Unvailing Randy Angella
Guitar Connoisseur|Guitar Connoisseur Kevin Eubanks Spring 2019

Randy Angella Of Concord California Is A Self-taught Luthier Who Has Been Crafting Classical Guitars Since 1975. He Is Known To Make Some Of The Very Finest Sounding Classical Guitars Available Today. Randy Has Built Instruments For Many Of The World’s Top Classical Guitar Players. His Studies Are Deep Reaching Into Areas Not Necessarily Specific To The Guitar. Randy’s Designs Go Against The Grain Of The Strict Orthodox Rules That So Many Classical Builders Adhere To. Here Are Some Thoughts He Shared With Me During Our Conversations. “thickness Of The Timbers In Many Guitars Are Very Thin And Lightly Formed. The Operating Theory Being The Law Of Conservation Of Energy. A Given Mass Acted On By A Known Quantity Of Energy, Will Be Accelerated Faster As The Mass Decreases. Inversely, Acceleration Decreases As The Mass Increases. Guitar Makers Reason, Therefore, That To Produce Maximum Volume, Lightly Built Instruments Will Provide The Maximum Sound. You Can Build A Guitar Thinly And Light And It Will Have Some Very Loud Notes. The Problem Is That A Guitar Built With Only That Concept In Mind Will Have Great Volume But May Not Have Great Tone. They Are Different Ideas. I Know A Man That Can Yell So Loud You Can Hear Him From 200 Yards Out. But He Can’t Sing. To Build A Guitar That Sings You Have To Go Deeper Into How It Makes Music And What Is Musical Sound, Then Match Them” Randy Explained. So How Does The Man Go About Doing This? Let’s Find Out...

Mark Grant

Guitar Connoisseur: Randy, when did you become interested in the classical guitar?

Randy Angella: I became aware of the Classical Guitar in College and began actually to practice and play in 1973. Studying with Jim Wittes out of Marina Music in San Francisco.

GC: What were you up to during the years leading up to your first build?

In the years leading up to building, I was a Field Supervisor for a landscaping company.

RA: What was your motivation to jump in and build your first guitar?

A close friend, the same guy that introduced me to the guitar, mentioned his father was building a guitar and it captured my imagination. I had a history of making things so it was easy to transition into the guitar. I took a vacation from landscaping and began to build my first guitar. It’s been 42 years now.

GC: How early in your building career did you realize there were problems with the orthodox rules to building a classical guitar and start experimenting with your own designs?

RA: I knew immediately that there were problems with the traditional instrument. The instruments that had the sound I liked were outside the mass box back then, Hauser and Fleta. They both were very well built substantial instruments. I started working my way through the guitar experimenting with each part. It was a slow evolutionary process and it still goes on.

GC: You came to the decision that you needed a more robust structure to hear the voice you were looking for? Is that right?

RA: My intuition was that the heavier the structure, the clearer the sound and the longer the decay. Both desirable for even a beginning builder. It was about the time I settled on my musical direction that I found myself looking at one of the very first Mac computers. A client had worked for Apple and had helped write the first MacWrite program. The machine had a knob that could be moved between a sine wave icon and a sawtooth wave icon. When you picked a frequency with the knob on the sine wave side the Mac would emit that sine wave frequency. Boring, really only a concept within nature. As the knob moves to the right, the machine added first the octave, then the third and fifths and kept adding related frequencies until the waveform was sawtooth. And the clarity, depth, character and the distinct quality of the note was there. It’s the more the overtones the clearer the note. The clearer the note the more orchestration.

GC: You realized that to obtain meaningful results from your experiments you needed to create solid baselines for your testing. Can you elaborate on this for us?

RA: There are three elements to building your guitar sound. Wood, Design, Technique. The technique is the foundation upon which the “sound” is made. I was lucky enough to have studied Inorganic Chemistry from a Mr. Howless at CSU San Luis Obispo. His first task was to introduce us to technique and impress upon us, it’s importance. In order to learn anything, you have to master the technique as deeply as you can. Before you can learn anything about wood or design, you should be able to rely on the foundation of your technique to instruct you on what you’ve learned. Good technique is developing a system that fits whatever intuitive model you first settle on. And then repeating that system every time you build with only a few deliberate changes each time in order to answer questions arising from an increasing body of information that will become clear to you. When your technique is functioning reliably, then it’s time to explore woods and design. I learned early that when buying wood, buy as much of one sample as possible. When your technique is consistent and you have a large sample of one wood, you can then explore your design. expecting accurate results, as you’ve eliminated two of the three variables, the technique and the variables introduced by different woods. By moving between design and woods with the technique, you can build out two of the three variable elements and place the results you hear accurately.

(System, wood) learn DESIGN

(System, design) learn WOOD

(Wood, design) learn TECHNIQUE

You repeat the above for 40 years and you have your sound.

GC: Can you tell us how you approach changing humidity and temperatures throughout the building process?

RA: Most builders spend much energy maintaining an even temperature and humidity in their shops, then pump water into the guitar while gluing, sometimes across the grain. Stress is introduced into the process regardless of fluctuations outside. There are two primary reasons to accept the fluctuations placed upon the instrument during construction. First: you have to change your way of thinking about humidity and temperature changes, they can be your friend and assist you as you build your sound. Or you can throw resources and energy controlling something that left alone can be worked with to your advantage. Two of my foundational rules are, “any solution must pass the test of Occam’s Razor” and the solution must be as close to nature as possible. The Orthodox concept of guitar construction embraces stress-free construction and I’m generally committed to that approach. However, I believe there are areas of the guitar that should have beneficial stresses built in to improve the sound. Every day normal humidity and temp cycles now aid me in assembling a guitar. Second: when the guitar is made and conditions are allowed to fluctuate, the areas of introduced stress and weather stress will follow the record of process and weather stresses introduced into the instrument as built. As some parts become stressed others parts are relieved. This spreads the stresses and lessens them. In my opinion, capturing the shop environment removes the instrument from tempering actions of reasonable shifts in the shop ecology. And seriously stresses the instrument when removed from its static environment into a dynamic environment the instrument becomes subject to the whole of the environmental and process stresses at once. Working with the natural cycles of temp and humidity tempers and protects the guitar.

GC: Are you currently satisfied with your designs or do you still experiment chasing the elusive dragon?

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Unvailing Randy Angella

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