German luthier Dominik Wurth made a pilgrimage of sorts when he found out we had acquired the Russell Cleveland Collection – he came to from Germany to GSI to play and study as many of these historic instruments as he could to see what he might learn from them. As you’ll read, one guitar in particular made a deep impression and has even influenced his construction method. We’ll have new instruments from Dominik very soon.

Here is a brief summary of the construction changes I made on these guitars especially on the spruce guitar after my visit to GSI when I was able to evaluate some of the Russell Cleveland Collection guitars. Until recently, I was making guitars in a very stiff way especially when it came to the sides and the back, a philosophy adopted by a lot of guitar makers. Constructing the back and sides in the manner, I realized was missing a lot in the bass range. After playing the guitars at GSI, I made many small adjustments which resulted in a completely new guitar. For instance, 3 bars on the back instead of 4, a thinner back, thinner sides, and less doming on the top. Overall, a lighter-built guitar which now achieves a fine compromise between a modern guitar and the old Spanish masters.

One guitar in particular from the Cleveland collection which impressed me most was the “Churchdoor” from Miguel Rodriguez. A very powerful, well-balanced, and nicely sustaining guitar. I was so taken with this instrument that I had to make a copy just to see how it worked! The huge body with its very thin back and sides and not to forget the famous “floating harmonic bar”, something I have never seen or heard of before, excited me in a whole new way. So, I took every measurement I needed to make a copy. The result was impressive – not exactly like the Rodriguez sound (my guitar being more stiff than the original) but definitely a great guitar which is very present in the room and which sets a high standard for future guitars of this new model which I will continue to build.


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5 Responses to “Dominik Wurth and the Cleveland Collection”

  1. Glenn Canin says:

    That must have been a great experience! However, I’m wondering if you realize that the “floating harmonic bar” was added after the guitar was built by ace repair person Yuris Zeltsins in San Diego. The Romeros play with extra high tension strings, so he added this to all their guitars because the tops would cave in.

    • Kai says:

      Hey Glenn,
      Thanks for bringing this up! I didn’t know the story so I asked David Collett, and apparently there’s more to this whole ‘floating harmonic bar’ business. We’re checking with Yuris to get the whole story since it seems no one has really written about it definitively. I’ll do a blog post as soon as we have all the info we can gather and hopefully learn a bit about the history of this, as the harmonic bar appears in tons of Rodriguez guitars made by the Rodriguezes themselves as well as by Yuris and maybe even others. But don’t quote me on any of this until I can gather more info. If you have any personal insight about it please feel free to get in touch with me!

  2. I’ve been preaching the Miguel Rodriguez style for nearly 40 years and you guys are just coming to the knowledge of what this style has, in positive quality for sound, volume, and clarity.

    It is good that other builders are finding this ideal. I hope they will improve on it, as I have with some slight modifications… but to add the stiffener support in the middle is counter productive to the guitar’s voicing and ambiente.

    It can very easily be supported by adding slight top thickness in the middle and stair step it down a little toward the outside edge. This opens up the bass hollowness and improves the sweetness in the treble end.

    It’s easy enough to see the quality here but to get more toward a Spanish style voice you have to eliminate the middle stiffener. You can find the 1977 Church Door plan I drew for the Guild of American Luthiers at

  3. Let me clarify the middle stiffener for you. Yuris did a nice job in using it as a support brace for the previously built guitars that needed it, as they were too thin toward the middle of the top.

    Later on, this technique was of some interest to Pepe Rodriguez so he started adding the brace to his new guitars as a support to the top.

    However, I took this issue of a thin top and changed it to be thicker in the middle for added support, as some of the older Miguel Rodriguez models which had been built earlier in the 60’s.

    I took the 1962 Rafael Rodriguez that Tim loaned me to build a replica with and transposed its style into the more modern 1977 by duplicating its top style but with a little thinner top to accommodate the slanted treble bar. This is all right there on the plan. The Rafael guitar was 2.7mm in its middle.

    So, there is no reason to add a middle support when the top is thicker to begin with. What Yuris did was highly innovative and necessary for the previous Miguel Rodriguez classical guitars but with a thicker top there is no need to use it. To my understanding a 1.2mm increase in middle thickness does the job with a concentrated Spanish flavor. For a near perfect top thickness I build with 2.3mm at the bridge and stair step it down to about 2mm around the edges. It’s on the plan.

    • In closing I would like to reiterate that, to my knowledge, this is not a direct copy of the Miguel Rodriguez Church Door guitar, although it has some of its essence in the fan brace design to be called that.

      When doing a direct copy, we must remember to place the design as it reads toward being a direct copy. Otherwise I have no complaints with this article. If the builder chooses to stray from the original, then this is his prerogative. Who knows, it might turn out to be a great instrument in its own right.

      There is so much knowledge with guitar building today that any one of 1000’s of ways to build would provide us with superior instruments from yesterday.

      So this tells us that the original Church Door remains in its distinct position as being highly collectible.


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