By Richard Bienstock | Photo by Massiomo Gammacurta
During his six years as vice president of products for Seymour Duncan, Frank Falbo was instrumental in the creation and success of products like the P-Rails humbucker and the Liberator pickup-change system. He also had a large hand in the design and construction of the company’s 35th anniversary guitar.
According to Falbo, during his time with Duncan he was “always inventing things and coming up with stuff.” But last year he left his position there in order to pursue his greatest invention yet: Falbo Guitars.
His first offering through his own company is the Alpha Series of acoustics, which consists of four models: the Parlor, the Grand Auditorium, the Dreadnought, and—what he calls his “grand piano”—the Jumbo. At the heart of all Falbo acoustics, and, in fact, the company itself, is his specially designed Intention bridge, which alters the manner in which string tension reacts with a guitar’s top for better vibration and extended frequency response.
According to Falbo, the Intention bridge, which he has been developing for years, “is the reason I felt I should be making acoustic guitars. Things like doing the best fret work or being able to choose the finest tonewoods weren’t good enough reasons to do it, because there are enough guys out there who can do that. But with the Intention, I felt I had something new to offer.”
In Falbo’s design, the strings attach to the guitar behind the bridge and are anchored to counteract the natural torque created by string tension, which often leads to issues such as “bellying” in a guitar’s top, or a bridge being lifted off a body. According to Falbo, the Intention bridge equalizes that torque, resulting in a guitar that vibrates more freely and requires less in the way of interior bracing, another factor that often weighs down tops and restricts sound transference. “Usually an acoustic guitar will have one or two tonebars that shoot across the inside of the body, behind the bridge,” he says. “But there’s no bracing behind my bridges at all. There doesn’t have to be. I’m not fighting that lift there.”
The end result is a more sensitive and responsive instrument, which is particularly noticeable in Falbo’s Jumbo, a guitar model that, due to its size, often calls for thicker wood and extra bracing. In contrast, the Falbo Jumbo is remarkably light and lively, with incredible projection, bright and immediate highs, and a big, but not boomy, bottom. “The top responds like a smaller instrument,” Falbo says. “You can fingerpick the Jumbo softly and still get the full frequency range, and when you hit it hard you just get more of everything. It doesn’t overload.”
In addition to the superlative sound, Falbo’s guitars are aesthetically pleasing. His primary tonewoods are Italian spruce for the tops and rosewood for the backs and sides. Additional materials include maple necks, ebony fingerboards, abalone dot fretmarkers and soundhole rosettes, bone nuts and saddles, and JCL 18:1 small-button tuners. All models are available with optional cutaways and a variety of preamp/pickup systems as well. On occasion, Falbo will also build more customized creations, such as the Jumbo shown here, which sports a bear-claw Sitka spruce top, Tusq nut and saddle, flame-maple binding, and Gotoh 510 tuners, among other personalized touches. Furthermore, each guitar in the Alpha line—which will be capped at 100 examples per model—boasts an abalone and pearl insignia at the 12th fret that is also specially styled on the first 25 guitars of each run.
That the Alphas are so well constructed and beautifully appointed is hardly a surprise: Falbo has enjoyed a long business and personal relationship with high-end luthier Jean-Claude Larrivee and builds his guitars at the Larrivee factory, situated in his homebase of Southern California. And while at first Falbo constructed every one of his acoustics by hand, he now utilizes Larrivee’s resources as well. “There are some assumptions that you can make about the quality of my guitars due to the fact that they’re built at Jean’s factory,” Falbo says, “because you know his wood stash is amazing. You know the quality of his products is amazing. But I’m also not making Larrivees. I’m making a much different instrument.”
Indeed, with his company, and in particular the Intention bridge, Falbo believes he has something truly unique on his hands. “I’m defying some previous 100-plus years of guitar design,” he says. “But at the same time, the instruments themselves are not something that’s way off-center. These are pieces that should hit straight down the middle and cast a super wide net from the center out, with a sound and feel that should please a very large amount of people.”
LIST PRICE: Starting at $3,250
Falbo Guitars, falboguitars.net