From the Fall 2016 issue of Classical Guitar | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
There are guitars that are good, and then there are those that are revelations. Falling into the latter category is a freshly made custom model by David J. Pace, the Baltimore, Maryland–based luthier known for his rich-sounding and highly playable contemporary instruments. Just a few open chords and runs on the guitar reveals it to have an extremely rich voice, with a three-dimensional quality that makes it feel almost symphonic—and makes it very inspiring.
A PERFECT BLEND OF INNOVATION AND TRADITION
Pace was in his late teens when he found himself out of reach of a suitable guitar and decided that he needed to build his own. But he set aside that plan in favor of embarking on a career as an audio engineer, and it wasn’t until some years later, after he returned from a life-changing trip to Spain during which he spent a day with the luthier Amalio Burguet, that he realized this goal. In 2002, Pace finished his first guitar, working at that time in a small apartment.
At first, Pace, who was mentored by the luthier Ross Gutmeier, made variations on the designs pioneered by Torres, and then by Ignacio Fleta and Robert Bouchet. By 2010 Pace had arrived at his own standard model, with its thoughtful modern details, such as a composite double-top soundboard and carbon-fiber–reinforced neck. In his work, one senses a perfect balance of innovation and tradition.
Our review model boasts structural aspects not apparent to the eye: A Western red cedar composite double-top soundboard, which is made from two separate layers of wood, sandwiching a thin layer of Nomex (a paper-like material processed into honeycomb-textured sheets, originally for aviation and aerospace purposes). This design, which was pioneered by the luthiers Gernot Wagner and Matthias Dammann, is intended to enhance a guitar’s volume and projection. Our Pace has both in spades.
The Spanish cedar neck is reinforced with carbon fiber; the box’s linings are solid strips of hardwood, rather than the traditional kerfed linings and the lower bout is stiffened with buttresses. The linings and buttresses add stability to the instrument, helping it withstand the stresses brought on by seasonal changes of humidity and by string tension.
A SONIC WONDER
Our Pace is lightweight—just three pounds, 12 ounces—and well balanced between the neck and the body, making it very comfortable to cradle. Adding further comfort is the solid hardwood armrest that supports the forearm and keeps it from damping the top’s vibrations.
The neck feels uncommonly playable. Its slight, 30-inch fretboard radius is a subtle deviation from the traditional flat fretboard, and makes playing barre chords a breeze, while also making it easier for the right hand to navigate the strings—much in the same way that the crescent-shaped plane of a violin’s stings helps support bowing.
Further, the back of our review model’s neck features an optional matte oil-varnish finish that reduces friction, making the neck feel fast and easy.
Our Pace arrived having been strung up for the first time just days before it shipped. It sounded terrific right out of the box, but it really seemed to open up during the few weeks I spent playing it. The guitar has a formidable presence and a deep sonic palette. It’s very touch-sensitive and capable of delivering everything from the most dulcet to aggressive tones. And it has a remarkable evenness between its registers—the bass notes are so full and deep, the mids rich and complex, and the trebles clear and singing—a balanced voice that lends itself to any type of repertoire, from early music to the most contemporary fare.
LUXURIOUSLY DESIGNED AND BUILT
The Pace is a handsome instrument. Its centerpiece is Pace’s handmade rosette, with a tile motif that complements the colors of all the woods used in the guitar. For the back and sides (as well as the headstock and heel caps), Pace selected cocobolo, a Central American hardwood known for its sparkling tone and responsiveness; this set, having a rare ribbon figuring and deep reddish-brown coloring, is particularly beautiful.
And then there are the tuners, made by Jorg Graf, an engineer and artisan in Ontario, Canada. Our review model sports Graf’s Esteso set, with intricate floral motifs gracefully engraved into brass plates, and ebony tuner buttons. A work of art in itself, the tuner set adds a subtle touch of luxury to the guitar.
From its tip-top fretwork to the meticulously scalloped bone nut and compensated saddle to the box’s super-tidy interior aspects, our Pace boasts unimpeachable craftsmanship. What’s especially impressive about the build is the guitar’s French polish finish. Using a time-honored practice which involves applying many coats of a mixture of shellac and alcohol to the wood, Pace has rubbed the finish to sumptuous perfection, and its thinness no doubt adds to the sound.
Priced from $7,500, guitars by David J. Pace might have a very selective audience. But any serious classical guitarist in search of an instrument equally suited to the stage, studio, or home—one that will be a hearty lifetime companion—should most definitely consider contacting Pace, clearly one of the great American luthiers.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Classical Guitar magazine.