By Chris Gill
In 1972, Bruce Petros built his first acoustic guitar from a kit he’d purchased. He knew immediately that he’d discovered his life’s calling, though it took him a while to gain momentum. Petros estimates that he built only 30 guitars during his first 15 years as a luthier. “Then I got married and had kids,” he says. “I had to figure out how to build guitars as a successful business, or find another job. I built pipe organs for six years starting in the late Eighties, but after that I got really serious.”
Along the way, Petros experimented with new ideas and strived to improve with each instrument he made, a philosophy he still follows today.
“When I first heard about the pre-stressed arched top, it made a whole bunch of sense,” he says. “New ideas kept coming, like thinning the top’s edges, and symmetrical bracing. I think the whole top moves as a uniform diaphragm to create big bass notes and little treble frequencies together. If you brace a top asymmetrically, you’re just creating unnecessary stress. Thinning the top’s edges allows the top to move up and down more freely, like a woofer speaker. If the whole top is thin, it loses structure and sounds bassy, with no overtones, sparkle, or definition.”
Other innovations that Petros developed include a two-piece end-to-end flipped-and-matched Honduras mahogany neck, and a bridge and saddle that are slanted back 10 degrees toward the guitar’s butt end. This latter feature makes the saddle more stable and automatically compensates for intonation when the
action is raised or lowered.
Petros is also the creator of Purflex, flexible wood purfling that can be installed easily in any direction and on curves. “Purflex involves wood that is attached to rubber backing, and a laser cuts intricate, detailed patterns through the wood but not the rubber,” explains Petros, who has patented Purflex and licenses it to other guitar companies. “I always wanted to make classy designs that I knew would endure. One way to do that was by making purfling that looked different. I figured there had to be some way to make fancy purfling in straight pieces that were flexible, so you could install the purfling as one piece.”
Purflex debuted on the first Dwende model, which Petros and his son Matt (who has worked with Bruce since 2000) built for Paul Simon. That guitar, pictured here, features one of several fancy motifs that Petros offers, which include the African Rose, the Celt, the Crown of Thorns, the Harvest, the Prairie, Tunnel 13, and the Yellow Rose.
“I want to make something that’s unique and lasting on its own but still traditional,” Petros explains. “I’m not fighting tradition. I’m enhancing it.”
Annual Production: 30 guitars
Starting Price: $8,800
Average Price: $12,000
Notable Players: Paul Simon, Ric Blair and Jim Cole
Photo: Massimo Gammacurta