Guitar Aficionado

Butch Boswell Wants Every Guitar He Builds to Be a Knockout

The Bend, Oregon, luthier hasn't disappointed anyone yet.

ONE-MAN BRAND: Introducing the Boswell 00-12

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By Richard Bienstock | Photo by Massimo Gammacurta

During his decades as a guitar repairman, Butch Boswell worked everywhere— from Taylor Guitars to Rudy’s Music in New York City—before eventually setting up shop in and around his native San Luis Obispo, California. But even with his experience and impressive credentials, Boswell says he occasionally had customers who weren’t sure about entrusting him with their injured instruments. “They would ask me, ‘Are you a luthier? Because I don’t want anyone but a luthier working on my guitar,’” Boswell recalls. “And when I’d tell them I wasn’t, they’d take their guitar somewhere else. So finally I decided, well, I’m just going to build a guitar myself!”

That first instrument, a traditional 000-sized acoustic, led to several more and, eventually, to Boswell launching his own company, currently based in his newly adopted hometown of Bend, Oregon. To say that Boswell Guitars is a boutique outfit is putting it mildly. Butch Boswell is a one-man operation, building each guitar from start to finish by himself and entirely by hand. “I really enjoy the ‘old world’ approach,” he says. “I’m just looking to get good guitars in the hands of the right people.”

The instrument shown here, a 00-style model with 12 frets to the body and a 24.9-inch scale length, is one such “good guitar.” The instrument was commissioned by a customer who, Boswell says, “liked the functionality of a small body.” But the 00 size is also a style of acoustic for which the luthier himself has a particular affinity. “I love how small-bodied guitars sound and feel,” Boswell says. “One of my favorite instruments I’ve ever owned was a 00-sized Martin, and over my 20-plus years as a repairman I restored so many vintage guitars. So I’d say my instruments are kind of taking what Martin did in the Thirties and applying a little bit of modern engineering to it, and then adding my own take on combinations of woods and materials.”

When it came to the 00-12, Boswell began, as he does every build, with a set of old-growth tonewoods—Italian spruce for the top and beautifully figured Brazilian rosewood for the back and sides. “I love old-growth wood for two reasons,” he says. “First off, it’s incredibly stable. Secondly, from a tone perspective, it produces a much stronger fundamental. It sounds glassier. You tap on it and it rings like a bell. So for this guitar I was able to source a wonderful set of old-growth Brazilian, the really chocolately, spider-webby-looking stuff, and I paired it with an Italian spruce top I had that was just big enough for a 00-12. The two matched together with wonderful results.”

The tonewoods are complemented by an ebony fretboard, ebony bridge, and ebony binding as well as a Brazilian rosewood peghead overlay. The neck is Honduras mahogany and is adorned with pearl side-dot markers, leaving the fingerboard free of inlays. “It’s a darker-looking guitar, with the Brazilian box and the ebony appointments and the plain black fretboard,” Boswell says, “But then it’s offset by this bright, creamy Italian spruce top. It’s a really nice contrast of colors.”

Other features include a nut and saddle of fossil ivory, gold EVO fretwire, and engraved Waverly tuning machines on a slotted headstock. A material less visible but very present in the 00-12—and all of Boswell’s instruments, for that matter—is hide glue, which he employs exclusively in his builds. “It’s a lot harder to work with than your usual wood glues, because you have to keep it hot and it cools really fast. So you have a small window,” he says. “But when you do get a surface joined together properly with hide glue, it’s an incredibly strong joint. And it dries hard—almost like glass or crystal—whereas a lot of modern wood glues dry sort of like plastic, which tends to dampen the vibrations. When you tap on a box put together completely with hide glue, that box will resonate. I firmly believe it affects the tone of the instrument.”

It’s this sort of attention to detail, both aesthetically and tonally, that drives Boswell’s builds—and perhaps also goes a long way toward explaining why he chooses to do everything on his own. “I hate to admit it, because my wife will smile, but maybe I’m a bit of a control freak,” he says, laughing. “But the truth is, I take what I do very personally and very seriously. Each guitar has to be just right for the customer, but at the same time a lot of me goes into it.

“Naturally, I’m not going to be building 100 guitars a year,” he continues. “But I’ve never wanted to be a mass-producing guitar builder. I want every single guitar I make to just be a knockout. And, you know, I haven’t disappointed anybody yet.”

LIST PRICE: About $8,500
Boswell Guitars