Jesse playing his Elferink "Jesse van Ruller" model
I wanted to check out a 1972 Gibson ES 335 that he had for sale so I went there yesterday, in the company of my lovely wife as photographer. High time for an interview! After a pretty long drive we arrived at his workshop in an industrial area of Noordwijkerhout. On the ground floor we first got a tour of the workshop and then Frans took us to the first floor where I got to see and play his guitars.
He turned out to be a really, really nice guy with lots of great guitar stories to tell. There was this story about him fixing Jesse's old Levin guitar after he had run over it with his own car. He showed me some pics of that remarkable restoration.
I did not buy the 335 but I did get a good impression of his work and guitar building concept and got to play some fine instruments.
Frans produces 12-15 Elferink archtops every year. About one in five is a custom order guitar based on the personal specs of the client but he mostly builds his own models like the “Modern”, the “Tonemaster”, the “Excalibur” and the “Jesse van Ruller.” You can check out the range here. I got to play a custom order Elferink “Byrdland” that sounded great.
|Checking out an Elferink Byrdland|
Building guitars comprises about two thirds of his income but it’s not the only source. He also sells vintage archtops (10%), does repairs (10%) and organises workshops “archtop building” (15%).
He has been in the guitar building business part time since 1993 but only full time for two years. At his current location he has been residing for 6 years. Until now he has built about 170 guitars, most of them archtops but also a few steel strings and even some solid bodies on custom order. He is usually building up to 6 guitars at a given time.
His real passion is building
archtops made of all solid woods. For the tops he uses Sitka or European Spruce
and for the backs, sides and necks he uses maple. He prefers combining European
spruce tops with European maple and Sitka Spruce with “Big Leaf” maple. Though
he uses routed in pick-ups on some models (eg. The “Jesse van Ruller” model),
about 75% of his archtops carry floating pick-ups. He is not fond of using
laminate woods. He has been experimenting with them but laminating woods
yourself as a luthier for only smaller series is way more time consuming than
applying solid woods and requires special equipment. So it’s not really that feasible
|Highly Quilted Maple back on a Tonemaster.|
Not surprisingly, Frans prefers jazz guitars with a genuine acoustic character. What he is aiming at are clarity and punch. He wants his guitars to have an explosive attack. He is not that interested in sustain. “Maple is not about sustain anyway, it eats up lots of energy.” What he is going for is a clear, short and vibrant tone with a powerful projection. After playing a few of his guitars I knew exactly what he meant. I played an Excalibur, a Tonemaster and a Moderne and they all had a very lively, vibrant acoustic tone with lots and lots of punch. His guitars are amplified acoustic instruments rather than the laminate electric archtops I have been playing all my life.
|Gibson L7 from his vintage offering|
We talked about the business for a while too. It’s pretty hard to make a living as a luthier. He is doing ok now but he used to have a side job for many years. Frans stated that “brand awareness” and reputation are so important these days. You have to be present on the internet and in the social media and that’s why he is happy with guys playing his guitars on Youtube. I hope this post helps to create some more awareness about this fine Dutch luthier.