Interview with Gallagher Guitars
As part of our ongoing Luthier Interview series, we present our conversation with Don Gallagher, chief luthier with Gallagher Guitars.
MF: When you first started building guitars, what innovations or craftsmanship did you feel made your guitars different? Are those goals the same today?
Gallagher “Doc Watson”
Don Gallagher: The first Gallagher guitar was made in May 1965. My father had made custom furniture since 1939. Each piece was individually designed and crafted for a particular person. When we began building guitars, it was our objective to create a small shop dedicated to making instruments [that] could express the high-level craftsmanship characteristic of the furniture my father made. We also wanted to develop specific lines of instruments so that the work could be done efficiently.
That work has been divided into three main areas: body construction, neck construction, and finishing. Over the years, people who have worked in the shop have worked in one of these areas with my father, and later me, being the unifying threat for the overall process. From the beginning, we have placed a good deal of emphasis on consistency in building techniques. Tolerances are held closely by being well jigged up for the various operations and maintaining good records of our work. When design changes are made, we note that in our records.
All our instruments are serial numbered. A ledger is maintained in which we record the serial number, model, date it left the shop, and who received the instrument. If the guitar changes hands and we know about it we update the ledger. This ledger gives us good feedback as to what is going on with our instruments and helps us make design changes when appropriate. The ledger also helps us to maintain personal contact with people who are playing one of our guitars.
We have always striven to improve our work by building upon knowledge acquired by the feedback we get our instruments as well as information gained from other sources; i.e., musicians, other builders, etc.
In late 1965, we developed a neck rod that was adjustable from inside the body. To my knowledge, this was the first neck road adjustable from inside the body. Even though this original internal neck rod has changed, we since that time have always had a neck rod that was adjustable from inside the body.
MF: What makes your guitars different from other guitars of a similar build and value?
Don Gallagher: I believe we have one of the best values for the money of any guitar being built today.
MF: What is the most common body shape you sell? Why?
Don Gallagher: The most common body shape we build is the dreadnaught size, however we build quite a few small body guitars today. Our market tends to be flatpickers.
MF: What are the most common woods sold for back and sides? Why?
Don Gallagher: Indian rosewood and African mahogany are the two most common woods we use. The African mahogany is [a] type of wood we have used to great advantage. These mahogany guitars have good note definition and a deep sound unlike typical mahogany guitars. I believe we are noted for our mahogany instruments.
MF: When designing a completely new model, what process do you use to determine the woods used? Bracing pattern? Etc.
Don Gallagher: Most of the fifteen models we make have come about because of requests we have gotten from musicians. Which is to say, that our basic designs are driven by the needs of the musicians we are building for.
MF: What are the benefits/disadvantages of a bolt-on neck? A radius top? Radius fingerboard?
Don Gallagher: We have never used a bolt-on neck. We have always used a dovetail joint. We feel the dovetail joint is stronger, more durable, and not only transmits the vibrations from the neck to the body better but helps provide the instrument with a fuller type of sound.
The arch top and back make the instruments stronger as well as enhance the sound and projection of the instruments.
A radius neck certainly makes a guitar more playable.
MF: What strings do you recommend for your guitars? What guage? Why?
Don Gallagher: We install medium GHS bright bronze strings on our guitars here at the shop. We have been a customer of GHS since a year after they went into business. They comliment the sound of our instruments excellently.
MF: Do you have an over-all philosophy of building that defines your decisions and building choices?
Don Gallagher: Our business is more of a lifestyle than a business. We enjoy what we do. Our greatest reward is to build a product that it well received by our customers.
MF: What plans do you have for the future?
Don Gallagher: My middle son, Stephen, has just finished college and is now working full time at the shop, so we hope the tradition of Gallagher guitars will continue for many years to come.
Note: The opinions expressed by Don Gallagher are not necessarily those of Music Folk and should not imply Music Folk’s endorsement of one product over another.