The Orchestra Model guitar, as you know, is considered the ideal sized guitar for fingerstyle, with the ideal sound – crispy, clean and clear with enhanced depth of tone and sustain. Builder Kukich is known internationally for the level of perfection he achieves in making a guitar that conveys the panache and plectral diversification of the prewar, in a modern instrument. To say that this guitar promotes effortless picking possibilities with a maximum array of tonal colors would be an understatement. This guitar is a joyous occasion waiting to happen.
The Koa wood used here is beautifully grained, especially the headplate which is a veritable barber pole of three-dimensionally shifting, deeply etched, tiger-stripe grain. The ebony fingerboard contains some brown streaks against the black, and is inlaid with five etched squares in three fret positions – namely at frets 5, 7 and 9 – comprised of two squares each on 5 and 9 and one lonely square at fret 7. The top has oranged to a deep pumpkin color, almost matching the golden honey of the Koa on the back and sides. Said ‘stock is inlaid near its squared edge top with what might be a stylized “g” and then a stylized “f” (for, um, Franklin Guitars, we guess. Later on he used only the “f” symbol). The top is bordered in herringbone against a background of black; the soundhole in three concentric rings – the first and third being 5-ply and the central circle being 9. The pickguard is abbreviated and tortoise shell color; the belly-facing-down ebony bridge is rectangular with a drop-in compensated saddle and hosts six sumptuous bridge pins in crème with an abalone dot. The end pin is a mismatch in solid ebony. The sides are bound in yellowed crème celluloid; the heel cap is grained ivoroid; the back is bordered in black-crème black and the backstripe is a lighter inlaid strip of golden Koa bordered by black-crème-black on each side. There is a diamond dart carved behind the nut; its tuners are expensive Waverly brand open-gear with black ebony oval buttons. Fingerboard width at the nut is 1 11/16th” and string spacing at the bridge is a generous 2 5/16”. The scale length is, of course, 25.4” nut to saddle.
The guitar shows extremely small signs of use and playing time (but then it is 31 years old). This would include minor scratches, scuffs, dings, including some small ones on the back of the low oval, one piece mahogany neck; small chips around the headstock (all of these is completely normal and expected, just like the inevitable rebellion of a teenager), a scrape on the top of the headstock, treble side, a few light belt buckle marks on the lower bout of the back on the treble side, none through the finish but visible in the finish. There are noticeable small scratches and dings on all surfaces – this guitar is not up to the standard of “pristine” by any means – but, allowing for the fact that it was played for over three decades it is in very fine condition that we call “excellent.” The prior owner told us that he upgraded the tuner buttons to these beautiful and greatly wished for ovals made of ebony. They are decidedly elegant looking. We do not have the original buttons. The interior rectangular label reads “Handcrafted. Franklin Guitar Co., Sand Point, Idaho.” It displays (in fountain pen ink) the month and year, the serial number and then the word “Luthiers” is printed and there are three signed names: “Nick Kukich, Michael Dulak and Thomas Ruthenberg.” Sand Point is one of several locations at which Franklin guitars have been made, and, apparently, during this period Nick Kukich seems to have had partners. Interesting to us is that Mike Dulak went on to be the founder of the Mid-Missouri Mandolin Company, now called “Big Muddy Mandolins.” We do not know what Mr. Ruthenberg is doing these days – there is one Thomas Ruthenberg in Colorado and only 6 people by that name in the USA according to internet sources. The one in Colorado is a principal in a firm that does what they call experienced and aggressive representation in contract disputes. This is all very interesting, don’t you think?
We have always been a big fan of Franklin acoustic guitars and in fact we were Nick Kukich’s dealer back in the 1980s. Franklin guitars have, in the past, been played and widely discussed by Stefan Grossman and John Renbourne. Our workshop will have performed their nearly magical set-up work that all previously owned instruments need to experience. When completed (and it won’t be long – it may be completed by the time you read these words) this will be a superb sounding and beautiful instrument that may provide its next owner the notion that, with little coaxing, it can, with formidable technique and alacrity, play itself (so that you won’t have to).