There is quite a crowd in the lutherie business. There’s a luthier for every style, aesthetic, and preference. Some builders design for a specific musical genre, while others have a wide range of instrument styles to fit many musical styles. Some builders love bling and sparkle. Some have great respect for traditional design and building techniques, and others push the limits of modern tooling. There also is a huge range of experience.
So where does Charis Acoustic fit into this mix? Allow me to share some insight into why I make acoustic guitars and the experience and craftsmanship that goes into each instrument.
"My preference is to do a few things well rather than do a lot of things just OK. If something is worth doing, it is worth overdoing!"
BILL’S (MY) STORY
Music has always been a part of my life, from church choir as a youth, to band in Jr High and High school, to learning to play guitar in college. Woodworking has been a hobby since graduation from college. I’ve made various tables, bookcases, bunkbeds, and such. My father, like his father, was always tinkering with something in the shop and I can’t remember a time when dad wasn’t working on one project or another. It is hard to envision a future without a shop to tinker in, I’m just so at home there. Prior to lutherie, I spent 17 successful years (7 patents, a couple awards from GM and Delphi, and induction into the Delphi Automotive Innovation Hall of Fame) in the engineering profession.
Charis Acoustic began in my basement workshop in 1996 while looking for a nice guitar to play. After considering building my own guitar, the decision was made to give it a try. Like many others, I was hooked. There is a certain pride and accomplishment that occurs when you finish that first, second, and third instrument. To hold them in your hands and hear the music coming from your creations is a very satisfying experience that quickly becomes an addiction. The next six years were spent building and learning this craft in the evenings and on weekends. Encouragement from Michael Card and a quick visit to Jim Olson’s shop in Minnesota during this time especially inspired me. These early years and first few guitars were instrumental in developing the Character and Charisma that became Charis.
In 2002, I left engineering to pursue this lutherie passion (addiction!) full time. Who needs paid vacations and benefits! (Well, looking back, I do kind of miss that part.) Guitar building continued in my basement shop until 2010 when I moved into the current Charis Acoustic shop. My wife was very happy to have the sawdust making operation out of the house!
HOW DOES BILL DESCRIBE HIMSELF -
My preference is to do a few things well rather than do a lot of things just OK. If something is worth doing, it is worth overdoing! In engineering, it was frustrating when I had to quit tweaking and advancing the design to meet production schedules. The desire of wanting to go back and do things better was ever present. It was also evident when helping my kids with science projects and grand prix cars, and it is true of my pursuit of lutherie.
People who know me know that I am a quiet person. Happiness is found in my shop with my tools. You will not find me in front of a video camera, making “how to” videos or entertaining you on the web. You will not find me advancing my opinions on discussion forums, and I’m a fish out of water at guitar conventions.
"Love for Fingerstyle guitar and my tendency to obsess on overdoing, has resulted in continuous refinement of my Fingerstyle SJ model."
WHAT INFLUENCED THE CHARIS GUITAR TO BECOME WHAT IT IS TODAY -
The primary influence for my instruments is Fingerstyle guitar. The master of this style (IMHO) is Phil Keaggy. I have designed and continue to refine my Small Jumbo (SJ) guitar to excel for this style music. The size of the body, scale length, bracing, etc. are all chosen with this style music in mind. The guitar is expressive, balanced, and easy to play, with a broad dynamic range. It has good clarity in addition to lively harmonics responding well to tapping/slapping techniques. The scale length is chosen to facilitate alternate tunings allowing tuning of the low E to D and C with good sustain and volume, while not being muddy. The top bracing is a standard X brace. However, I have modified the bracing below the bridge plate from the typical tone bars to a modified fan pattern which helps achieve the character I am after. Interestingly, the design also results in an instrument that is often used for leading worship, which is very gratifying to me.
Love for Fingerstyle guitar and my tendency to obsess on overdoing, has resulted in continuous refinement of my Fingerstyle SJ model. I see no need to try to be everything to every player. While I have made some dreadnought guitars, 12 string guitars, an acoustic bass or two, and a few baritone guitars, my primary focus is the SJ body instrument.
WHAT KIND OF CRAFTSMANSHIP AND TRAITS GO INTO THE CHARIS GUITAR -
I avoid calling my instruments “hand crafted” or “custom”. “Hand crafted” implies use of hand tools only, and “custom” implies making any desired instrument shape, size or style. I prefer to call them “personally crafted”. It is my experience and personal preferences that result in the design, tools, and methods that make a Charis.
I enjoy all kinds of tools. One of my favorite tools in the shop is my 1950’s Oliver shaper. It is a great tool with lots of cast iron that will last my lifetime and beyond. There is nothing nicer than using a sharp chisel. But, the accuracy and repeatability achieved in my instruments and fixtures that come from the use of 3D design, laser cutting, and CNC machining is indispensable in my opinion. You would not enjoy playing a Charis made only with hand tools, and I would not enjoy building it. If you are looking for an instrument made only with hand tools and hide glue, you may need to seek another luthier.
Sparkle and bling is not something found in my instruments. There are no social or architectural statements in them. The natural look of wood is what I prefer. However, there are two relatively new features that I feel are enhancements to the instrument, the sound port and arm bevel. The shape of the Small Jumbo body has a nice tradition and visual appeal. It is large enough to have good low end qualities without being boomy, yet small enough to be easy to play. When you add the arm bevel and sound port the instrument becomes very comfortable to play and a joy for the player to hear.
AN EXAMPLE OF OBSESSION …..
While experimenting with different types of linings (often called kerfings) about a dozen years ago, I began making a hybrid lining with standard kerf cuts and reverse kerf cuts. It was surprising to notice an increase in sustain of the instrument with this hybrid lining. The increased glue surface of these hybrid linings was the suspected cause. To test this idea, linings were machined from solid Sapele stock. Again, there was an improvement in the sustain and the instrument had a more alluring tone. These solid linings require much more time to make and are not an efficient use of materials.
Now Charis linings are made by laminating veneer to the shape needed. This is a much more efficient use of materials, but it is even more labor intensive than machining them from solid stock! (Why do I make so much work for myself where folks rarely look!) These laminated linings are continuous from the head block to the tail block and are tucked into the head block, tail block, and cutaway reinforcement. The rims of the guitar are very ridged. They structurally support the top in a way that allows more control of the effects of bracing and top thickness.
An additional touch you will see on your Charis, is the wood buttons on the “Charis Acoustic” Gotoh 510 tuners. These buttons are made in the shop with woods complementing the wood choices in your instrument. The bridge pins are trimmed with dots made with woods to match, and a fine wood handle adorns the truss rod wrench. A fine instrument deserves nothing less.
What's In A Name
CHARACTER - CHARISMA - CHARIS
PRONOUNCED KAIR-ISS - A GREEK WORD WHICH MEANS GRACE
"The word 'grace' can have many meanings (agility, dexterity, balance, harmony). However, Charis was not formed with any of these specific ideas in mind, although it is hoped that they will apply to each instrument. The idea behind choosing the name comes from my ever increasing amazement at the Grace of God, grace that allows one as undeserving as me to be a child of God. This relationship was possible when Jesus Christ died to make
me right with God. It is this grace that inspired the name Charis Acoustic."
"IT IS MY HOPE THAT EACH INSTRUMENT WILL, IN SOME WAY, BE USED BY GOD TO DRAW PEOPLE TO HIS AMAZING GRACE. THIS IS MY MOTIVATION TO CREATE FINE INSTRUMENTS. IF I CAN BE OF ANY ASSISTANCE IN YOUR SEARCH FOR PEACE WITH GOD, PLEASE DON'T HESITATE TO CONTACT ME."
- BILL WISE
WHY CHOOSE A CHARIS GUITAR IN A CROWD OF LUTHIER BUILT INSTRUMENTS
Now with over 20 years’ experience, and more than 450 instrument created, you can be assured that your Charis is among the finest instruments being created anywhere in the world. While I cannot guarantee to create that perfect instrument that you are hearing in your head, you have my word that your instrument will be personally crafted with the greatest care. It is considered an honor to be trusted with your business.
There have been many ups and downs over these 20 plus years of lutherie. The finer points of lacquer thickness and humidity have caused many sleepless nights. Weeks of work have become firewood in a fraction of a second. But the joy of watching masters like Michael Card, Phil Keaggy, Scott Bernard, and now Kenny Loggins play my instruments, has made the tough times worthwhile.
May I suggest that you consider one of our shop builds that are available for immediate purchase. These are built with materials chosen without customer constraint, and are typically priced lower than customer specific instruments.
Need some help getting started? Please call or drop us an e-mail. We would be honored to work with you.