The 10 (+1) questions we ask everybody

Simon Padalka (Russia)


1. How did you end up becoming, or start out as, a luthier?

I always valued exclusive hi-quality products. Including luxury hi-fi components and of course guitars. But it so happened that I was more interested in technical aspects. And when I needed to update my electric guitar I started looking at custom guitars. This brought me to luthier forums. I learned a lot there and decided that I want to build a guitar myself. I studied technologies for over a year. Mostly I learned myself. Out of books and all the information the Internet provided. Sometimes I asked other luthiers for advice.
 I wanted very much to make the first instrument properly, without any excuses. That's why it took 9 month to finish it. But in the end I succeeded. I showed this guitar to many musicians in my town and they marked it highly. After that I started to receive first orders for builds and repairs.  I was graduating out of university at the time, but I didn't have much passion for the architecture. And as I was getting more and more orders, I decided that I have to seize this opportunity before I really started a career as an architect.  

2. What inspires you to design and manufacture a new guitar?

First I was inspired by the lack of a decent guitar, so I made one. Then, after a few replicas to get my hand in, it was pretty interesting to find new shapes. I did a lot of custom shapes in the beginning, not having found my own yet. But after the production line has somewhat formed, I (or rather my wife Daria - she is the designer) mostly get my inspiration from woods. And it is an endless source, so I think we'll have a lot of new ideas. Apart from fresh looks, the new wood combinations can bring some new sound to the guitars. Sometimes there is a new hardware that can also inspire a fresh design. The design is made out of details, and there are so many details that could be applied, so we already have lots of design ideas, it would take us several years to build all of them :)  

3. Do you look for a given sound for any particular reason?

Mostly I just try to hit a certain character. It's quite hard to predict the sound when you are building a guitar with unique specifications and wood combinations, but it is possible to a certain extend.  

Some time ago I've collaborated with a record studio to design a range of guitars for modern heavy sound. We've named them Electric Art series. They were 6 and 7 string baritones with white ash bodies and maple bolt-on necks. They were especially good for low tunings.  

Now I want to expand in another direction and that's why I started making hollowbodies. The new model Sun is a semi-hollowbody - two chambers with a solid center tone block. Chambers enrich the sound with resonances, and the tone block provides good sustain and depth. I was surprised how versatile the sound turned out. It's rich and pretty resonant on Clean and Crunch channels, but it's also very dense and punchy on Higain. You can probably Djent on it :)  

4. Select one and talk about: soul, jazz, blues, rock, pop…or other.

I've always liked rock best, but not a heavy rock. Pink Floyd was and still is one of my favorites. Along with that I listened to blues like Gary Moore and SRV. But since I started my career, my customers have educated my taste in more heavy music. So now my playlist includes Nickelback, Drowning Pool, Karnivool, Breaking Benjamin, but I still go no heavier than Slipknot.  

5. Are you a jobbing artist or a solitary artisan?

Luthiery is my only job. It takes all of my time and attention and I can't imagine how to combine it with some other job. My wife is helping me a lot as well. She is making all the designs and mockups, keeps track of the wood and hardware supplies, helps preparing woods; also she is in charge of the Internet activity. Apart from that I work completely alone. I've tried to take apprentices, but decided that if I want to maintain the highest possible quality I should do everything myself.  

6. What was the last record or CD you bought? And listened to?

Since the music on actual CDs is becoming less popular every year, I think the last one I bought was "David Gilmour - On an Island". A very atmospheric album, but it requires a pretty good sound system to make it sound right. When the system is good it sounds clear and envelops you in sound. Otherwise it just sounds muddy. I remember choosing hi-fi components with this CD exactly because of that.   

As for online sources, lately I've been listening a lot to Foo Fighters. I admire their energetic rhythm and the sound of their guitars.

...ONE BODY...

7. Electric or acoustic?

I build electric guitars and basses. Building acoustic instruments requires totally different tools. But apart from that, I just don't feel that close to them. It's a different approach, which I wasn't taught and I know there are people who would build them better than me. I think the best results achieve those who specialize in one or the other.    

...ONE NECK...

8. What is the secret behind your choice of wood?

I spend a lot of time on preparing woods. First finding it in a variety of online and physical stores, sorting through all the boards to choose the worthy ones. And I can tell you it's not an easy thing. Many suppliers in Russia don't want to even talk to you unless you are buying a few tons. After that we cut and plane all the boards to get blanks that could be shown to customers. And at this stage we sort through them again to discard imperfect pieces. Sometimes I buy not dried wood (mostly Pale Moon Ebony) because it is often dried very badly and has a lot of cracks. So I buy it with natural humidity, cut to the size and dry it myself. I have a room with controlled humidity where I keep all the woods and guitars (both completed and in process). But even dried woods have to sit for some time in that room before being used. This way the humidity can stabilize inside boards and there won't be any surprises when I cut it. Sometimes a blank would reveal some new imperfection during that time and it gets discarded (In the end only about 50% of the woods I bought would be suitable for guitars). Then my wife photographs every blank, gives it a number and puts it in the catalogue, where they can be viewed buy our customers.    


9. Why should we consider luthier-crafted guitars as a viable option to guitars made by the large manufacturers?

There are many reasons for that. The most obvious is that you can customize your guitar so it would have the required specifications and ergonomics. Also when you order from a luthier, you are not only buying a guitar. You get the excitement of designing the instrument. When I discuss details with my customers, they have a huge number of options to choose from. And when it is done, I make a realistic mockup of the final product, showing the exact pieces of wood that would be used and small details like types of bolts etc. Of course the quality of woods is almost always higher with luthier-crafted guitars. And most importantly, no one except a luthier would be obsessed over every guitar he makes. The attention to details, the level of execution, the overall quality and playability of the instrument... this I think is the mark of a good luthier.  

10. Who plays your guitars? Who would you like to have play your guitars?

I don't know much about most of my customers, but several well-known musicians play my instruments: Tim and Luke (Protest the hero, Canada), Oleg Izotov (Russia), Xerosun band (Ireland), David Price (Poland). Of course, I'd like more professional musicians to be involved, but it's a matter of time. After all, at this point it's only 6 years since I built my first guitar.  

(+1). What strings do you use and which amps do you most like for your guitars?

My favorite strings are Elixir thanks to their long life and even sound qualities throughout this life. As for the gauge, I like heavy strings because they provide more solid sound and can show the character of the guitar better than thin gauge strings. I test all my guitars in the studio with a dozen of different amps. But the ones I like best are: Engl Invader 100, Marshall DSL 100, Custom Audio Amplifiers OD 100+  

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