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Perlman Guitars
Perlman Classical • Cedar Top • Brazilian Rosewood Sides & Back
Frequently Asked Questions

How does the choice of soundboard species affect the

For classical guitars, I primarily use Swiss spruce or Western red cedar. The differences are those of the artist’s taste in tone and response and also depend on if the player has adjusted his or her technique to cedar or spruce guitars.

The cedar has a slightly faster response; a note develops more quickly. It also tends to sound a bit warmer; it’s been described as darker. It also seems that a cedar top develops its’ voice more quickly and over many years peaks sooner and falls into decline sooner than a spruce top.

The Swiss spruce has greater clarity and projection; at the same time it is capable of greater harmonic complexity. It takes a little longer than cedar to reach its’ peak, stays there longer and falls into decline later. This is over many years; it normally would not be the reason for choosing one wood or the other.

I often use Italian spruce for the period instruments such as the 11 string baroque guitar. It is less harmonically complex and is more suitable for the voicing of such an instrument. The differences between these two spruces are quite subtle. This having been said, there are many factors that influence the tone. Bracing patterns, shapes and dimensions, top thicknessing, the characteristics of each soundboard all contribute greatly, critically, to each guitar’s tone. The differences between these woods can be subtle and are apt to be more apparent to the player than to the listener.

Engelman spruce is also a good wood; the best pieces compare favorably to the Swiss spruce.

For steel strings, primarily Engelman spruce. A wonderfully complex sounding wood, I find that through selection, thicknessing and bracing I can coax a wide range of tonal qualities from it I have used Western red cedar on occasion. It produces a full, round, warm sound, a quick response and is a delightful change for finger style guitarists. I would use Sitka spruce for some guitars that are flat picked at high volumes. It is generally better suited for this style.

What finishes do you use?

For classical guitars, I use French polish on the soundboard and a thin nitrocellulose lacquer on the neck, back and sides. There is enough evidence that French polish is better acoustically (on the soundboard) to outweigh its’ disadvantages. It is more fragile and not as water resistant but is also easily repaired. The lacquer provides a thin, beautiful and durable finish for the rest of the guitar. On steel strings I use the nitrocellulose lacquer throughout. I also use a thin clear acetate pick guard, nearly invisible, to protect the finish as needed. I have been experimenting with water based finishes, keeping finished guitars for years and evaluating the results. These are attractive finishes, fine acoustically but long term durability has not been nearly as good as the solvent based lacquer. There has been finish degradation where the guitar comes into frequent contact with skin. The situation is improving through cross linking additives and when the technology comes far enough along, I’ll use these finishes for the sake of the environment and my own health.

In what ways can you customize the guitar for each

Essentially every aspect of the guitar can be adjusted. We will first come to an understanding of your tastes and requirements, tonally, tactile and aesthetically and discuss pros and cons of guitars you have owned. Through wood selection, adjustments in body depth, thicknessing and bracing and scale length, I will endeavor to create a guitar that possesses the sound and feel that you are seeking. We will discuss choices in rosettes, bindings, wood figure and, on steel strings, the limitless inlay possibilities. A slightly smaller guitar with a shorter string length can sound wonderful. The slight decrease in volume is not very noticeable, it will function well in the concert hall and, in some people, will reduce the possibility of hand and arm injuries.

What type of strings do you use?

On classicals I prefer D’Addario J45 or J46 sets (medium and hard tension, respectively). If you prefer other types of greater tension or the composites, tell me and I will adjust intonation accordingly. For the steel strings I like D’Addario J16 or J17 sets, phosphor bronze lights or mediums. Again, if you prefer other sets that are gauged much differently, tell me and I’ll adjust compensation for those sets.

What kind of cases do you supply?

The standard case included with the guitar is a plush, arched hardshell case made by Harptone. Also available, at additional cost, are the flight cases, built for frequent airline checked baggage duty (cringe!). Calton is my favorite. Cases by Mark Leaf are also available.


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Alan Perlman

Tel: 415-242-4457 • Email:

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