the guitar now sounds well and is enjoyable to play. The E string was reticent at first but is now coming through much more.
    I should perhaps add that I made several lutes quite a few years ago, so I was quite comfortable about undertaking this work. Thanks to Mel for his additional helpful pointers. John

  • There have been comments on NING whether or not that third bar is historical or necessary. The answer is yes and no. Not historically common , but necessary. In the few extant guitars I’ve seen the belly was much thicker stiffer (2.8mm). They didn’t need any support. They also didn’t sound like much either. The thomann guitars are much thinner and as a consequence will bow under without any additional support. Without it you see the top buckle. Great sound though. Take your chances.

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