Designing the Solution
In 1968, Jeff Slatnick, left the Music Inn to attend the Ali Akbar School of Music in California. He studied there at the feet of many of today's acknowledged masters of Indian music and returned to New York City in 1977 as an accomplished performer. In the years that followed, he found himself performing his sarod in groups with other players and other instruments, indoors and out. In this new context, the sarod, which had previously been his vehicle to seemingly limitless realms, began to reveal implicit limitations. The accoustic sarod played well in only one key. It needed to be tuned and re-tuned before every piece as well as any time the temperature changed. The subtle and beautiful little notes achieved by sliding on the steel fingerboard can be lost in the soundcheck because the directly plucked notes are much louder by comparison. Finally, the instrument's sustain leaves alot to be desired with even the best sarods.
Jeff came up with several solutions. First, he pulled the frets off a Japanese Stratocaster and glued down a steel fingerboard. It worked a little better on stage with regard to volume, but he wasn't getting the sustain he had hoped for and it didn't sound beautiful. He later added sympathetic strings and a small drumhead and keeper ring on which a bone bridge could be suspended. Jeff says, "The sound was all pinched off and shitty."
He began to think that it was the shape and the weight of the manufactured guitar he was using the was the problem. He felt that a lighter design that allowed the bridge to vibrate with the face of the instrument would work better. Working at the Music Inn, seeing, playing and repairing every kind of instrument from all over the world, an image began to appear in his mind.
In the early eighties, 1500 miles away in Wausau Wisconsin, a little boy was watching MTV and messing around in his father's wood shop. He wanted an electric guitar more than anything. His dreams were filled with mysterious Flying Vs, Explorers, and Steinbergers. His parents, probably for their own sanity, would not buy him an amplified instrument. He began a series of attempts to build his own electric guitar. The first was made of a pine 2x4 and some plywood. It was finished with acrylic paint and brush. Of course, it failed structurally and he didn't know that phosphor bronze strings would not be picked up by magnetic pickups. A few years later that boy made one that worked. Later, he went to college as a painter, sculptor and printmaker and finally moved to New York City in 1997 doing graphic design. He wound up working at a Music Publisher. His name was Andy Dowty.
In 1998, Andy got married to Penelope Ann Fernandes. Andy's father-in-law had given him a collection of Indian flute and sarod CDs. During those years, Andy wanted to play the Indian Bansuri like the great Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. The Bansuri seemed magical to him and prompted him to seek out the instruction of someone who knew about Indian Music. In 2004 Andy and Jeff came together as teacher and student and for several years Andy learned Indian Raga compositions from Jeff.
During his vacations, Andy had been travelling back to Wisconsin to spend time with his family. He had begun to lament living in the city without a workshop and had decided to begin building electric guitars once more and was doing so during those two weeks every year. Materials, he had read on the subject of sound production with regard to solid body instruments told him that the biggest loss of vibration in the strings was due to tiny spaces in improperly fitted glue joins. This sent him in the direction of building the most solidly built guitars he could; guitars with through neck construction, from heavy hardwoods.
No longer was he interested in building guitars that just worked. Now he was interested in making the perfect guitar, but were heavy guitars really the answer?
Electric guitars began to appear in the early twentieth century. In the early experimentation, it was hypothesized that if a pickup made from a magnet surrounded by a coil of copper wire was placed under the steel strings of an accoustic guitar, a signal would be produced. the hypothesis was correct, but what was not anticipated was that when used with the existing accoustic instruments, very harsh and uncontrollable feedback would occur. The solution was the solid body guitar. With a body made from solid wood, there was no resonating chamber, it elliminated the feedback.
In the spring of 2007, after a Sunday morning lesson, Jeff Slatnick showed a maquette of his idea to Andy and explained his concept of a thin vibrating top with no back or sides and a floating bone bridge so that the strings could react to the top and vice versa. Andy began to imagine how a through neck instrument could be built with Jeff's body concept.
There was never a doubt that it would be frettless with a steel fingerboard. They began to plan and work in the old case room under the store. In the face of traditional thought that says that the shape of the instrument has little to do with the way an instrument with a magnetic pickup and steel strings sound, Andy and Jeff endeavored to build their instrument. The first instrument was completed in December of that year with a rudimentary head stock design. It had a freakish sustain and a beautiful tone. As it turns out, even though the steel string vibrating near the pickup is what produces all the sound, the wood and the shape can do alot to influence the way the strings behave. The experiment was a success.
Accoustic analysis has shown that a surprising amount of vibration happens in the headstock of an instrument. In an instrument that has been designed to vibrate optimally, a perfect head stock will make the difference between an instrument that plays and and instrument that performs. Andy and Jeff built many instruments since 2008. Each has had a slightly different head stock. Each is unique.
In 2011, plans to faithfully reproduce the instruments in greater numbers are becoming closer at hand. They are still being hand made and currently are available in fretted bass, frettless bass, fretted guitar, and Zarod (frettless guitar) models. Floor models can be played at the music Inn at 169 W. 4th St.