What were you going for with the LX series?
There were a number of engineering and R&D improvements that we had been working on for a long time. These were structural, aesthetic, and tonal advancements. We wanted to improve how our guitars responded acoustically as well as from an acoustic/electric standpoint.
What structural changes did you make?
The first thing we wanted to do was lighten the guitars up. For years we’ve used a fiberglass composite for our roundback design and we still do. But in the LX series, we’ve incorporated glass spheres—tiny micro-balloons made of glass—that are injected right into the bowl’s material. It takes about 35 percent of the weight out of the body without losing any of the strength and the stability that we’ve always had with the parabolic shape. We didn’t stop there. The other big change we made to help lighten the guitars up and add stability is the new Advanced Neck System. There’s an extended support block under the fingerboard from the 14th fret where it meets the body almost to the end of the fingerboard. It sits in a pocket that’s built into the backside under the top and from there it’s attached to a new block in the bowl. What it gives us is a surface from the top of the fingerboard to the back of the bowl that’s all integrated. There’s no room for any movement. We also put some graphite strips in the neck to add stability without adding weight.
Instead of the Kaman Bar in the neck?
We still use our Kaman Bar in all our Traditional series guitars. It’s super stable and adjustable. But we were looking to lighten these guitars up so we developed a 2-way tension rod that is lower profile. We’ve taken some mass out. We can make the neck profile a little smaller for players who want that. The Advanced Neck System is a 2-way tension rod with support paths attached under the fingerboard and at the heel with bolts. It’s machine fit—we don’t need to glue anything.
Did reducing the weight of the guitars improve the acoustic response?
It did, but we wanted to go further. We did a long, exhaustive study of brace patterns on our guitars and on lots of other world-class instruments. We used a laser vibrometer to test and measure how the top moves. We have access to these very sophisticated devices because of Kaman’s aerospace background. They used these laser vibrometers to identify where vibration occurs in helicopters so they could dampen it, whereas we wanted to accentuate it. We could identify places in the top that vibrated more and places that vibrated less and where you get phase cancellation—just an abundance of information. You get a lot of data from this machine but unless you know how to analyze it, it’s useless. We found a way to analyze the tops so we can maximize the response. The result was the scalloped X-brace pattern that’s in the LX series. There’s the old luthier way where they used to sprinkle baby powder on the top and see how it moved and pooled up in different areas when you strum. That’s the same idea on a very basic level as what we’re doing with lasers. We’ve essentially learned how to better voice a top. Being able to do that on a roundback guitar is a different dynamic than on an instrument with wood back and sides. Our back isn’t meant to be anything but a projector. It just pushes the sound out. We have to get all the energy from the top. The upside for us is we’ve found a way to do that and we can repeat it more easily because there are fewer variables.
Is the scalloped X-brace the only change you made to the tops of the LX series?
We’ve also been working on getting our finishes thinner. We spray polyester on the top. It’s a roadworthy, tough finish but it’s not soft like a lacquer—it can build up very easily when you’re spraying it. At one time our finish thickness was running between 30 and 35/1000 of an inch. We’ve reduced that slightly over the past five years to the point where now we’re at between seven and 10/1000. I don’t think we can go much thinner than that. It naturally brings out more acoustic response.
How did you address the LX’s acoustic/electric sound?
We looked at the pickup and preamp together. We were working with Al Di Meola on his signature model and Melissa Etheridge on hers. We had what were going to become two different signature preamps. We had no intention of blending them into one, but that’s what we did with the OpPro preamp. Their names aren’t on there, but this new preamp can get the Al Di Meola single-note sound and Melissa’s strumming big chord sound—two totally different tones—at the touch of a button. You can still use the EQ, of course, but with the preamp set flat and the house set flat, those tones are there. It’s a nice warm preamp that’s not only in the LX but also in Al and Melissa’s signature models. The engine to the whole thing is the pickup. We looked at pickups we had 35 years ago when we started the acoustic/electric revolution and we reproduced the original patented pickup right down to the same manufacturer of crystals, the wires—everything about it is the Original Patented Pickup that’s made to work with the OpPro.
Why put all these improvements into one line?
We had all these options and wondered if we should introduce them one at a time or put certain ones on certain guitars. But we decided to put them all in one package using the car analogy. You’ve got a base model and then you’ve got the LX package, which is like getting the leather seats, the moonroof, the faster engine, and the deluxe sound system.