Gildas Dasviken Absolute Luthier
Guitar Connoisseur|Guitar Connoisseur Kevin Eubanks Spring 2019

Coming From A Long Line Of Engineers, He Has Been Working In The Corporate World, And He Has Had A Strong Interest In Building And Customizing Instruments. “dasviken” Comes From The French Dialect “breton” From Brittany (Brittany). Gildas Found It On An Antique Wedding Ring That Read “a Tao Feal Das Viken” (Yours For Eternity). His Books Are Inspired By Classics From The Past And Inspiring For Generations To Come Dasviken Also Builds Pedals And Cabinets, All Of Which Abide By One Of My Favorite Quote Of His “Can You Tell Me About The Acoustic And Sonic Quality Of Plastics? No? Me Neither.”

Antoine Gedroyc

Guitar Connoisseur: Gildas, please tell us what did you think of a clearly defined path in the corporate world to building instruments?

Gildas Dasviken: My children, my aspirations to change the world but also myself as a child. Let’s start with the end. It’s a classic story ... Like many kids who dreamed of playing the electric guitar, I did not have around to buy one and my parents could not help me (I have three brothers and we are the sons of valiant “working class heroes”). I started drawing guitars before I was 10 years old and I have school diaries covered with sketches and pictures from magazines. I made prototypes without knowing anything, before even knowing how to play the instrument, jigsaw, without truss rods or frets, just to “play”. I dreamed of an Explorer listening to the Black Album.

I did not have the opportunity to follow a luthier training course. We did not find all these resources that we now have access via the internet. I went through a general education path followed by a degree in electronics, then an engineering degree in wood construction. And after a few years working as an engineer and teaching wood construction, energy efficiency, life cycle analysis, I realized that I will not change the world of construction and that ecology in the building is related only to financial and political issues. I started to feel growing frustration. My sons were 3 and 2 years old when I chose to leave my steady and financially comfortable position to set up my workshop without any experience in instrument manufacturing. I had chosen to start a business first to make myself independent, but also to create value with my hands. I did not want to be one of those who complains that the know-how is being lost and that production is delocalized in low-cost countries. I had to set an example and follow Gandhi’s quote “be the change you want for the world”.

From one day to the next, I created a company, trying to do what I dreamed since I was a kid. I thought: we’ll see if it works or not. Almost five years later and starting from scratch, the company is doing well enough to have a partner join the adventure and to expand the workshop!

Another fundamental point that motivated me to start this adventure is that working 9 to 5 I would never get to see my children. I woke them up in the morning to drop them at daycare, I returned at night to feed them, wash and put them to bed. I did not want to become the father whose children suffer from this work routine when they have nothing to do with it and that I had so little time to devote to them!

That started it all I believe, the other factors came to support my decision, but it is really to be closer to my children that I pushed me to this decision.

Finally, we must also be realistic and take a step back from our lives to make the right choices rather than let them dictate your path for you. My partner and I were both executives with good salaries but in a big city. One of the two salaries was mainly covering the mortgage, daycare, and expenses. I was working to subcontract the education of my children! Expenses related to working and living in a big city. In fact, one of the two salaries could be put in a savings account if we took care of the children ourselves and moved out. So we reduced the costs and simplified our way of life to make this project viable. Beyond starting the company, we can also say today, that this choice was the right one, as we feel good in our lives now.

GC: What and who are your main influences in designing and customizing instruments? Tell us about the materials, hardware and finish techniques are you using and why?

GD: I did not know it the day I started my business, but his name, DasViken (“Forever” / For Eternity) has greatly influenced the style of my fabrications.

Leaving the world of construction, with its technological solutions more and more high tech, I knew that a lot of “innovation” in the industry was an illusion, but especially that the new products supposed to help the worker or the user are only proletarianizing them, aka strip them from their skills, their “know-how-to-do”.

A simple example that will speak to everyone: easy openings on all packaging: thanks to them, no one needs a knife to open a package. But because of them, no one has a knife on him when he needs it and everyone gets angry about the easy openings so often messy ...

For violin making, we can talk about glues, varnishes, and woods for example:

- Instant glues have become unavoidable, but we forgot that before being expensive and polluting products, we could manufacture our own glue based on animal collagen. So I began to rediscover the manufacture of my own glue. After recovering bones from my butcher and melting the collagen, I reduced it and made my first glues “home”. The process requiring a lot of time and energy, I focused on the purchase of bone glue and nerve glue pellets that I rehydrate. One of the big advantages is that these glues are reversible: just heat them to take off and glue a piece that would have moved during the building process.

- Varnishes can enhance the beauty of wood, but today they weigh more than 10% of the total weight of a guitar and even provide some of their rigidity, if not using quality wood. The varnish is like a glass case full of still plastic mannequins. The varnish gives a sinister impression, stillborn instruments, wearing a straitjacket or a polyene tarp to prevent them from being stained by the musician. So I made the choice of finishes based on linseed oil or varnish (french varnish made with shellac) which are traditional finishes without chemicals added. I can dye the woods, but the originality in my creations is more about the mixture of wood and metal, oxidation and aging.

- Finally, the choice of the luthier woods, the famous “tonewoods”, is done according to a tacit norm: Stradivarius has imposed maple, ebony and spruce found in both archtop. Gibson turned to mahogany for their solid body, depleting quality resources by regularly setting his sights on a new supply area. Fender switched to the alder after using swamp because of cost, logistics, and limited supply, not for acoustic reasons. Finally, “basswood” or basswood and sometimes poplar are light and mechanically stable woods, with no particular acoustic properties. Let’s say they offer a neutral base.

When one analyzes these tendencies, one realizes that nothing forces us to use these essences in our builds if not a lack of originality or reflection.

From these observations, and from the desire to reclaim my “sometimes forgotten” knowledge, came my directions to my creations. The self-proclaimed conservatism of guitars is simply bypassed with a little pedagogy and feedback from musicians.

I banned plastics, designing and manufacturing my own metal hardware. I no longer exotic woods with the exception of reclaimed woods. So, I replaced mahogany with walnut. I do not use alder, but ash. French ash is much heavier than American swamp ash, I created thin lines in my own way, with cavities open forward and covered with metal grids.

Since I started, my career tends to be “radicalized” in this way. I try to produce a maximum of my spare parts locally and I use more and more reclaimed wood, to cut fewer trees. Of course, my impact is insignificant, like a hummingbird facing a forest in flames.

Thus, “DasViken” refers to guitars that are created from materials and techniques older than the electric guitar itself.

As for the shapes of my guitars, I mainly use classic designs to which my finishes and woods present themselves as a variation on a theme that guitarists already know. My contributions in design come mainly from the constraints related to the recovery of wood and metal plates or grids that I was able to recover. We find ourselves with roots, relic, sometimes steampunk or postapocalyptic instruments. I like to group all these names under the term “Auth-antiques!”

As for my influences as a luthier, there are a lot of people who came before me ... the guitar is a visual instrument, which is worn by facing the public. Moreover, the fact that this instrument is in front of you also prompted me in my choice of finishing, to give the instrument a strong visual impact so that the musician feels empowered, even galvanized, going up on stage, like a gladiator entering the arena ...

The absence of varnish, allowing the instrument to vibrate better against his body is also a way to give him feedback, to return in waveform some of the mechanical energy he transmits to the strings. The guitar answers him.

I really like classic shapes, for what they evoke in us as part of guitar history. I like the original concepts of the pioneers, Paul Bigsby, Leo Fender, Les Paul, Loyd Loar, Dan Armstrong, etc. (although it is now necessary to distinguish these “founding fathers” from the operators of the brands they left behind).

So to answer the question of influences, one of the most obvious is, of course, James Trussart. Although I arrived at guitars “Hors d’Age” without premeditation, it is certain that the guitars of James that I discovered while I was still teenager opened a door for many luthiers, on the sidelines of the relic or neo-vintage fashion. Its oxidized finishes have for me something organic and natural that plastics, in their uniformity, cannot approach. That’s what I wanted to get closer to in my creations.

And I added the newfound authenticity of raw woods, shots of a body that marks naturally under the effect of the pick, which is for me the proof of living instruments, which evolve with the guitarist, who improve with age in the manner of great wine. And their touch, natural, silky, is only more appreciable!

I often think of James Trussart as a mentor, even if we do not know each other. For other references, and there are plenty, I’ll let you look!

GC: What is your approach [...] every custom build instrument?

GD: You are right, I guess. For starters, each guitar is an adventure that will take between 6 months and 1 year, on average. I do not rush. I gather information, discuss with the customer. But if it has reached me, it is not by chance and often the instrument quickly finds its characteristics and its design. But the project does not freeze when the quote is signed. I will keep in touch during the entire manufacture of the instrument, which will include breaks allowing me to dry glues, but also to ripen the idea. So I continue to make proposals as and when the development. Just to get as close as possible to the customer’s dream. And this time will also allow him to refine his choices, we will eventually wind his custom microphones so that they are in line with his project. And I will have determined in which alloys to make machine its fittings.

But the biases that I’m doing are also driving my response to demand. The choice of wood being made only on local species it is necessary that it pleases the customer. If not, I know how to direct him to the colleague who will answer his request.

GC: How would you define your own personal style? How do you balance your French - Breton identity with American classic influences?

GD: Our knowledge of the world has evolved and if it seemed infinite until the 70s, we know today that we are all connected to the fate of our little planet. Borders for me are only administrative and less and less cultural constraints and the influences have also become globalized. To discuss American influences on my work is to question the influences of these American designers. They owe a lot to the automobile industry, for the most part, American as well as European. I appreciate the lines of the “classic” models, we find a lot of the influence of Gibson and Fender in my creations, but themselves were influenced by Paul Bigsby, Rickenbacker, etc ... My influences have roots that go much further. If a car was a mix of chrome, leather and bright colors in the 50s and 60s, the colors of older vehicles were more neutral.

The pickup trucks (much smaller in France than the US) had wooden sidewalls, the wood grew old and what evokes in the United States “Barncasters” carved indoors of barns of the Far West, I see it at the turn of the paths on the sliding doors of the stables of my Breton countryside. We find all over the countryside old rusty carcasses awaiting restoration and inspire these rusty pickguards I use.

My influences in terms of aesthetics go back to the old TSF stations, to the ancestors of the potentiometers which were rotary dials with brass studs, the doors of castles whose ironwork was fixed by forged nails and which greyed and chapped with time.

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