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Ryan Thorell: The Story Behind Frank Vignola’s Guitar

Bob Bakert, Editor

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Jazz Guitar Today reached out to luthier extraordinaire Ryan Thorell to give us some insight to the Frank Vignola guitar…

Above:  Ryan Thorell and Corey Christiansen;  Photo credit:  Ray Taggart 2015

Ryan Thorell shares…

Frank Vignola is one of the most artful and tasteful jazz guitar players on the scene today. His dynamic and voluminous right-hand technique is legendary, always fresh and on point with captivating melodic skill.  I have been a huge fan of Franks since high school, I even flew to Phoenix to study rhythm guitar with him at the age of 16.  Later after establishing myself as an archtop guitar maker I had the opportunity to pitch him a guitar.  One of my earliest collectors had a very beautiful cedar archtop of mine and took it to New York to study with Frank. This guitar had walnut back and sides, a contemporary styling, and a lightweight mahogany neck.  Frank loved it! I was in!

We discussed at length what Frank connected within the archtop guitar and what inspired him. One of my favorite moments was when Frank told me he didn’t ever even notice if a guitar had a cutaway or not! Didn’t phase him at all. For a guitarist who plays in the upper register all the time, that shocked me, and then totally changed my perspective (I was not yet in love with non-cuts, as I am now currently smitten). Frank did love small bodies, and he loved mahogany. He loved the 25.5 scale for his right-hand technique and required a 1 ¾ nut.  We talked a lot about tone and resonance and style. These were the things that excited Frank about his favorite guitars.

Thorell’s Frank Vignola guitar.

Frank has been playing the FV consistently since 2009.

The FV design is based on creating the z-axis geometry of a gypsy guitar creatively interpreted as a carved instrument.  The Adirondack Spruce archtop is carved from a lower height than a traditional guitar in such a fashion as to round out the harmonic frequencies of a bracing pattern designed to split the tradition of Maccaferri and Loar. I call it my pie sign bracing pattern, as this is what it looks like.  How Shakespearean of me, I know.   I have been in inescapable love with the Maccaferri cutaway since high school, so like most of my instruments, it was a natural here. Also, I knew I wanted the weight, neck, feel, and tone of a slotted headstock.  There is nothing sexier than old school mahogany so; neck, body, and sides.

These days besides the Thorell FV which is still handmade by me and can cost between 9 and 15 thousand dollars, you can order one made by Eastman guitars for less than 3.  Frank and I have worked with Eastman Guitars for over two years now (we went through an extensive prototyping process with over a year of investments from all parties before even starting on a guitar) and have absolutely loved the experience. Under the exacting care of maestro luthier Otto D’Ambrosio the Eastman FV has become one of their top archtops.

While the Eastman is based on the original 2009 Frank Vignola model and the one Frank still plays, mine have been in constant evolution.

I am always reaching for the best in hardware, the subtleties of the build.  I build less than 20 guitars a year and I seek to understand each one in a fresh light of whatever knowledge I have been able to cling on to in this short existence. My driving motivation is to strive to understand the archtop and all the potential therein, buried under marble of its infancy.

Check out the full article on Frank Vignola

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