The Dream Guitars roster opens its arms wide for Max Spohn of Heidenheim, Germany. Paul met with Max at the Vancouver International Guitar Festival and was struck by Max’s aesthetic and tone. That baby blue guitar came home to us shortly thereafter! We recently caught up with Max to chat a bit about life & lutherie to better understand the man behind Spohn Guitars to welcome him to the Dream Team. Enjoy!
Be sure to check out the listing for our first OM here: https://www.dreamguitars.com/shop/2019-spohn-om-pau-ferro-swiss-moonspruce-17.html
LW: Welcome! We’re excited to have your guitars in the shop. Can you fll us in on your path to lutherie? What first drew you to building guitars?
MS: I started playing guitar when I was six years old, and I have always been fascinated by the sounds this instrument produced. When I graduated from high school, I wanted to become an industrial designer, but when I prepared my application for university, I noticed that I was not satisfied with only designing things that other people would go on to build. I wanted to create something on my own instead. With the background of always having guitars around me, it was an obvious choice to build a guitar, and after the first week of my internship with German luthier Thomas Ochs I knew I wanted to become a luthier myself. Nothing has ever felt as natural for me as being a luthier!
LW: When Paul met with you at the Vancouver show, he was impressed by your aesthetics. Walk us through what you’re doing with inlay materials, color choices, the use of Spruce at the headstock.
MS: The design of a guitar means more to me than only representing my brand. It has to inspire the musician to explore worlds they haven’t witnessed before! To achieve this, I incorporate graphical elements into my guitars. Starting with the rosette, which is more of an inlay next to the soundhole of my guitars. Inlays can be found on various different spots like the headstock, end graft or on the back of the neck. But my overall goal is to maintain a simple aesthetic that is self-explanatory while surprising with its details. Each of my designs is one-of-a-kind and will never get reproduced.
I find a lot of fun in trying new materials like different burls, either dyed or in their natural color, buffalo horn or a special piece of bone that you will see in one of the next guitars I’m building for Dream Guitars. The color and texture always have to compliment the back and side wood while adding something unique and interesting to it.
The first guitar of mine you have in the shop now differs a bit from my other work, since this guitar was designed with a specific theme in mind. I have always loved Scandinavian design of the 1950s and 60s, especially the work of Danish architect and industrial designer Arne Jacobsen. With this in mind I reconsidered every aspect of my guitars, kept some of my previous designs like the body and headstock shape and redesigned others, like the bridge and heel shape. This was also when I first came up with the idea of making a Spruce headstock to achieve a uniform appearance on the front of the guitar.
LW: What has been the most exciting guitar for you to build to date?
MS: It is always exciting to try new things, so my first baritone guitar was something very special for me. But it is always the guitar I have currently on my bench that is the most exciting one I have built to date. When you are only building unique instruments there are always exciting things in a build. It doesn’t matter if it is a special inlay, a new piece of wood or an ergonomic feature that has to match the overall look of the instrument. The diversity found in making bespoke guitars is one of the greatest pleasures in lutherie, and is what keeps it interesting all the time. I doubt it is possible to build a guitar that is not exciting!
LW: Let’s shift gears and talk about your your approach to voicing an instrument. How did you frst fnd your voice?
MS: Since I started focusing on modern steel string guitars, I had a specific sound in my head that I wanted my guitars to create. I want it to have the clarity and midrange of a good steel string guitar combined with the sweetness and bass response of a classical guitar. Having such a specific sound in mind when building a guitar can be challenging, and it took some time to achieve a satisfying result. During my time with Ray Kraut I learned a lot about voicing guitar tops and how to get consistent results which helped me a lot getting closer to what I am after. Chasing the tone in my head is what will keep lutherie always interesting to me!
The typical sound of a Spohn Guitar is very well balanced with a thick treble and a low bass. To achieve this on my small and medium body guitars I use a symmetrical falcate bracing that really brings out the sweetness in the trebles.
LW: If you had not become a guitar maker, where do you think life would have led you?
MS: As I have mentioned above, I wanted to become an industrial designer during most of my time in high school, so I probably would be one today. Otherwise I would have probably become a professional chef since cooking is something I truly enjoy besides building guitars. It has a lot to do with lutherie like the appreciation of the ingredients and the care in dealing with them. Maybe I would be building other things by hand, doesn’t matter if it would be furniture, pottery or goldwork, but I would definitely be self employed.
LW: How do you have your shop laid out?
MS: I am currently working in a very small space which can be very challenging to keep clean and organized. Fortunately, I have a lot of natural light in it which is not only important for the quality of my guitars but also for my motivation. To keep such a small shop clean I reorganize it every now and then and optimize it. It is a great space for starting a business, but it is time to move to a bigger space soon.
LW: What music are you listening to right now?
MS: I currently listen to contemporary flatpickers like Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings a lot, which is a style I came to appreciate during my time in Eugene. But I also listen to the Motown and Stax Soul singers lately, as well as to Don Latarski’s latest album, River, which is truly inspiring in the shop. When it comes to fingerstyle music I am a big fan of Will McNicol and Vin Downes. I love many different styles of music so what I am currently listening to is constantly changing.
LW: And finally, what’s next for Spohn Guitars? How do you predict you will continue to grow and develop as a luthier?
MS: Next up is a new guitar model I am currently working on to expand the Spohn Guitars range that will be available through Dream Guitars soon! Besides this, there are many interesting things coming up like moving to a bigger shop as well as moving to another city. So there are some exciting times coming up for me. I’m sure all of this will inspire me to push my work forward in many ways.