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G.W. Barry Modified Concert Zircote Steel String Guitar

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G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String Guitar - The Twelfth Fret

G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String guitar

At any point in time there are several guitars on the floor here at The Twelfth Fret that are just a cut above everything else, not only here in the shop, but anywhere. At the moment, my favorite, by far, is the G.W. Barry Modified Concert Zircote Steel String guitar.

Handmade by master luthier G.W. Barry it simply looks gorgeous, plays like butter and sounds spectacular.  The first thing of note with this instrument is the fact that it is entirely handmade – by one individual- in a small workshop. This results in an incredible attention to detail which just doesn’t exist in the larger factories or even smaller assembly shops.  I could go on at length about why I believe handmade instruments are superior to factory guitars but Toronto Luthier David Wren (another favorite builder of mine) summed it in up best here:

A lot of builders also get excellent results from a variety of slightly more science-based methods.  Some luthiers manipulate the resonant frequencies of the top and back plates as well as the main air volume note (sometimes referred to as the Helmholtz resonance).  Some go as far as tuning each strut or tone bar to a specific pitch.  Others shape their tone by means of manipulating the Chladni patterns, in what is called “free plate tuning”.  A third method involves measuring the long and cross grain deflection patterns of the top plate, then duplicating these measurements to achieve consistency. I know some very fine builders who tap their tops and backs until they hear a certain gong-like decay response that for their instruments, produces good results.

It’s easy to see the attention to detail in the following photos which show this instrument in various stages of completion.  Here we see the hand tuned top of this guitar which also features Adirondack bracing strengthened with carbon fiber.

 

G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String guitar

Hand bending the Zircote sides.

One of the things I like most about Gord’s guitars is the way they feel in my hands and the way they play.  If you can’t play your best on an instrument nothing else about it matters – and this modified concert feels amazing to play.

I think the fact that Gord himself is a very good guitar player (if you’ve ever seen the Great Canadian Parks series, that’s Gord playing guitar) together with the fact that he’s been doing set-ups for decades results in a finished product that is very player friendly. This instrument has great action, perfectly leveled frets and Gord’s fantastic neck profile which makes the guitar very playable anywhere on the neck. Fretting chords at the 12fth fret is as smooth as playing in first position.

G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String Guitar - The Twelfth Fret

Finishing touches on the neck and volute.

Another feature that I always look for in a steel string acoustic is how the guitar sounds with bar chords around the ninth fret area. This tends to be a dead spot on even some otherwise very nice guitars and once again this guitar really comes through with great sustain and nice big fat sounding notes that, to a listener, could have easily been open strings played in another position.

And speaking of open strings- wow!  One of the first things I like to do when I pick up a guitar is play the low E with my thumb-pick and just listen to the quality of the note and then play the low A string and do the same.  What I like to hear is a nice fat round note that has a “tight” sound to it.  I imagine what a bell might sound like if it were made of wood.  The G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String guitar has that incredible bass response which is perfectly balanced with the high trebles.

In addition to the great bass response this guitar also features Gord’s signature sounding treble strings.  Gord always seems to manage to get his treble notes to be both strong and round while also being surrounded with colorful overtones.  The overtones on this guitar are huge with a transparent kind of quality which I really find pleasing.  They add just enough extra colour without overpowering the fundamental note.

Here is a video in which you can hear the bass notes, the over tones and the great sustain of this guitar in a slow lyrical kind of piece.  This performance was shot with nothing but a simple video camera and has had no post processing of any kind.  I’d recommend some good computer speakers or even better, a nice pair of headphones.

Finally, this guitar also features a number of appointments which really add to the visual and sonic qualities of the instrument.  The back and sides are made of Zircote which is an absolutely stunning African hardwood similar in sound to Brazilian rosewood.  Zircote however has a very beautiful distinctive appearance all its own.

G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String Guitar - The Twelfth Fret

This guitar also features a beautiful side-port which is basically a small sound-hole placed on the upper bout of the guitar to add more volume and tonal complexity directed at the player. This makes the overall sound of the guitar more rich and open.  Side ports are a bit tedious to build into an instrument and as such they are usually absent from most factory and even the smaller assembly shops’ instruments.

You can see the side port in this photo of the completed “box” .

G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String guitar

Sanding Prep

One thing that is interesting about a side port and why I would insist on one in any guitar I was considering is that it’s very easy to test.  If someone lightly places their hand over the port while the guitar is being played the difference is very noticeable, and not just to the player, it’s easy to hear the difference standing in front as well.  I know in my experience, and every single last builder I have discussed this with agrees, I have yet to hear a single guitar that sounded better when the side port was covered.  The improvement is that dramatic.

Gord has been building guitars for more than three decades and originally apprenticed with the famous Jean Larrivee just shortly after the original group (which included Linda Manzer, David Wren, Sergei DeJonge and William “grit” Laskin among others).  On a recent trip to Toronto Jean Larrivee stopped by the shop and played this guitar.  His response was a simple:  “Wow Gord! You must have had a great teacher!”

I’ll let Jean have the last word on this guitar.

G.W. Modified Concert Zircote Steel String Guitar - The Twelfth Fret

Pictured Left to Right: Matthew Larrivee, Gord Barry, Jean Larrivee and Wendy Larrivee. 05/2017

By Dave Martin – The Twelfth Fret Music School


 

 

 

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  • Model: Concert
  • Year: Current
  • Class: New
  • Country of Origin: Canada
  • Condition: Brand New

  • Not Consignment

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