IF 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
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,
Do you carry tension in your neck? This Ralph Smith guitar sure does.
Thanks to Eric Cale, David
Smith (no relation), and Nigel…