Whilst it's always a pleasure to be surrounded by classic guitars, the one thing that fires our enthusiasm beyond anything else is when we get our hands on something that is brand new to us. Black Swan is a brand new company making a mix of classical and steel string parlour guitars one at a time from a workshop in Lincolnshire. This beautiful parlour is our first arrival and it's a truly stunning guitar.
It's a tiny little thing, inspired by the maker's love of 19th Century Martin and Bruno designs, and considerably smaller than a size 0 Martin. Structurally Black Swan have taken their own path and the design of this instrument owes more to classical guitar building than it does steel strings. The neck join is a Spanish heel design where there is no neck block as such - rather the neck extends into the body and the sides are tucked into channels cut into the sides of the heel. This is a common technique in Spanish classical building but very rare in steel string design, so it's interesting to see it in use here. The bracing is also classical inspired with cross braces either side of the sound hole and a series of fan braces behind the bridge. Although not common in steel string making, there is a historical precedent in that many of the less ornate Martins of the late 19th Century used a fan brace structure, including the very first steel string Martins and the guitars they made for Ditson at the start of the 20th Century.
Also unusual with this guitar is the choice of timber. There has been a lot of discussion this year about how conservation efforts impact the guitar industry with new restrictions already in place requiring permits to ship Rosewood guitars and a likelihood that other timbers such as Ebony and Mahogany will soon follow the same path. For European makers there is also an issue that shipping exotic woods around the globe so they can make guitars our of it has an environmental impact of it's own. With that in mind, one aspect that we love about the Black Swans is that they make use of timber sourced from Western Europe in place of the obvious Exotic alternatives. Walnut we're already familiar with in that it is a popular timber for Fylde and Lowden - it makes for a lovely sounding guitar with a crisp response and lots of clarity. Less common is the use of Bog Oak for the bridge and fingerboard - it's not the first time we've encountered Oak for these parts thanks to Fylde's spectacular Single Malt guitars, but it's still a very unusual feature. Bog Oak is extremely hard so a good substitute for Rosewood or Ebony, and it has a deep coffee colour to it that looks nicely traditional.
Taking inspiration from early American instruments, the Black Swan Parlour has been designed from the ground up to offer something different. Whilst the short scale-length and small body size will feel familiar to parlour guitar fans, its open and dynamic voice might take you by surprise. This is mostly thanks to its specially adapted fan-bracing which—although unusual for a steel-string guitar—provides a rich and complex tone with better bass response and overall projection. Whilst I am happy to build this model from a range of tonewoods, I tend to favour home grown species such as English Walnut and Bog Oak.