U.S. 7 String Guitar Maker/Mark Wescott

 Mark  Wescott was born in Somers Point, New Jersey, USA in  April 1957.  He still lives there and has his workshop, where he  makes his eye-catching seven-string "Intrepid" acoustic guitars, at 411 W.New York Avenue. There  was a good deal of woodworking tradition in  the  Westcott family.  Mark's father and uncles were all keen woodworkers;  his father having a small woodshop in the basement of their home that Mark had access to from a very early age. two of his uncles  were also tool designers. This  early  exposure to the woodworking craft  carried  on  into public  school. Although Mark is largely self-taught, the  school had  a  fine woodworking curriculum beginning in  7th  grade  and continuing through high school. It was whilst at high school that he attended a vocational school where he studied cabinet  making. In  1980, once high school had finished, he enrolled in a  guitar building school. But the real start came when, from 1983-1987, he was  apprenticed with classical guitar builder Richard  Schneider. Mark continues, "Although I was already building acoustic guitars before  I worked with Richard, I must credit this as the  time  I learned  much  of how I design guitars today. Also,  being  in  a professional  setting,  I  was able  to  interact  with  virtuoso artists,  which  is  the best way to really know  how  good  your guitar sounds."

Mark  plays  the guitar to a limited standard. His  mother  plays piano and cello and taught music in the public school system. His father plays the violin. So there were numerous instruments lying around the house when Mark was growing up, including guitars  and mandolins.  He himself played brass instruments from the  age  of six up until he was fourteen.

As  a teenager, the type of music he listened to was mostly  rock by  the likes of Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull, The Allmans and  Jimmy Hendrix.  His musicals horizons over the years have  expanded  to include new age, jazz and classical music.

Although  he had attended the cabinet making course whilst  still at  school, Mark decided that cabinet making wasn't for him.  But he  did  want to build something different. His  first  thoughts, perhaps  not  unnaturally, turned to violins and  cellos,  having grown up with these instruments in the house. But this wasn't the kind  of  music  he really enjoyed and so  eventually  he  turned towards the guitar. Mark says, "My interest in guitars has always been  in flat tops, both classical and steel string. Though I  do not  rule  out  ever  building  archtops,  to  me,  applying  the principles  of  the Kasha asymmetric  soundboard  bracing  design allows  me  to  build guitars with  consistent  predictable  tone qualities that I prefer over archtops and that I do not feel are as easily achieved with archtop designs in their  current  form. This is not to say that a totally new radical approach to archtop design would not produce the tone quality I am after."

Mark  Westcott has not followed the path trodden by many of  the other makers today. He has never been a repairman, has never been into solids and has never made a solid guitar of any description. Having  served an apprenticeship with a top clas maker,  he  took the  step  of  branching  out  on  his  own  straight  from  that background.  His first commercial client was classical  guitarist Kurt  Rodarmer,  the guitar  that  he  made  being  actually   a collaborative  project  between Richard  Schneider  and  himself. "Kurt  needed a 6-string bass classical guitar for a  recording", he  recalls. "Richard and I designed the guitar, I built  it  and Richard put a very unique fingerboard on it that had nylon frets. Every aspect of this guitar was experimental and new to us  both. The project was such a success that it totally changed the way  I design and build guitars today."

Mark continues, "The guitar I built for jazz guitarist Fred Fried is  an  example.  Fred  got in touch with  me  after  reading  an interview  I'd  done  for  'Guitar  Player'  magazine.  Fred,  an accomplished  7-string player, was looking for a new  guitar  and sound  to replace the 7-string archtops he had been  playing  for years. I invited Fred to my shop to try a couple of 6-string  and he decided right away that my guitars had the sound he was  after and  had  plenty of bottom end to support an extra  bass  string. Later, I drew up an idea of how I thought the guitar should  look and  sent Fred the blueprints for his input. All details  of  the design were worked out and the building began."

WESCOTT "Intrepid"

Details of the design were as follows.......

The guitar was to be tuned to standard pitch with the addition of a  7th  bass string tuned to low A. This  required  that  precise bridge  saddle compensation be figured out ahead of building  for true  intonation of the 7th string. Joining the neck to the  body at  the 12th fret allows the bridge to be positioned for  optimum full  bodied sound. The offset soundhole allows for  the  largest sound  producing  area  of the  soundboard  to  be  uninterrupted allowing   for  great  power  as  well  as  superior   structural integrity.  All  Wescott  guitar designs  incorporate  the  Kasha asymmetric soundboard bracing and bridge idea. Also featured is a trapdoor  access panel installed at the tailblock of the  guitar. All  electronics, volume control, preamp and battery are  mounted through  the  interior  of this  door.  this  makes  adjustments, intallation or removal very easy.

Mark  chose  to  wire Fred's new  guitar  with  the  'Highlander' integrated  pickup and preamp with volume control  because  "Fred wanted the natural acoustic sound of an under-the-saddle  pickup. The  'Highlander'  has  proved to be totally  reliable,  easy  to install and it sounds great."

Mark unusually prefers to build one guitar at a time. As he says, "I  prefer  one  at a time with each being  designed  around  the unique  needs  of  each  player. Although  it  varies,  it  takes approximately three months once all of the details of the  design are worked out with the client." The  Wescott  approach  to guitar building  is  one  of  constant rethinking of the mechanics of the soundboard design. He has,  as he  points  out, three goals in mind (1) To improve  the  overall tone,  volume  and  playability of the instrument  as  judged  by virtuoso artists (2) To utilize whatever material, traditional or non-tradtional,  to meet this end and (3) To improve the  overall longevity of the instrument, providing professional players  with a lifetime of service i.e., no eggshell guitars. As he says,  "It is my firm belief that the best guitars have yet to be built  and that  they  will  not  be built  using  traditional  designs  and strictly traditional materials."

For  the  past  twelve years, Mark  Westcott  has  been  building guitars  using the Kasha bracing technique that he learned  while apprenticed to Richard Schneider. Mark explains, "This  technique seeks  to manipulate the soundboard in a very direct and  logical way  by the use of an asymmetric soundboard bracing design  which in essence divides the top in half with long bass coupling braces and short treble braces. The internal braces radiate out from the profile  of  the asymmetric bridge sort of like the spokes  of  a wheel."

As far as future designs go, Mark is always eager to try out  new ideas.  He  believes  that the current role  of  the  independent luthier  is  to provide instruments  not  commercially  available elsewhere.  He  points  out that "Little  by  little,  the  small independent  luthiers  have  been challenging  the  large  guitar companies  with  high end products. The big guys  have  repsonded well by improving their own quality controls and widening product choice.  I see this trend continuing , though I  believe  guitars with  the best sound quality, like violins, will be those  coming out  of the small shops. Unfortunately, the  independent  luthier will  never be able to match the production numbers of the  large manufacturers.

Finally,  with  an  eye towards the  prices  of  these  handbuilt instruments  today, Mark comments "I am happy to see that  prices have risen to a level where fine craftspeople are better able  to make a living building custom guitars."

One thing is certain, in a field where there are not too many  7- string  makers, the Mark Wescott "Intrepid" certainly stands  out as  an 'individual' instrument. How good it sounds can be  judged on  hearing the three Fred Fried CDs currently available.  Although by  no  means  what one would think of as a jazz  guitar  in  the normal  mould,  when in the hands of a player such as  Fred,  few could dispute that it performs the role admirably. I for one look forward to any future Wescott developments with keen interest.

Chris Burden/Revised September 1997

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