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The DKK: A New Experimental Baritone
by Daniel Roberts, Santa Cruz Guitar Co.

When Santa Cruz artist endorser Kevin Kastning approached me with the desire to have a cutaway Brozman model built, I was pleased and excited to work with him again. From the first time we had worked together in 2000, I had found him to be one of the toughest clients I had ever worked with to please in terms of tonal discrimination.

My experience had been that SCGC instruments as a whole play very much in tune; yet the nature of the instrument forces all guitarmakers to consider intonation compensation something of a compromise. Kevin’s discriminating ear didn’t allow us much compromise. We were always able to please Kevin, but sometimes it required extra attention and slight deviations in standard design.

So when we first started talking about the Baritone I didn’t expect a great deal of challenge from this one… rather, an interesting project and I was really interested to hear what Kevin would do with the instrument. I have really enjoyed his compositions as well as performance and looked forward to hearing a baritone in his genre of music.

I never really doubted that this would be a successful endeavor… but just by virtue of the number of changes to design, and overall complexity… as well as Kevin’s level of discrimination, I began to recognize it as a real challenge. His ability to communicate exactly what his artistic vision was, as well as my ability to first understand and visualize it and then to design an instrument that fully realized his vision, would be challenged.

The Brozman was never intended to be a true baritone guitar. Baritones… though not a common acoustic instrument, are generally tuned to A below E, and the scale length is often 29 to 30 inches. What Kevin had envisioned was an instrument that was essentially tuned lower than the baritone but also was hoping for a scale length that would be shorter than the standard baritone length. His penchant for liking heavier strings would help us, but this instrument would not be just an adjusting of appointments. It would require me to consider all design parameters carefully to make sure that the string gauges we chose, the scale length, and the required pitches were all carefully balanced. First I had to determine if it could be accomplished. Given the standard baritone longer scale length, and higher pitch it seemed possible that a scale longer than Kevin would be able to effectively use might be required. I also expected the possibility of intonation problems if I we had to go to such heavy strings that there would be a dead zone on the string ahead of the saddle from bending such heavy gauge strings at too tight a radius. The heavier the string the lower the break angle must be in order to prevent such a dead zone. Essentially such a dead zone requires a much longer compensation to correct compensation and there wouldn’t be enough room to do that if it was too extreme.

I studied string tension charts, and with what I had learned from years of adjusting and working with string gauges on the Brozman, that by the time we started on Kevin’s Baritone, I intuitively believed that we had designed an instrument that was not only plausible but held great potential.

Now it was time to design the soundboard. The Brozman has its bridge well back into the largest part of the lower bout. Any further back would move it too close to the edge and serve to tighten the top movement, yet its position was well balanced where it was and in Rosewood in particular, the upper registers were very musical and full. Kevin was counting on this and so I chose to move the neck joint to a 13 fret joint configuration as well as going to the double tapered X brace carving. This double tapered design is heavily knifed on the sides of the brace (as are most SCGC bracing designs) and utilizes narrow profile brace strut stock. It starts a very slow taper from the beginning of the lower legs, and stays high longer than a standard tapered brace, then starts a second, faster taper about 4 inches from the linings. This loosens the center of the top slightly and looses mass quicker than the standard tapered brace, but is stronger and more effective in transmitting top movement into the rest of the top than a scalloped brace can do.

I felt that the new back-slanted saddle would be to our advantage, and felt that the strings we had chosen wouldn’t create a dead zone beyond what the back slanted saddle would be able to compensate. The 1/8” saddle would also help greatly with this issue. I had used the back slanted saddle on many repairs and had found it to be a superior idea. It was something that Rick Turner of Renaissance Guitars had recommended for the collaborative pickup he does with Seymour Duncan. This reduces the forward pressure on the saddle which with a pickup, which has to be fit looser than a standard saddle, or in particular with the heavy string gauges we were planning (.020-.076) this would be a great advantage. Furthermore, the intonation compensation is automatically adjusted as the action is raised or lowered at the saddle.

-Daniel Roberts
October 2005

To be continued....