(Note: In the video above, guitarist and San Francisco Conservatory of Music professor Marc Teicholz demonstrates the Traphagen guitar, playing ‘Caterete’ from Sérgio Assad’s Suite Brasileira #4, and Marc’s arrangement of an excerpt from Bach’s Sonata in E minor for flute and basso continuo, BWV 1034.)
If you’ve ever been in the market for a fine concert instrument, there’s a good chance you’ve come across the unusual name of Dake Traphagen—one of the preeminent American luthiers, and the mentor of none other than Pepe Romero Jr.
After putting together dulcimers and other folk instruments for fun as a teenager, Traphagen began his lutherie training in earnest as an apprentice to the violin maker Ed Hunningtonin 1972. Then he opened his own repair shop, where he worked on acoustic instruments in general. At the same time, he built not just violins and guitars but lutes, vihuelas, harpsichords, and other period instruments.
Traphagen, based in Bellingham, Washington, now focuses mainly on classical and steel-string guitars—impressive given the dissimilarities between the instruments. He builds in a fairly traditional manner, though he often uses double soundboards, and sometimes soundports, and is known to make seven- or even eight-string guitars on occasion.
The new classical guitar that Traphagen recently submitted for review—EIRCDT Maria—is a good representation of the luthier’s offerings. As the model acronym suggests, it features old-growth East Indian rosewood back and sides and a cedar double-top. (As for Maria, the luthier is in the habit of giving each of his instruments a name.) An audition of Maria reveals that the instrument clearly lives up to its maker’s reputation.
Beautifully Built and Decorated
I knew that Maria was a magnificent guitar the moment I first removed it from its lightweight Superior fiberglass case. The instrument felt responsive before I even played it—its top vibrated to the sounds emanating from loudspeakers in the same room—and seemed to be made at the highest level in every detail.
Maria has a straightforward but lovely design, with cool touches like an asymmetric fretboard end, Traphagen’s own distinctive rosette pattern, and an oiled, matte peghead veneer and bridge (rather than shiny and polished). The guitar’s French polish appears perfectly applied and has a warm luster. Very cleanly built, both inside and outside the box, Maria has the feeling of a guitar that was made by hand with great skill and attention to detail.
Stunning Sound and Easy Playability
Double-tops—in which a layer of honeycomb-patterned material is surrounded by a thin wooden layer on either side—have of course been used in guitars for decades now, but Traphagen takes a nuanced approach to making his. He keeps certain areas of the top as solid wood, rather than Nomex-filled, to boost the integrity of the soundboard and therefore the sound.
The basic premise of a double-top is that it’s as strong as a traditional soundboard but quite a bit lighter, making it sound fuller and louder. I didn’t have a Traphagen with a conventional top on hand for comparison, but the dominant impression of Maria is that it’s definitely a harmonically rich and broad-sounding guitar.
Maria’s cedar-and-rosewood combination seems to lend the instrument a warm and slightly dark voice, with plump bass notes and silky trebles. The guitar has an appreciable projection and sustain, and overall it feels deeply inspiring to play. Whether I read through a contemporary piece like Kevin J. Cope’s Pneuma (see the notation in the Fall 2018 issue of Classical Guitar) or a Baroque-era work like an arrangement of the “Prelude” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1, Maria has an even, generous sound from string to string and in all registers.
The guitar, which has the standard scale length of 650mm, plays as well as it sounds and looks. Maria is set up perfectly, with a low but buzz-free action. The neck profile is extremely comfortable, and it feels encouraging of both speedy single-note runs and passages requiring extensive barre formations.
The Bottom Line
Dake Traphagen’s EIRCDT Maria is quite the serious classical guitar—a beautifully built instrument with a clear, gorgeous voice, and ample volume and projection for pretty much any concert hall. Any guitarist looking to commission a new instrument would be wise to consult with Traphagen, because if our test guitar is any indication, the luthier is making some of the finest classical guitars in the United States.
S P E C S
BODYDouble-top cedar soundboard; old-growth Indian rosewood back and sides; French polish finish NECKSpanish cedar neck; ebony fretboard; 650mm scale length; Gotoh Premium tuners; French polish finish EXTRASSavarez strings (Cantiga 6, 4; Alliance 2, 3; Cristal 1); Superior fiberglass case PRICE$7,800 as reviewed/from $8,800 with Brazilian rosewood back and sides MADE IN USA traphagenguitars.com