In issue number 63 of American Lutherie, the quartely journal of The Guild of American Luthiers, John Calkin reviewed nine electric guitar construction references. Here's what he wrote about my book and CD-ROM.

American Lutherie review
of Building Electric Guitars

Review by John Calkin

Building Electric Guitars
Martin Koch
ISBN 3-901314-07-5
$29.95 or $19.95 as a CD-ROM available from or Stewart-MacDonald

I began building electric guitars with no stationary tools and had to develop techniques that let me get the job done right with, basically, a router, jig saw, and an electric drill. No one would work that way if necessity didn't lean on them heavily, but I was proud of my self- sufficiency and ingenuity. The occasion never arose to write all that stuff down, so I am glad to see that Martin Koch has included nearly all of it in his new book.

Either great minds really do think alike, or Koch and I have the same grasp of the obvious. No matter. Koch merely uses the bare basics as a jumping off point, going on to describe electric guitar construction in a thorough and orderly manner for those who aren't tool-deprived. He often describes several methods of accomplishing the same task, then suggests that one might be more useful than the others. I like his blend of fact and opinion, and he's always careful to maintain a bit of distance between the two.

This is the first lutherie book that feels international in scope. Koch is Austrian, and the book is wonderfully translated from the German. The author has obviously read all the books, seen all the videos, and perused all the catalogs, and has distilled much of the useful stuff into one volume. His ideas come from everywhere, his guitars look American, his hardware is often German, and his wood choices often show a European bent, though maple, mahogany, and alder play a large part in his instruments. (But how about a plum wood fingerboard? Very cool!). Most measurements are given in inches and metric. He's aware of the problems in the rain forests and urges the use of native timbers. European builder/authors seem more likely to wind their own pickups than American luthiers, and the book contains four chapters about pickup construction. And though electric guitars are pretty much the same around the world, life is different in Europe, and Koch drops in enough of the differences to make the book interesting on that level. The author urges the use of hand tools, but he's not snobbish about it. Hand tools are small, silent, clean, and satisfying to use. However, when more accuracy or power is called for he's quick to plug in. The blend is practical and useful.

A couple things should be made clear. Koch's hollow-body electrics are hollowed from a plank and should in no way be confused with carved-plate guitars.

His semiacoustic guitars, however, are very much in the Gibson 335 vein, using bent sides and a shaped core of solid wood that runs the length of the center of the body. Since the core is thicker than the ribs, the laminated plates become arched when glued in place. His instructions for building a neck-through guitar are pretty skimpy, but by falling back to his chapter on design you'll likely get by. The importance of making a full-scale drawing of this kind of guitar isn't stressed heavily enough. Considering the depth in the rest of the book, though, this is a small matter. Coverage of bolt-on neck guitars and glued-in neck solidbodies is thorough.

The book itself is small in stature. The print is small, as are the 600 photos, so good reading light is advisable. The outside margins are wide and are often used for illustrations. However, they are also used for bits of information that pertain to the matter at hand, and if you're engrossed in the main text you may read past the material in the margins and miss some good stuff. Browsing will help you pick up the missed pieces.

The coolest thing about this good book is the bound-in CD-ROM. All of the info in the book is presented in large type (depending, of course, on the size of your monitor) and with large color pictures. The author offers templates of his double-cutaway guitar body and headstock that can be printed out. Slickest of all, though, many of the operations are demonstrated in excellent little movies of the author at work. The awkwardness of video tape is eliminated by the ease with which any given clip can be clicked on. Very sweet.

When I tried to access Koch's website for prices I couldn't get through. Since then Stew-Mac has cataloged the book and the CD-ROM. I still don't know if the website is a cool place to visit.

Hiscock or Koch? As John Wayne was in the habit of saying, I'd hate to have to live on the difference.

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