What Makes the Difference Between Pretty Good and Great Acoustic Stringed Instruments?
About Rickert & Hale: Makers of Mandolin Family Instruments, Including Octave Mandolins, Citterns, Irish Bouzoukis and Mandocellos

Sessioneer Spartan Bouzouki by Rickert and Hale, Luthiers (Full Product announcement)

Ordering Information

Sessioneer Spartan plan view fullWhile semi-standardized, each Sessioneer Bouzouki is built for the individual buyer, at least for now. If you wish to discuss buying one of these instruments, give us a call or send an email. Looking forward to talking!

Phone: 1-706-896-0909

Email: Don@DonRickertDesign.com

Note: If you are a highly-skilled player with a history of high-quality videos on YouTube, we are open to discussing a discounted price in exchange for demonstration videos of our instruments. Let’s agree up front that there will be no hurt feelings. I mean, I am a player, but at nowhere near the skill level necessary for a compelling demonstration. My partner, Dr. Hale, and others have pointed this out to me, and my feelings were not hurt 😊.

Introduction

We are Rickert & Hale, Luthiers, a collaboration between me (Donald Rickert) and fellow luthier, Dr. Jesse Randy Hale of J. Hale Custom Guitars. We set out to design and build the BEST bouzoukis and octave mandolins possible, employing materials and design elements that have been plausibly related (by us and others) over the years to superior sound and playability. I will get back to that point in a bit.

We are absolutely committed to fair pricing for our instruments, which are hand-made by master luthiers 100% in the U.S. This in no way equates to low cost, but quite the opposite. There are already many lost cost options provided by a market that is quite saturated with cheap factory-made instruments. Our instruments are for committed players who have already, or are ready to, step up to luthier-built instruments of the highest caliber.

After many months of R&D and numerous prototypes, we are readying our first instruments for formal trial by evaluators in the Western U.S. and in Nashville, TN. We are taking orders right now.

The Sessioneer and Sessioneer Spartan Bouzoukis—Our initial Offerings

The Sessioneer Bouzouki is a relatively small-bodied (< 14” wide) traditional-looking (i.e., teardrop or “onion-shaped” body) Irish style bouzouki with a long (25.5”) scale. The “Spartan” variant has a minimalist violin/viola/cello-like aesthetic—no rosette, unbound ebony fingerboard with no position markers, ebony nut and bridge. We will do a Mycarta™ nut and zero-fret upon request. Both variants currently utilize a violin-type tail saddle and ebony tailpiece with a tail gut (i.e., tail cord) that is similar to those used on Benedetto guitars. The tuners are gold-plated Gotoh M6 Mini or 510 Mini (there is a price differential).

Anyway, our new Sessioneers sound like “Irish” bouzoukis (jangly and slightly “nasal”—NOT like a guitar), but are loud with very strong bass overtones, rich in harmonics across the spectrum but still focused, with sustain that could be mind-blowing if you have never played a fine luthier-built instrument.

Attributes of Our Instruments That Contribute to Superior Sound

The criteria for judging the sound quality of a musical instruments are, to some extent, subjective, culturally relative and even arbitrary (see What Makes the Difference Between Pretty Good and Great Acoustic Stringed Instruments?)

That being said, there are some sonic attributes of plucked acoustic stringed instruments, which I believe are widely accepted as desirable, such as:

  • Sonority (i.e., “power” or loudness)
  • Balance (i.e., low notes on the low strings are just as loud to the ear as notes on the high strings)
  • Focus (i.e., not “muddy”)
  • Richness in harmonic overtones
  • Sustain (largely a function of overtone richness)

Note: Achieving focus and overtone richness is a balancing act, as achieving one can come at the expense of the other. Only the very finest instruments achieve both. We believe that we have achieved that balance.

The following link is to a video, which I believe demonstrates the above desirable sonic attributes in the domain of classical guitars. It is really quite fun to watch and listen to.

Can you hear the difference between a $200, $2,000, $20,000, and $200,000 guitar?

So, does the $200,000 instrument sound 1000 times better than the $200 one? No, probably only about 100 times (10,000%) better!

Some Steps We Have Taken to Achieve the Best Sound Possible

At the end of the day, it all gets down to materials, design and workmanship.

Neck and Bridge

The neck is three-piece laminated rock maple, or a three-piece laminate of mahogany-maple-mahogany. The dense neck forces the vibrations back to the body rather than being absorbed by the neck. The downside of the all-maple neck is that it is heavier, which has ergonomic implications. The three-piece lamination (either option) also makes for an extremely stable neck that is resistant to warping. We utilize a custom-made double action truss rod, which allows correction for both backbow and upbow. Backbow can result from use of very light-gauge strings.

Sessioneer bridgeOne neck set option is a 1.75-degree back angle and 1.5mm overstand, which affords the use of a bridge that is at least twice the height of a typical bouzouki bridge.

Another option is a zero angle (i.e., orthogonal) neck set with a 3mm overstand, which affords a bridge with a more “standard” height. The advantage of the latter is that is has a more proven track record with respect to long-term structural top integrity. While the higher bridge option has a bit more “punch”, both produce an excellent response. We have decided that the zero-angle neck and lower bridge will be the recommended default moving forward.

The bridge is fit completely flush with the induced arch (25’ radius) top, in effect functioning like an additional brace, allowing for lighter internal bracing—Thanks to the great Graham McDonald for this idea.

Top and Top Bracing

Adirondack spruce top zoukThe top is AAA-grade Adirondack or Sitka spruce (there is a price differential). Adirondack is legendary for its power and focus.

Top bracing zoukThe internal top bracing is a modified X/lattice hybrid that is radically scalloped. We spend far more time in computer-assisted tap-tuning and making adjustments to the top thickness and brace thinning-scalloping than the total build time of most factory instruments. We’re talking about days!

 

See What Makes the Difference Between Pretty Good and Great Acoustic Stringed Instruments?

See Tap-Tuning Note: Rickert and Hale Bouzoukis and Octave Mandolins.

Back and Sides

X-braced honduras backUnless otherwise requested the back and sides of the Sessioneer Bouzouki are the finest genuine Honduras mahogany. It looks nice and contributes to the sound we strive for. The back is X-braced and has a 15’ radius induced arch.

Our back design really pumps the vibrating air through the sound hole, which is the primary source of sound for a plucked string instrument. With bowed strings, the top vibrations are more significant.

Tailpiece

Sessioneer Spartan plan view bodyOur tailpiece is a cello-type “free” design attached with a Kevlar tail cord. Vibrations are transmitted directedly into the end block.

We look forward to hearing from you.

We also have a flat-top guitar-shaped octave mandolin, an archtop octave mandolin and a 5-course mandola, which we are calling an “Alto Cittern” on the near horizon.

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