Paul attended two shows last year, the Santa Barbara Acoustic Instrument Celebration and the Woodstock Invitational Luthier’s Showcase, and there he met a number of new builders with some truly awe-inspiring builds. Naturally, we took several of them on as new builders for Dream Guitars! The first was Isaac Jang, a Hollywood-based builder who studied under Kathy Wingert and now teaches building at the Musician’s Institute. We’ve already sold the two OMs we received from Jang, and we can’t wait for the next ones to arrive! In the meantime, we’d like to share his responses in a brief interview we conducted with Jang earlier this year. Enjoy!
What or who inspired you to begin building guitars?
I started playing guitar when I was 14 years old. Discovering Tommy Emmanuel was what sparked me to fall in love with acoustic guitar. Since then, I explored deeper into the acoustic guitar sound, and when I went to Bryan Galloup’s school of lutherie, my love for guitar making began.
What builders inspire you today?
My biggest inspiration is my wonderful, and forever mentor Kathy Wingert, who’s been the biggest influence in my guitar making. I am blessed to be building guitars in this golden era of lutherie where many of the mentors in the guitar making world have already established so much valuable resources for the younger generations. I’ve been in the industry for some time before I started making my own guitars, so I have a long list for the builders who inspires me.
Here are some of the builders who inspire me: C.F. Martin, Richard Hoover, Michi Matsuda, Ervin Somogyi, Claudio Pagelli, Sugita Kenji, Mickey Uchida, Mike Baranik, Jim Olson, Bryan Galloup, Gerald Sheppard, T.J. Thompson, Ken Parker, Mike Bashkin, Linda Manzer, Ed Claxton, Jeff Traugott, Tom Ribbecke, Mario Beauregard, Jason Kostal, John Slobod, Kim Walker, Bill Collings, and so many more, the list could go on.
Please describe your goals in voicing an instrument. How did you first find your voice, and how do you continue to experiment?
My main goal in voicing is to have a balanced sound. I’d like to first have strong fundamentals accompanied by sweet overtones. I feel that if either of two characteristics stand out too strong on one end, then the guitar could sound too dry, or too wet. So I aim for the balance of those two.
When I apprenticed with Kathy Wingert for about 10 years, I never voiced her tops, but only got to see how she did it, and she gave me directions on my prototype tops. Later, I realized that she was teaching me to fish, not giving me a fish. While apprenticing with Kathy, I also worked at a repair shop at Westwood Music, and I was able to work on many great early Martins and Gibsons. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I wanted to work from the great examples, and go from there.
As much as my guitars appear somewhat modern, my building approach is very traditional: X-bracing, dovetail neck joint, hide glue, nitrocellulose lacquer, and etc. After my first few guitars, I wanted to see the consistency in my sound, and make small changes at a time. As I build custom guitars, I value each players need/want for their specific sound. When I met Paul Heumiller at the Memphis show in 2015, he gave me his honest feedback on my guitars and I made few changes when I voiced my next ones. I’m thankful that those small changes contributed to good feedback from many players from recent exhibitions at Santa Barbara, Berlin, and Woodstock in 2016.
Jang’s Uchida-style bend cutaway on our 2016 Brazilian OM