Article Originally Presented in May, 2009
I stumbled upon this young Chicago luthier's advertisement in Craigslist for custom archtops. Our first conversation flowed easy as I described my dream guitar to Dan Koentopp (pronounced Cane Top) and liked what I heard in response. Here was a guy with extensive experience working on acoustic string instruments... and only a short drive away. As a collector of vintage instruments I've often envied people who have had custom instruments created just for them and have had the opportunity to play an active role in the design process.
It turned out that Dan was working on two instruments at the time of our initial contact so I waited patiently, receiving email updates with links to new photos for a few months, and finally, the day arrived... both instruments were completed!
Now I must confess, I went over to Dan's workshop with some cash in my pocket, but I was more interested in playing as many of his guitars as I could to see if this young luthier was building guitars with consistent playability, attention to detail, and an aesthetic sense that was pleasing to a veteran graphic designer (me). My goal was to evaluate if I would have Dan build my dream guitar.
I spent my first 30 minutes with a unique prototype Cello-style guitar. It was a standard 17" body and neck but was fitted with a hand made cello bridge and was finished to look very much like a cello. It was an adventurous endeavor, to say the least, and the results were splendid. This unbelieveably light guitar sang with a loud, dark voice that better leant itself to my version of Nuages than Autumn In New York. It played wonderfully with action that was lower than I would have expected and a balance that showed Dan had refind his neck-building skills long ago. (See the completed Chicagoan Classic Edition #0309008 I call "Dark Eyes" HERE and watch it in action in this VIDEO)
But I sing as well as play guitar so I needed something with acoustic warmth - something many archtop players achieve by amplifying but I wanted it from an acoustic instrument... and then Dan introduced me to his Oval Hole Chicagoan. This guitar, too, was easily half the weight of any archtop I had ever owned (even lighter than my old 16" Gibson L-4C).
From the first strum I realized I had found the guitar I didn't even know I was looking for. A strum resonates through the entire instrument and gives you a tactile response to your picking style. Finger-picking brings out one voice while strumming with a pick coaxes a deeper sound. The low ends are warm and clear and the high strings dance from the guitar. You can "push" the guitar to the limit with four to the bar triadic rhythms or delicately play a song as you can see Chicago jazz guitarist Andy Brown doing HERE.
I played the 17" Chicagoan Oval Hole #0309007 for over an hour pushing it in every way I could. All The Things You Are.... check! Nuages.... check! Don't Get Around Much Anymore (with vocals).... check! I "chunk chunk"ed, I played open chords with harmonics, I set down my pick and played Samba de Orfeu fingerstyle. I came to the conclusion that there was nothing missing in this instrument for me. Dispite the fact that I never imagined myself owning an oval hole archtop, I was sold! We broke for lunch, we came back, I played some more, and I bought it.
Click Above For Larger Image
Weeks went by, then months... Never have I played a guitar so much! It calls to me every day after work. It inspires me to expand my repertoire, and improve on songs I've played for years. I can honestly say Dan Koentopp is the best kept secret in the boutique archtop market today.
17" Chicagoan Oval Hole #0309007 Specs
- Top: Alaskan Engelmann Spruce (from a tree that's been dead for 50 years and was alive during the 1600s)
- Back & Sides: Western Fiddle Back Maple that had been in the DK shop for 8 years.
- Neck: 3-piece hard maple
- Scale: 25.1"
- Nut Width: 1 3/4"
- Fretboard: MOP Tab Inlays
- Body Depth: 3 inch (at sides)
- Bracing: Wide X-Braced
- Finish: Shellac (French Polished)
- Tuners: Shaller
- Nut: Bone
- Saddle & Bridge: Hand made Ebony
November 2009 Update:
Since the creation on my oval hole Dan has been busy building archtops. Here's a video of one of Dan's guitars in action!