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Hand Made Guitars by Luthier Dan Koentopp

My Koentopp “Chicagoan”, by Bobby Broom

by Bobby Broom

In all my years of guitar playing, I’ve never owned a Gibson L5, though they’ve often been viewed as the holy grail of instruments for the jazz guitarist.   By the time I could afford it, owning one wasn’t that important to me.  Frankly, I’d had two different companies’ L5 versions and felt they sounded great (just as good as the real thing, frankly) and they suited me just fine.   I also thought, “What if Wes, Kenny Burrell, Hank Garland, etc., hadn’t played them? Would they be as popular?”  Of course, they were played and popular for good reason, but I’ve heard some of these same great players on other axes sound… just like themselves… great!


My desire to play a fine instrument evolved slowly over the years.  I went from wanting an instrument with certain specific appointments, to one with more rich sound qualities.  I began hearing my modern day peers with these lush sounds, filled with character and nuance and I felt that what I was articulating could be enhanced and amplified further on an instrument that would accept, translate and project the nuance and depth of expression that was coming through my fingers.

Enter Dan Koentopp.  I’d heard about the luthier who made an instrument for (jazz, solo guitar whiz) Andy Brown, so I talked to Andy about the possibility of Danny making me one.  What I definitely wasn’t interested in was an expensive museum piece that I wouldn’t want to take out of the house.  Or a cold feeling and sounding instrument that was supposed to be great because a popular maker built it.  I’ve played some of those and I also know that some people are into making that kind of acquisition for the purposes of collecting.   I got together with Danny when he still had his shop in Chicago, just before he moved to California.  We talked, he watched and listened to me play, measured my then current instrument and determined, “I think I can do something for you.”  I believed he could too because of our conversation and how he responded to what I told him I was looking for.  I also believed he had heard me via my records and understood, from that standpoint as well, how my sound could be enhanced.

Of course, his calendar was full of orders into the following year, so I’d have to wait.  But in between then and when he got started building my guitar, we talked more via phone and met again, this time on the West coast, where he measured and watched me play one more time.  There are certain ways in which he varied my Koentopp “Chicagoan” particularly for me.  Those changes were discretionary choices he made as both a luthier and artisan and as a music and guitar listener and lover.   He also understood what I wanted to sound like, respected that and took on the challenge of helping me to achieve it.   He prioritized an issue as ethereal (and technical) as making the bracing of the arch top conducive to my essential sound and style, rather than adhering to current trends, or his own preconceived ideas about the sound of ‘his’ guitar.  Seemingly much more mundane, but surprisingly crucial to my physical playing style, was the forgoing of the customary pick guard on my axe.  Like I said, he’d watched me play and saw that, because of the way I braced my picking hand with my unused fingers, the pick guard was more of an obstacle than anything else.  


Bobby with his Chicagoan


And so finally, during the summer of 2015 she arrived!   All at once, there was a very comfortable and familiar feeling in playability and sound, but there was also something excitingly different and new in its sound.   Not the brand spanking, stiff off the rack, characterless kind of new, but a rich, yet to be explored, inviting depth.   Not to mention the absolute beauty of the craftsmanship.  One of my favorite visuals is the halo-like, tiger grain binding bordering every curve of the body, neck, headstock and F holes.  All that I was looking for is there, physical beauty and sonic clarity and personality, as though the notes have layers… character!  Suffice it to say that during the first week, the reactions I got from people were clearly in response to me playing my new Koentopp “Chicagoan.”   Musicians that know my sound (mainly ones that play other instruments) noticed the new evenness throughout all ranges, clarity and projection that I was getting.   Non-musicians (audience members) showed their appreciation simply by applause.  In fact, I swear the applause was coming with more regularity!   I wondered how much my newfound enthusiasm – in response to me really enjoying what I was hearing and therefore, perhaps, playing with a different zeal – factored in to the responses I was getting.   Ultimately it didn’t matter.  With the Koentopp the process and the end result were “all good.”  

I’m happy that in my career I’ve been able to realize a personal sound and style, to finally envision it being met with a stellar sounding instrument and that Dan came along when he did.  Everything I imagined and tried to describe that day a few years ago at Dan’s Chicago shop have been realized in my instrument.  It’s crazy that it sounds exactly like me… but somehow, better – more refined and defined. I can plug into virtually any amp and get a super-pleasing perspective of my own sound.  With the Koentopp the physical and aural rewards of playing are truly rewarding and inspiring for me to hear!


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