Luthier Marc Maingard’s motto is ‘making trees sing again’. A beautiful sentiment, coming from the man many consider to be the godfather of luthier-built instruments in South Africa, and who trained the beloved Casimi Guitars team of Matthias Roux and Matthew Rice. It’s easy to see Marc’s guitars as a link between his modern students and the lineage from which he learned. The body shapes and sizes are all familiar and classic. But in tone and look, there is a restrained yet striking aesthetic, with rosettes and appointments unlike any other, and a carve to their cutaways that sets them apart. Marc is a well-rounded person whose interests go beyond the western guitar world, pulling knowledge and wisdom from yoga and Ayurveda, and inspiration from classical and Indian music. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly about his guitars represents or reflects those interests, but I think it’s in the way they seem to honor the timeless wisdom of the past, while also holding a place in the forward-thinking future.
Marc started out performing music professionally, soon finding himself drawn into guitar repair out of necessity. But not content to tackle just the essentials, he dove into woodworking, first apprenticing with a cabinet maker, then into building violins and cellos, and then came to the US and worked with Santa Cruz, Jimmy D’Aquisto, and later Martin, Gibson and Ovation, eventually becoming their sole authorized repair person in South Africa.
When he started Maingard Guitars, he took on apprentices like Matthew and Matthias. Now, as he has for years, he builds only a select number of guitars each year, to the specific requests of his clients. The scope of his offerings reflects that well-rounded experience, ranging from steel-string parlors to dreadnoughts, jazz archtops, solid body electrics, classical and flamenco nylon strings, and even double neck guitars and violins.
The Grand Concert
Marc’s Grand Concert model is a thoroughly versatile guitar, with a 16” lower bout, a tight waist and shallow body, giving it excellent balance across the registers, and an articulate, clear voice. Marc gravitates toward lush tonewoods like Brazilian rosewood, African blackwood and cocobolo, and tries to build all his guitars with European spruce tops that are hand-selected and at least 20 years old. In keeping with that, this GC features an Italian spruce top and beautiful set of Brazilian. Having been built in 2010, it has had another decade of age and play that have contributed to the ripening of these already well-chosen tonewoods.
Marc recounts on his website that he had the incredible fortune of acquiring a sizable stash of Brazilian rosewood in the 1980s (an opportunity that cost him a bond on his house—no doubt an investment that has paid off!). For years he’s been able to use it on his modern guitars, imparting a sound “relating to the golden era of guitar making in the 40s and 50s”. The guitars he has built with it vary wildly in grain pattern and coloring, some more dramatic than others. On this GC, you can see a just a hint of sapline down the center of what is otherwise as fairly straight and wide-grained set, quite warm and almost reddish in hue.
With lushness provided by Brazilian rosewood, this guitar is an incredible fingerstyle instrument, with a uniquely powerful bass perfect for underpinning solo arrangements. Low action, a comfortable set-up, and a neck carve that makes grabbing notes up past the 12th fret easy, all mean that intricate playing is effortless, leaving you free to try new things in both standard and drop tunings. And excel at drop tunings, this guitar does. A standard scale length means there’s tension enough to accommodate some de-tuning, so there’s no risk of flabby notes. DADGAD, open G and other combinations remain clear and clean.
After encountering a Laskin guitar with Grit’s proprietary bevelled armrest, and being impressed again by it after seeing it on a Kevin Ryan guitar, Marc tucked the concept away to further develop back home. He altered the design so that it encompassed a greater portion of the top edge of the guitar. And yet, on this GC at least, it’s tastefully and cohesively rendered in ebony, and it doesn’t seem as visually dominant as on many other guitars. But the ergonomic impact is all there, and it most certainly does the job of providing additional playability and comfort. Taking the idea another step further, Marc began adding beveled edges on the backs of his guitars where the ribs meet the body. It’s a feature that, like Grit’s armrest, has been picked up by fellow luthiers. Again, on this GC it’s executed in ebony for a subtle and cohesive touch.
Marc states that as a maker from Africa, he wanted to represent that heritage in his guitars. The rosette on this guitar features a circle of native animals carved in shell and placed on an ebony background. Compared to many of Marc’s more elaborate, personalized rosettes, it’s rather restrained. But the delicate, dancing creatures not only add beauty but a unique quality to this instrument that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.
On the back, a simple striped heel cap stands out, because how often is there much of anything on a heel cap? Like the rosette, compared to some of Marc’s other work, it’s quite simple. But in simplicity is elegance, and like everything else about this guitar, it’s unusual but not over the top. Conscientiously designed, but not showy. Every aspect of the design feels deliberate and thought out, but doesn’t overshadow what’s most important: the tone. And whether played by Tony McManus, Will McNicol, Tristan Seume, or anyone else, in whatever tuning, this is a complex guitar ready for the next adventurous fingerstylist who picks it up.
- Model: Grand Concert with Florentine cutaway
- Price: $19,995
- Top: Italian spruce
- Back and sides: Brazilian rosewood
- Bracing: Italian spruce
- Fretboard: Ebony
- Headstock veneer: Brazilian rosewood
- Rosette: Macassar ebony with sterling silver animal inlays (rhino, kudu buck, antelope, giraffe and bush pig)
- Tuners: Gold Waverly with snakewood buttons
- Features: Arm and chest bevel
- Nut width: 1-3/4″
- Scale length: 25-3/8″
- Year of build: 2010
- Case: Hiscox hardshell
This guitar is sold via TNAG Exchange. You can buy it here.