Swiss-born Gil Carnal was a professional classical guitarist when he met luthier Kenny Hill in the late 1970s. Carnal had a longstanding interest in woodworking but had never built a guitar. After working with Hill for 20 years he opened his own shop in Soquel, California, in 2000 and dedicated himself to pushing beyond the bounds of conventional guitar-building techniques. “I felt that the traditional design of the classical guitar had reached its potential,” he says. “As a luthier, I saw it as my function to find a way to make guitars with more volume and sustain to respond to the demands of the music.”
Throughout his career, Carnal has experimented with many approaches, discarding those that didn’t pan out and keeping those that worked. By 2009, he had combined several innovative ideas into a single concert model, a design that he continually reassesses and strives to improve upon. “If your design has too many variables, you’ll never understand what worked and what didn’t,” he says. He finishes one guitar a month, and his waiting list is about six months. Prices for his guitars start at $7,500.
Carnal’s design blends old-world violin-making concepts and contemporary guitar design features such as lattice bracing and raised fingerboards. “My idea at the beginning was to adopt Thomas Humphrey’s ideas about the angle of the strings over the top of the guitar,” he says. “Humphrey found a way to make his guitars sound more punchy by creating a certain angle of incidence over the top. Having the fingerboard raised above the top is a consequence of the string angle he wanted.”
All of Carnal’s guitars include that string angle and raised fingerboard, as well as his unique lattice top bracing, laminated sides (rosewood outside, Spanish cypress inside), rigid internal frame, cedar or spruce tops, two soundports on either side of the heel of the neck, and an easily removable bolt-on neck. “I felt the guitar needed to be an instrument you could open to make repairs or adjustments,” Carnal says. “I had worked with a violin maker in Europe and saw that he could open instruments, make an adjustment, and reglue them all in one day. In 2009, I developed a design with a neck and top I can take off almost as easily.”
Gil Carnal’s neck design also makes adjusting the action easy, because it can move up or down and sideways. “I don’t have to touch the saddle to adjust the action,” he says. “If you lower the saddle or put something under it to raise it, you change the tone of the guitar quite a bit, because the torque on the top changes. With my system, I can raise or lower the action without affecting the torque. That’s a big plus and gives the guitar more life.”
Gil Carnal – Soquel, CA
Extracted from Acoustic Guitar Magazine
Gil Carnal – Luthier
Guitar: Gil Carnal, 2010. Cedar top, reinforced lattice braces, laminated sides, elevated fingerboard, additional portholes on the sides, adjustable action, 640 scale.
Played by: Arina Burcéva, http://www.arinaburceva.com/