Our shop has produced and refined these innovations over the years. Much of the credit for the conception and refinement of these innovations goes to our Chief Luthier, Ray Varona. Ray offers these thoughts on his approach to producing lovely and supremely functional instruments:
Clarity, balance, and evenness of sound are the goals of the Dammann Custom Instruments sound. This works hand-in-hand with the expanded chord voicings and tonal range of our 5-course instruments and creates a sound complete that is both broad across the tonal spectrum as well as finely defined and clear between notes. Tonally, our instruments tend towards having an articulate bass with clear mids and detailed highs, which can be generalized as slightly brighter than traditional tones. The appeal of round, warm, and sweet tones from vintage instruments isn’t entirely lost on us however, so our instruments are still built on tried-and-true bracing and voicing specifications and as a full-custom shop we can craft an instrument to deliver a tone more in line with a traditional sound. However, part of the appealing character of vintage instruments lies in the changes resulting from decades age and playing so we still prefer to build on the brighter/stiffer side so that the instrument will settle into the right tonal range in time.
An instrument can sound fantastic but can still be useless if the player finds themselves struggling with the instrument. To that end Dammann Custom Instruments puts stability and control over the neck and playing action as one if it’s primary goals. All instruments feature carbon-fiber composite neck reinforcement for neck stiffness and stability and double-acting truss rods for fine control of neck relief. While the neck can be stabilized against movement from swings in temperature and humidity, the lightly-built soundbox can’t be similarly fixed yet still remain responsive. To that end, our user-adjustable neck joint lets you dial in just the right amount of string height to find that delicate balance between playability and tone on a day-to-day basis depending on how the body responds to the ever-changing conditions.
Working in conjunction with the ease of play for the fretting hand and articulate tonal signature is a lively, responsive feel under the plucking/picking hand. By calibrating the stiffness for top and back the feel of the strings is quick and precise, much like a finely-tuned sports car. With double-top composite soundboards this is taken to another level with the instrument providing ample power at the slightest touch while opening up the limits of volume when driven to the limit.
At Dammann Custom Instruments we aim to build instruments that will last for a lifetime but not at the expense of tone, so we build using designs and techniques that ensure that your instrument won’t fall victim to many common ailments and that any needed repairs can be easily addressed. All the bracing and internal components of the soundbox are cut from split brace stock for tonal purposes but this also helps to prevent brace failure from short-grain stock. Additionally, the braces are glued using hot hide glue for tonal clarity but primarily to make the re-gluing of any components a simple procedure in the event of repairs.
Recognizing the varied climates our instruments may see, we build at a consistent 45% relative humidity to split the difference in extremes of dryness and wetness. Additionally, both the tops and backs are built into a domed shape to serve as a safety check against cracking in dry conditions, allowing for the dome to flatten as the top shrinks instead of stressing to the point of cracking had the top been built flat.
Given the significance of fretwork in the intonation and playability of an instrument we put a premium on fret durability and use either stainless steel or hard brass fretwire so that the frets remain true and free of divots for much longer than what would be normally possible with standard nickel silver. We also bind the fretboards to cover the fret tangs to protect from unwanted, sharp fret ends if the instrument dries out.
Our adjustable neck joint not only enables pinpoint control over playability but it ensures long-term playability over the course of the instrument’s lifetime. Instruments built lightly enough to be lively and responsive are also prone to changes in shape over time given the years of seasonal changes and string tension. At best, the saddle needs to gradually be shaved down and in most cases a neck reset is needed to bring the neck back in line. With user-control over neck angle, this becomes a moot point since the neck angle is adjusted with a simple turn of a wrench and the saddle can remain constant regardless of action so that the saddle can be set at it’s optimum height purely for tonal purposes instead of at a height dictated by playability needs.