1971 Ralph Smith 18-String Guitar

May 1, 2011

gp0511_riffs_VV2_nrIF SPINAL TAP DID AN UNPLUGGED PERFORMANCE, YOU CAN ALMOST PICTURE Nigel Tufnel wielding one of these beauties and saying, “But mine has 18 strings!”

Ralph Smith was an amazingly talented and little-known luthier from the Wichita, Kansas, area—most active in the late ’60s and early ’70s. At first glance, the world’s largest headstock seems like a joke, but upon closer inspection, Ralph Smith seemed to be on to something.

This guitar is incredibly well built, and amazingly stable, considering the amount of tension that the 18 steel strings put on the instrument. The action and playability are consistent with the best 12-strings, and the three-course string pairings chime like an orchestra. The back of the guitar reveals an extreme cutaway for upper fret access that borders on the insane, but Smith pulled it off and it works well, again with impressive stability.

There weren’t very many Ralph Smith guitars made overall, and fewer than 20 of these beasts. Joe Maphis, the legendary “King of the Strings,” owned at least four Smith guitars, and this one (serial number 1!) was owned by Gordon Terry, fiddle player for such artists as Faron Young and Merle Haggard.

Kansas, of all places, has an impressive history of guitar and amp building, from tuck & roll Kustom amps to the LaBaye 2x4. Now, Ralph Smith and his wonderful 18-strings can be added to this Kansas vortex of cool and unusual guitars. Sadly, Smith died a few years ago, so his story may never be fully known.

Anyone with any information on Ralph Smith and his guitars, pleaseemailtheauthorat eccofonic@earthlink.net.

gp0511_riffs_VV1_nrDo you carry tension in your neck? This Ralph Smith guitar sure does.


Thanks to Eric Cale, David Smith (no relation), and Nigel…

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