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BACKGROUND & PHILOSOPHY VIEW VITAE


 
 
Guitarmasterworks was founded in the late 1980s (originally as JAD Guitars – the guitarmasterworks name came in 2004) as my guitar-building venue, a side-line and escape from my role as founder of RainSong Graphite Guitars and inventor of the modern carbon-fiber/epoxy acoustic guitar.

I was trained as an aeronautical engineer (B.Sc. & Aeronautical Engineering Professional Degree from MIT) and a physicist (Ph.D. in plasma physics from Cambridge University), and spent most of my career as a technical manager, primarily in the semiconductor and aerospace industries. During this time I also founded and ran a small company making infrared spectrometers, and came to Hawaii in 1981 to manage the Air Force's optical observatory on Haleakala. I lasted only two years working for the government, and again set up my own company, Kuau Technology, Ltd., this time working on optical instruments operated by small hand-held computers, including a totally-automated marine sextant for celestial navigation.

Back then, I played classical guitar -- badly -- and got very frustrated with keeping a fine wood guitar in one piece in Hawaii's hot, humid climate. Sort of to prove it couldn't be done, I started a back-burner project to make a composite-materials guitar -- not, at first, for tone, but for stability and water-proofness (my computer says there is no such word!). Somewhat to my surprise, "graphite" (carbon fibers in an epoxy resin matrix) turned out to have really good acoustic properties (our guitars are now sold almost totally for the "superb carbon sound"), and after ten years of R&D and Manufacturing Engineering, I set up a small factory to make RainSong Graphite Guitars, which is owned by KTL. My training as a physicist really helped in designing the carbon-fiber guitars, leading directly to several patents. RainSong’s web site includes a page I wrote (link) explaining for the layman "the carbon sound".

 
  Dr. John Decker in his studio bending the sides of a Cambodian Rosewood guitar
 

The RainSong factory has now moved to the Seattle, WA, area, and I "retired" to Chairman in 1998 when I finally talked my son-in-law (M.BA. from USC) into running the company's day-to-day operations. Since retirement, I do some management consulting for nonprofits as Strategic Impact Unlimited, but primarily I’ve continued building guitars, calling this business guitarmasterworks (like it was in German, almost).

RainSong, of course, makes steel-string guitars which contain no wood, while I specialize in classical guitars made from exotic woods -- ironic for the man who invented graphite acoustic guitars! I’ve licensed back from RainSong my patented soundboard technology, a “braceless” design somewhat similar to the “double soundboard” systems now popular. For guitarmasterworks’ wood guitars, this involves a VERY thin soundboard backed up by Nomex honeycomb and a HYPER-THIN backing plate (sanded down to the point that the wood is almost transparent!). I think it sounds very good – loud, with good bass, very clear treble, and great balance and “attack”. This structure also has the advantage that since it is totally symmetrical, it can easily be set up for Left Handed playing. I usually, but not always, use hardwoods like Koa, ‘Ohi’a or Brazilian Rosewood for necks, as they allow a much thinner and “faster” neck design. And I use a lute-like system of cutting string ramps in the peghead so that the headplate itself is free of any slots or tuners.

I make only classical guitars, and I use the finest tonewoods obtainable and the highest quality tuning machines, fittings and strings. My guitars are very traditional in shape – I use no angled necks, bumps on the soundboard, “alternate” soundholes, or even cut-aways. Rather, I prefer to incorporate my rather-radical approach to soundboard, neck and peghead design – all in the interest of making guitars with superb tone and superior playability.

I am fortunate to be able to make my guitars one-at-a-time. While I use the usual array of power tools – bandsaw, thickness sander, drill press, air compressor, routers, hand drills, sanders and buffers – the guitars are handcrafted to the highest standards of workmanship. While some of the woods in my cabinet were almost certainly not grown and harvested “sustainably”, I endeavor to the greatest extent possible to use woods and supplies which were obtained in an ecologically and socially positive manner.

Dr. John A. Decker, Jr.
May 2, 2005


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John A. Decker, Jr. - Luthier
307 S. Alu Road, Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii 96793 • 808-244-9486 •

© 2004 guitarmasterworks - custom handcrafted classical guitars