• Sam


Updated: Jun 2, 2019

No, I'm not saying I love you - although naturally as you're a follower of this blog, I obviously do love you. And no, I'm not declaring my undying support of the Great American Glam Rock band of the same name - although naturally I do think they totally ROCK!

I'm not even talking about the man, the legend, Tom Jones and his amazing hit song Kiss.

No, it's the fourth option today - Keep It Simple, Stupid - a mantra to live and die by.

So just what are you referring to Sam? I hear you ask.

You make guitars using deeply unconventional techniques and methods, making use of non traditional materials, composites, and designs that would make most traditional luthiers deeply nervous.

How on earth can you possibly be talking about keeping things simple? Well, I'll tell you... I want to simplify the whole act of using a guitar, and bring it right back to basics.

Modern electric guitars are loaded with knobs, buttons, switches, circuit boards, battery compartments, sensors, gadgets, gizmos and all manner of distractions from the actual art of making music.

There's a mindset that exists out there among guitarists that the more pickups, knobs and switches you have, the more versatile your guitar must be, and by extension, the better your music will be. I don't believe this to be true - in fact I believe quite the opposite to be true.

Think about acoustic instruments. Guitars, violins, cello's etc. Think about the beautiful music you've heard them produce in the hands of a talented musician. As awe inspiring as anything you've heard come out of an amplifier - sometimes even more so. And then consider that they did that without three pickups, an active circuit, a volume control, two tone controls, a selector switch, an effects pedal, and then all those controls duplicated again on the amplifier.

They used the skill in their own hands, and a naturally amplifying soundbox made from carefully selected materials to sculpt and manipulate the sound into something beautiful.

So if this can be done with an acoustic instrument, why can't it also be done with an electric instrument? Quite simply put, there is no reason at all.

Now naturally, in order to amplify the sound, there are certain components we can't do without.

A pickup or sensor of some kind is essential, and some wiring to feed that signal to an amplifier is also needed, but after that, everything else is a luxury item.

In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say something that may be quite controversial.

In my opinion, all those additional controls, pickups, knobs and switches detracts from the actual music.

Sure, they make it easy to "dial in" a perfect tone, but to the detriment of actually playing the instrument.

While a guitarist is fiddling with controls, he or she is distracted from the music. They're not concentrating on the art of making beautiful sounds with their hands, and are instead focusing on finding an often elusive perfect switch combination.

This can become an obsession, and even a reliance, which given time can actually reduce the musicians skills - something clearly evidenced when some electric musicians revert back to their old acoustic guitars and suddenly find they can't produce the same music they used to produce on that same instrument years before.

But that's not the only reason I'm advocating the KISS approach to guitar building today.

Oh no,

That's only the "human" side of the argument.

There's also a technical aspect to it too, and one that I feel is equally as valid.

So to explain what I mean, I'm going to drift off on yet another tangent if I may.

As well as music, my other artistic passion is photography, and there are certain aspects of both disciplines that are remarkably similar.

Now a lot of you are thinking that I'm going to start talking about film versus digital, and that would be a good comparison to raise at this point - but I'm not going to.

Instead, I want to talk about lenses.

Lenses are quite analogous to the controls on an electric guitar if you think of the light passing through them to the sensor in the same way as the audio signal passing through the guitar controls to your amp.

Glass elements in a lens affect the path the light follows, shaping it and focusing it on a focal plane.

However as the light passes through each glass element, it deteriorates a little bit due to the refractive index of the glass. The more glass elements are in the lens, the more the light deteriorates and the final image is adversely affected.

Similarly, with an electric guitar, the audio signal from the pickup passes through a series of switches and components before it reaches the amplifier.

While switches don't tend to affect the signal in any adverse way due to their binary nature - they're either on or they're off, there is no grey area - the volume and tone knobs are an entirely different story.

The knobs are basically resistors, and as the name suggests, they work by resisting the signal.

This essentially means they work by eroding away a part of the sound.

The more of these controls that the signal passes through, the more degraded it is by the time it arrives at your amplifier, and that's when things get even more complicated as we try to manipulate duplicated controls on the amplifier to reconstruct the parts of the signal we've destroyed.

To my way of thinking, this is an insane way of doing things.

Like destroying half your house in order to make your bed in the morning.

Of course both situations can be improved a little by using the highest quality parts, but you'll never eliminate the problem completely, no-matter how hard you try.

So, how does all this apply to BTLX Guitars?

Well, simply put, I want the tone of my guitars when played in electric mode to come as much from my craftsmanship as it does when they're played in acoustic mode.

With the exception of a single switch and a jack socket, I want the tone at the point where it reaches the amplifier to be as pure as it can possibly be - hand shaped entirely by the warm art of luthiery, rather than by the cold emotionless mass-produced components found in the pages of an RS catalogue or a Maplin clearance sale.

I want the most natural, unaffected tone I can possibly achieve from the instrument.

I don't think that's an unreasonable thing to hope for.

So each Standard BTLX guitar will feature only three components between the strings and the jack plug.

There will be two hand-made BTLX pickups - both carefully calibrated and balanced to work together in perfect harmony - like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder sat on a giant piano.

The main driving pickup will be the BTLX Blade Sensor - embedded and concealed inside the guitars top. The Blade Sensor combines a number of leading technologies to make a very unique and special pickup. We've been inspired by the features both Alumitone and Hot Rails pickups to create a sensor the like of which has never been seen or heard before.

This is carefully blended with our own Piezoelectric sensor to ensure that the acoustic properties we've lovingly built into the guitars body are carried into the electric signal, giving it a warm rich organic signature. Most importantly however, the only component that goes between these pickups and the amplifier will be a signal kill switch - effectively an on/off switch - and as it's a binary device which either allows 100% or 0% of the signal with nothing in between, I'm confident that it will have a negligible impact on the tone.

Of course, I have to stress that this is just the configuration that will feature on BTLX Standard guitars only.

If you choose to order a custom model, you can select whatever wiring configuration you like and I'm more than happy to accommodate that.

I understand that not everyone will share my views on the purity of the tone, and just like the great solid-body tone-wood debate, there will be speculation as to whether or not the components really make that much difference to the tone anyway. But debate is fun, and if we all had the same opinion on what makes a great guitar, then we'd all be playing identical instruments - and that would be a very dull world indeed.

So keep the debate alive, keep the comparison videos flowing on YouTube, and most importantly, keep banging out the amazing music.

So if you've stayed with me this far while I spill my insane ramblings out onto a page at nearly 1 o'clock on a Sunday morning. I applaud you for your determination, and I thank you profusely from the bottom of my heart.

Much Love (despite what the first line of this word-salad blog post said).

Fat Sam, the master luthier at BTLX Guitars.