Gurian Guitars

It often takes an upstart to change tradition, and that term defines a gifted luthier named Michael Gurian, who greatly affected the course of acoustic-guitar evolution in the 1960s—a time when the big makers were relatively insulated from the explosive developments in pop music. Born in 1943 in Brooklyn, New York, Gurian studied classical guitar and sculpture, taught music, and developed an interest in guitar craft that eventually led to his building a copy of a Victor Manuel Piniero classical. In 1965, he and two assistants began making guitars—classical instruments at first, and then steel-string models. Sales took off as Gurian’s instruments gained in popularity among pro players, and, in 1971, the company moved to the more industry friendly state of New Hampshire, opening a factory with some 24 employees in the small town of Hinsdale.

Gurian’s traditional leanings were reflected in his use of all-wood edge bindings and rosettes, ebony fretboards, and genuine ivory bridge saddles and nuts. On the innovation side, his tops featured a unique fan bracing system, and they were fitted with a rosewood plate under the bridge to improve response and keep the wood from “bellying” under string tension. Gurian also designed a “spliced tailblock” to prevent damage to the end block and sides if the guitar was dropped or hit on its endpin. One of his slickest moves, however, was his unique method of attaching the neck using a pair of tapered ebony pins. The beauty of this clever, glueless system was that the pins could be pulled out to remove the neck from the body, making it easy to reset the neck angle without the trauma and expense involved in doing the same operation on a guitar with a standard, glued dovetail joint.

While it appears that Gurian initially only offered five models—Size 2, Size 3, Jumbo, Classical, and Flamenco—in reality, at least three versions of each were available. A price list from 1975 shows the following styles and options:

S2M (Size 2 guitar with mahogany back and sides) $420

S2R (Size 2, Indian rosewood back and sides) $550

S2R3H (Size 2, Indian rosewood with

3-piece back and herringbone binding) $650

S3M (Size 3 guitar with mahogany back and sides) $470

S3R (Size 3, Indian rosewood back and sides) $590

S3R3H (Size 3, Indian rosewood with

3-piece back and herringbone binding) $700

JM (Jumbo guitar with mahogany back and sides) $500

JMR (Jumbo, Indian rosewood back and sides) $630

J3R3H (Jumbo, Indian rosewood with

3-piece back and herringbone binding) $750

CLM (Classical guitar with mahogany back and sides) $425

CLR (Classical, Indian rosewood back and sides) $545

CLB (Classical, Brazilian rosewood back and sides) $675

FLC (Flamenco guitar with yellow cedar back and sides, friction pegs) $515

One of the last models to be introduced was the Cutaway, which was developed at the behest of vintage guitar dealer Matt Umanov. Designed at a time when plugging-in was new and hip, the Cutaway featured a Frap GF100 transducer with a differential FET preamp and a bridge-mounted volume control. With its bold looks, enhanced playability, and onboard electronics, it’s easy to see how the Cutaway changed the course of modern acoustic guitar design.

By all accounts, Gurian seemed destined to become a dominant force in the boutique acoustic market. Its reputation was solid among studio players who appreciated the slim, fast necks of these guitars, as well as their tightness and punch (which was partly due to an extra-long scale length). Gurian also made its mark with top folk and pop players, including Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Paul Simon. Then disaster struck on February 3, 1979, when a fire caused by a boiler explosion destroyed the factory, much of the equipment, and $100,000 worth of guitars. Amazingly, only a month later, Gurian had its sawmill back in operation in the nearby town of West Swanzey, and was shipping specialty woods again to other guitar makers. Construction on a new factory began in April 1979, and the optimism for a full recovery was apparent in this excerpt by Dixie Gurian in that month’s issue of the company’s publication Timbre: “The ‘new’ Gurian guitars will exemplify the finest in workmanship and sound. We’ve made improvements in our process to make guitars more competently. We still have out capable people. Since the fateful February 3rd fire, Michael has designed a new machine called a Bolter resaw. Its purpose is to cut wood more efficiently and create less sawdust—which ultimately means less wood is wasted. All other machinery damaged in the fire, including fixtures, molds, and jigs, are being rebuilt and should operate better than before. We can’t say it enough how much we appreciate all of you who have been so encouraging, and, most especially, we will never be able to thank enough our very loyal employees who have all (except four) stayed on the job and helped clean up and rebuild.”

In 1982, Gurian Instruments formally re-established itself as a supplier of tools, parts, and decorative wood inlay to musical instrument makers, although it continued to make some guitars as late as 1986. (Log on to to see what the company is currently up to.) Gurian reportedly made some 2,000 guitars in total, which are now among the most collectible of the early boutique marques. Michael Gurian certainly did his utmost to make superlative guitars, and judging by how rare it is to see one of his creations for sale these days, it’s clear he achieved his goal.