St Clair - Curly Eastern Black Walnut and Engelmann Spruce - Commission:
I completed Andrew's St Clair Apr 2021. At the time of this posting, the guitar had only been strung up a few weeks. Ross, Andrew's father, has been extremely complimentary throughout the build and sent me an email after Andrew had the guitar for a few days. Ross told me I was welcome to post his comments to my website:
Apr 21, 2021: We have guitars that were fairly expensive when new, the new Taylor V-class series in a 6 string and a 12 string, which is touted to be the most perfect balance of tone, and neither of those can touch the Casper St. Clair. The tone and overtones on the Casper are stellar, we will never understand how you did it, but have validated that your work is unparalleled. We don't how we deserved this, but are so thankful for you and your craftsmanship and artistry.
Apr 19, 2021: The sound is as incredible as the looks. The guitar keeps sounding better by the day, which we did not think was possible. It was a fantastic experience from the beginning to playing it. I am glad that Andrew was able to play it for you. Since you are so humble, I am glad that you were able to hear the fruits of your labor. Angelic voices from the work of your hands, every time we think that the sound can't get better it does get better.
We are still in shock, thank you again for being you, and sharing your gift with the world.
My Mother is a Beatles fan, and hearing Let it be, brought tears to her eyes. The overtones are so nice, if you closed your eyes, you could hear John, Paul and George singing their flawless harmonies. My Father commented that it was the best sounding guitar that he has ever heard. Although he is legally blind, his hearing is still sharp, and with music he is not known to be complimentary...maybe too many years in the seminary learning choir and classical music. Ava Maria brought tears to his eyes. We can't thank you enough.
Ross / Plymouth, Michigan / April 2021
Huron - Eastern Black Walnut and Red Spruce - Commission:
I completed Rob's guitar mid 2018. Over the past year, Rob has sent me several notes commenting on how great the guitar is. This past week, he sent me another. He has had the guitar over a year now, so it has settled in and opening up nicely. I asked Rob if I could post his latest note to my website, and he said, "Heck yes you can!"
Oct 19, 2019 : Good morning Ken, I have been thinking of you a lot lately. My guitar sounds incredible. Better all the time. I actually took it out and played some music with a guy that had a high end Martin guitar. There were about ten other people sitting around while we played. Several commented on the tone and sound of our guitar. The guy playing the Martin said, "I spent a lot of money on this guitar of mine, and I can't believe how much better your guitar sounds. The way that guitar rings and carries a tone is incredible." Ken, I just had to share this with you. Made me very proud and honored to have a guitar made by you. Thank you again my friend.
Rob / Lebanon, Ohio / October 2019
Superior - Highly Figured Bubinga w/Red Spruce top - Commission:
I shipped this guitar to Thomas late spring. We traded a few short emails when the guitar was delivered. Just the other day, Thomas sent me an email with a few comments for me to post to my website. I'll share his few thoughts below as he has graciously offered to be a reference for me.
It has been a while since I emailed to say ”I’ll let you know” in re the guitar you made for me. I give it high marks, both for workmanship & appearance, playability, and overall tone. I wish I could play better to fully appreciate the quality. I thoroughly enjoyed the build experience, both because you provided such detailed narrative and pictures, but also because my input became a part of the construction and final product...please feel free to use any of my observations as endorsements for your purposes. I would encourage anyone who wishes to contact me to back this up.
Thomas / Suffolk, Virginia / November 2017
13 Fret Huron - Indonesian Rosewood w/Red Spruce top - Commission:
It has been several months since I picked up my Casper Huron from Ken, and it seems like a good time to provide a review. This Indonesian Rosewood/Adirondack Spruce guitar is the first of Ken’s new Huron models. When Ken and I first discussed this commission, I told him I needed a guitar to play for a contemplative worship service at church. It’s a small service, in the chapel, for under 30 people and there’s no amplification. So I had in mind this guitar that would have a lush tone, be lightly built and very responsive, have a good bass, and be able to project and help carry the singing at this service. I play finger style, but needed something that could be strummed as well, depending upon the song. Ken suggested we try this new Huron model, with a Manzer wedge so it wouldn’t feel too big, and he really did hit a sweet spot with my gorgeous instrument. It has the lush tone that seems to be consistent among Casper guitars, and the tone is already full, even though the instrument is quite new. The bass is coming in nicely, this instrument is very balanced, and this guitar projects beautifully.
When I first played my Huron for one of the women who regularly attends this church service, she started to cry. She said the sound was so beautiful and the energy of this instrument was perfect. It’s also a very responsive instrument- it sounds wonderful when softly finger picked. And it can also handle everything I can give it when I need to strum loudly to accompany singing. I’ve now used it for several of these church services, and it’s everything I was hoping for when I first dreamed of a custom. One of the gifts of a custom instrument is having a guitar that fits the player instead of having to adapt one’s playing to the instrument. Ken listened to everything I told him and turned it into an instrument that fits me and my playing like no other instrument I’ve ever played.
The quality of this build is also superb. Ken’s craftsmanship shines through every inch of this guitar. All of the joints and miters are spot on, the woods go together beautifully, the inlays are stunning… Anyone who has seen this Huron has commented on its beauty. I selected the Indonesian Rosewood, and then Ken turned it into art. When I opened the case and saw this Casper Huron for the first time, it was so breathtakingly beautiful I couldn’t say a word. I was stunned by this guitar’s beauty and presence. Ken worked with me to choose woods that so complimented the IRW. He took my thoughts about basing the inlays on a well cover in England, and he created unique, gorgeous inlays. One of my favorite aspects of this guitar is the neck. Ken built his 5 piece neck, with mahogany and cocobolo. He chose gorgeous mahogany, and this beautiful wood contrasted with the cocobolo is what I get to look at when I play. Another one of the guitarists at the service I play for said he loves standing behind me and looking over my shoulder while I play, because he loves looking at that guitar neck.
This Huron is also a joy to play. Ken took everything that I asked for in terms of playability, and put it into this guitar. It’s a 25” scale with a bit of a thinner neck than Ken usually builds. The neck, the scale, plus the Manzer wedge come together to create a guitar that fits me beautifully. I also love the 13 fret design and the playing experience (as well as the tone) it provides. It’s easy for me to lose an hour or two as I explore new things this guitar allows me to do. Making music has never been as easy for me as it is on this instrument.
I know that some people are concerned about doing a custom build, as there’s some uncertainty about what the final product will be like. As I trust is apparent throughout this review, Ken is such a good listener, gentle spirit, great communicator, as well as such a talented luthier, that the final product with this Huron became something that was much more than I originally had in mind. I played quite a few Caspers, when I first met Ken and I loved the tone of all of them. Ken builds instruments that are remarkably consistent. So I thought I knew about the sound and experience I would be getting with a Casper custom. However, with my Huron, the tone is deeper and more lush, the instrument is more beautiful, and the joy is greater than I could have imagined. And that’s due to Ken’s talent and ability to work closely with his clients to design and build an instrument that fits them. And my guitar does fit me. I’m loving playing it, and listening to this guitar come into its own as I play it. I can only imagine how much more lush and full and deep the sound will be as these woods continue to mature. So thank you Ken!
Beth / Pasadena, California / October 2016
13 Fret Michigan - Sinker Mahogany w/Red Spruce top - Commission:
Dave posted some comments on Acoustic Guitar Forum regarding this guitar, which I include below. He also sent me a few brief emails at later dates, which I also include. In March 2015, Dave sent me some sound clips of his guitar, which I also link below:
Feb 20,2015: ...I guess for the lush sound, I like rosewoods, but I have to say, this OM played light finger style is so nice. and it does respond to a hard attack as well! I probably won’t part with it, as it is a fine instrument. I think I associate mahogany with the more fundamental tone and your bracing yields a wonderful lush tone...I enjoy it every time I pick it up. If I were to commission another build from you (and that is a possibility, if funds allow), I think I would go for a L style in Addi/Mahogany...
Dec 25, 2014 Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year!!
The OM gets better every time I play her. a fine guitar!
Sep 7, 2014 The guitar is sounding great, but I need to experiment with some different strings.
Aug 29, 2014: Well, this is the first custom build for me, just delivered via UPS yesterday. I've had this fine OM in my hands for a few hours now and can share my initial impressions, which no doubt will change as the guitar settles in. Every time I pick her up, the tone seems to be a little different, bigger maybe. The tone is crystalline and clear. Very balanced. I expect some more of the fundamental woodiness will reveal itself as the guitar ages. The neck shape is perfect for me. 1 3/4 width, ever so slight V with a modern Taylor like profile. Very smooth feel. The finish seems to be thin and glossy, no imperfections. The build is impeccable as far as I can see. I thought the wood combination of Adi/mahogany give a fairly fundamental tone; this guitar has that but it also shimmers. The tones seem to breathe, if that makes any sense. Very responsive to the light finger style touch have not played her with a pick much, but I expect that with Adi/mahogany, and a little higher action, she would be an excellent strummer as well. I play in DADGAD quite a bit and the guitar currently has Martin PB lights. I may try mediums or medium/lights to see what works best in drop tuning. Intonation is spot on, no dead spots up and down the fretboard. Any way, Thank You Ken! It has been nothing but a joy working with you from start to finish. I'm already thinking about the next build Dave
-- Dave / Radnor, PA / August 2014
Superior - Curly Koa with Engleman Spruce top - Commission:I received several emails from Alan after he received his guitar. Alan allowed me to post his comments on my site:
Sep 25, 2014: Just thought I'd drop you a line and let you know how happy I am with the Koa guitar you built for me. I can't help but admire the beauty of it every time I take it out of it's case! Playing it is a joy, and I am amazed at how good the sustain is so early in it's life.
The Engleman top rings, but in a very full and balanced way. What a perfect choice for the Koa. Please thank your friend Paul for me, as he's the one who steered me in that direction way back when.
Aug 31, 2014: Yes, I definitely plan to keep this guitar. It is quickly becoming a favorite!
I did receive the email that you sent out to customers and glad that you had complements on my guitar. Maybe someone else will want you to build them a koa FB.
The action is good, it's just the way I like it. You nailed that one!
The top is gorgeous! It is the only Engleman top that I have, so it will be a new experience breaking it in. The rosette is very pretty, and even though I was looking for more blues, it is a nice blend of color. It goes well with the different shades of brown in the fretboard and bridge.
I think that I did briefly mention that the koa looks better in person. It is a very nice set, and even though the color is a little different between back and sides, it has very nice figure and depth to the wood. They look just fine together. As difficult as it was to procure nice koa, I think we did make a good choice with the set we ended up with. I'm happy with it.
Aug 30, 2014: Just wanted to let you know that I really LOVE this guitar! Had a chance to play it a bit more yesterday, and took it to my guitar teacher today. He was most impressed with it, and thought it had great sustain and lots of volume. It was an opportunity for me to hear someone play it in front of me, and it sounded very sweet. I know it will only get better the more it's played.
The playability of it is very nice, which is one of the big reasons I wanted one of your guitars.
Aug 28, 2014: Well, it arrived an hour ago, and I had about 10 minutes to take it for a test drive. WOWIE ZOWIE!!! What a beautiful guitar! The size is just right and the fit and finish are excellent. The Koa looks better in person. The mids seem to stand out to me so far and there is decent sustain. You done good!
I do have one issue, and maybe there's a way to remedy it here. The side fret markers, especially at 7 are a bit hard to see. Their color is light and there is not much contrast against the maple. I was wondering if there's a way for me to try to darken them some. Would a black sharpie be absorbed by the abalone? I certainly don't want to do anything to screw up this beautiful instrument, so maybe you have an idea of what to do.
Anyway, I am thrilled so far.
-- Alan / Lutherville, MD / Aug 2014
Michigan - Claro Walnut w/Italian Spruce top - Commission:
I wanted to give you an early appraisal of the custom Casper, as this next week I am going to be so very busy. I literally won't have much time to slow down starting Monday the 10th through Monday the 17th, and I felt you would not be best served by my waiting till then to give you some comments about the guitar. The fact is, all that is good about this guitar, will only improve by then, so, I feel confident that what is now the truth about this instrument will only become more so in a week or in a year. So, while I have time, I thought it good to give you my opinion of the instrument based on now having played it enough to know what it's all about.
First let's talk about the intrinsic value of the guitar. One of the first things I noticed about this instrument was that it's fun to play. It's a lot of fun to play, and that is kinda rare, as most guitars I've ever owned, with the exception of the rare 4 or 5 out of about 80, have not been fun to play - but rather they required work to play and that was after they were tweeked and tweeked to be playable at all...The fact is, most guitars are just not that playable, and it's so rare to pick up an instrument and have that "yeah, this is RIGHT", experience. Your instrument is built to such a high standard of loving care and craftsmanship that it allows easy translation and transmission of beautiful sounds from the fingers into the air. Of course, this instrument is brand new to my ears, my fingers, and my soul, however, it seems to have already acclimated itself quite well to my musical point of view.
Then there is the build quality of this instrument. Well, you are a long time carpenter with high skill standards and a desire to glean as much perfection out of your woodworking as you can squeeze out of it, and it definitely has been squeezed out of this custom guitar. The lovely lines, the lock tight joinery, the perfect fretwork, the spot on intonation, the dedication to creating a seamless "oneness" to the overall look and feel of the guitar, is just masterfully accomplished. A custom guitar like this one can't be created by some budding builder with a new Fox bender, a Somogyi book set, some figured wood, and lots of ambition......no no.....This type of world class instrument can only come from the hands of someone who has master class woodworking skills.
Let's talk about the look of this guitar. Well, it's just beautiful. Well, I asked for some specific aesthetic details, which were ambitious, and you delivered what I asked for right on the money. The inlay, the binding, the purfling, the rosette, the unique neck, the finish, the custom shape of the instrument's body, were all created and delivered as ordered. This guitar visually, is like looking at a beautiful landscape painting which depicts springtime flowers dancing together in a beautiful mountain valley where every colored part of floral nature contrasts beautifully within the golden frame.
The special Tone of this guitar is what I would describe as " gentle and kind". There is a sweet richness to the mid range that is very appealing. The highs are round and the lows are balanced and the overall effect on the ears is that you are hearing a sweet, lush, sensitive singing tone that caresses your ears when you hear it. Some guitars aim to knock you down with punch, but this guitar wants to hug you with its ample sustain and warm Lovetone.
Thank you for building this guitar for me.
-- Larry / Pensacola, Florida / June 2013
St. Clair - Curly Koa w/Port Orford Cedar top - Previously Owned:
My Experience with a Ken Casper L-00
I've been buying, selling, playing, and evaluating acoustic guitars for over 30 years. It's been a life-long obsession. I'm still fascinated by the physics of how these wonderful machines work. You know that feeling when you pick up an instrument that has "that sound" your looking for? Well, that's something I never get tired of. But, it's incredibly difficult to find "that sound" without actually getting your hands on the instruments. If you're like me, you find most guitar reviews to be a bit lacking. The guitar magazines are trying to sell stuff, so they usually just give us a very general overview of specs and features. Everyone knows you can't trust most forums and online customer reviews to be real. It's tough to get any solid in depth information about individual instruments. If there is one thing I've learned over the years, it's that you have to play it yourself.
Well that being said, I know not everyone has the chance to try every guitar that interests them. So I'm going to try to describe the playing experience and sound of a Ken Casper L-00.
Every instrument is unique. Two guitars built side by side, by the same luthier, at the same time, out of the same wood will sound different. Most players understand when it comes to factory made guitars, they need to play several to find that one "good one". Hand crafted instruments usually have a higher batting average, but can vary wildly in their character. What's interesting about Ken's guitars though is how consistent they are. I had the pleasure of meeting with Ken and playing several of his instruments. Although they were all made out of different woods, and even had different body sizes, they all sounded incredibly consistent. And let me tell you, that sound is wonderful.
I first stumbled across Ken's instruments while searching for a Michigan based luthier to build me an L-00. I had talked with a few great luthiers around the state, but just hadn't been able to find someone that was on the same page as me. When I saw the photos of Ken's guitars on his website, I knew right away I had found somebody that had the same thoughts about understated elegance. His guitars were beautiful without being flashy. They had traditional body shapes without looking like the same tired old thing being produced by the big factories. They looked great, and were exactly what I had been searching for. But, how did they sound and play?
We're fortunate enough here in Michigan to have the venerable Elderly Instruments nearby. As luck would have it, Ken had one of his OM guitars on display there. I never pass up an excuse to travel to a great guitar store, so I headed over to check it out (along with everything else in the store of course).
When I picked up Ken's guitar, I was first struck by the workmanship. Every mitre was perfect, every appointment looked like it belonged right where it was placed. It was a wonderful looking instrument, so the photos on his website were not misleading. I started to play it a bit, and....(Now, this is where I need to remind you that I had just finished playing many high-end Martins, Collings, Huss & Daltons, Santa Cruz's, and others)...the first thing I noticed was the balanced tone. Not overly bassy, or middy, but just nice and balanced across the whole spectrum. I could hear ALL the frequencies. I could hear articulation in the notes everywhere on the neck. I was very pleasantly surprised by how this guitar sounded.
I contacted Ken after my trip to Elderly, and spoke with him about my experience. He invited me to come down and try a few of his instruments, and discuss a build. Again, the best way I can describe Ken's instrument's sound is consistent. Each guitar I picked up had this wonderfully balanced tone. Ken takes the time to "tune" each piece of the instrument as he builds. The result is this wonderful consistency of tone.
Ken had only built one L-00. He originally built it for himself. His son liked it so much, he talked him into taking it with him to college. I was fortunate enough to be able to play it during our meeting, and immediately fell in love. This is what I'd been looking for.
I've been growing increasingly interested in small bodied acoustics over the past few years. I've searched for and purchased several, and found the traditional L-00 size to be my preference. My personal favorite (until I tried Ken's) was a Gibson Keb Mo Signature model. It's basically a modern copy of the Gibson L-00s from the 1930's - '40's. I liked it a lot, and played it more than all my other instruments combined. It just never quite had the tone I wanted. When I picked up Ken's L-00, I knew I had found "that sound".
I know sound is very subjective, and almost impossible to describe, but here goes: If I took my three favorite guitars from my collection, put their sound in a blender, and made one instrument, Ken's L-00 is what I would be playing. It has the bass response of my Martin D-18, it has the articulate hi sparkle of my Taylor 412, and it has the punchy mids of my Gibson Keb Mo. I don't quite know how he does it, but Ken manages to produce guitars with all the tonal characteristics I love from all the instruments I love.
By the end of our meeting, two exciting things had transpired. The first is that Ken is going to build me an L-00! We hatched a plan to build an L-00 made from all Michigan species of wood, but that's another story for later (This commission is also done, you can see a YouTube video of it here). The second is that somehow, to my continued surprise, I was able to talk him out of the L-00 he had built for himself, and his son wanted. After a few weeks of playing it now, I can say the honeymoon is NOT over. I'm still just as enthralled as I was when I first picked it up. Now, if I can just keep my location hidden from Ken's son!
-- Jack / Grand Rapids, Michigan / January 2012
Michigan - Madagascar RW w/Red Spruce top - Commission:
You asked me some time ago to give you a report on the Casper Mad Rose, and you warned me that you might put it on your website. So I send this to you with the suspicion that I am in fact writing to people who might be considering ordering a Casper guitar, and so I write to them.
To begin, my perspective----I am 60 years old and have been playing guitar most days for 40 years. I've collected Martin guitars for about 40 years; I've switched over to Collings and luthier-built for the last 10 years. I primarily collect rosewood and koa, but I have the old Martin mahoganys as well. I play finger-style, without picks, and the guys I like are Chris Smither, John Prine, and Leo Kottke. I never play guitar in front of anybody over the age of seven.
My Casper guitar is a standard OM built in 2009 with Madagascar Rosewood (hence its name--the Mad Rose) back and sides, Adirondack Spruce top with Adirondack scalloped braces, koa binding, with an abalone and flame koarosette and an abalone torch inlay on the headstock. You can see the Mad Rose elsewhere on Ken's website.
First, the build quality----The woodwork is extraordinary. It's the first thing you notice about the guitar. It's beautiful and the more you look at it the better it gets. The joinery is perfect---better than other nationally known luthiers who charge $7-10,000 for a standard model (I know because I'm looking at one right now side by side with my Casper). The flamed koa binding is particularly well-done and lights up the rosewood. The inlay work, which Ken does himself, is spectacular (although I get some credit because I picked it all out). I particularly like Ken's fingerboard---it's perfect, and the neck attachment, which is a very simple bolt connection. I've now played 10 different Casper guitars, (Jumbos, OMs, and 00s), and each one is just stunning, and each one clearly a Casper. I have a custom Martin and a couple of custom Collings and they look machine-made next to the Mad Rose.
And the build process was interesting, too. Ken builds each guitar one at a time, and keeps asking question after question about exactly what you want and how you want it ---all the while telling you exactly what he's doing and how he's doing it. When I saw the finished guitar, my first thought was that I had built it, not Ken, because I could see my decisions everywhere.
A couple of weeks after I got the guitar I took it up to Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan and had Stretch take a look at it--check it out and tell me what he thinks. Stretch has been taking care of my guitars for years and is the best there is. Stretch looked it over and the first thing he said was "the build quality is extraordinary."
Next, the sound----Well, you probably already figured out that I love these guitars. Sound is so subjective (I know people who actually like Taylors) that it's difficult to describe. You have to hear the sound for yourself---there's no other way. But I can say this: the sound of a Casper guitar is very distinctive, and they all sound very similar, no matter the model. You can tell the sound of any Casper from any other guitar, because, I think, the build quality is so high and so consistent. The most striking thing about the sound is that it's so balanced. The trebles are bright and full, the mids are clear and bell-like, and the bass is full and sustained. But it's all balanced. And, of course, it's significantly better sounding than any company manufactured guitar; Gibson, Martin, Goodall, Collings, Taylor, Larivee, etc., are not comparable to Ken's guitars. A Casper sounds better.
One thing about the sound of the Mad Rose was that it changed dramatically over the first several weeks and months I played it. It was a really good guitar when I got it and I was delighted. But a week later it was better, and a month later it was one of the best sounding guitars I had, and now, two years later, it's the only guitar I play.
It's my biggest complaint about the Mad Rose: I've got a room full of really good guitars, and I only play the Mad Rose. That's not supposed to happen.
And finally, the builder----There should be no surprise here; I've gotten to know Ken over the past several years and he's a great guy. He loves wood and understands how it thinks. He's honest and fair and you can trust him. He doesn't really care about your money; he cares about your guitar.
At this point my wife would tell me that she stopped listening to me five minutes ago.
Grosse Pointe, Michigan / January 2012
Michigan - EIR w/Red Spruce top - Commission:
12/07/11 - Initial Impressions: The guitar was very well packed both inside the shipping box as well as inside the case. Additionally, Ken place a humidifier in the accessory case compartment which greatly helped during shipping. When I first opened the case, the pleasant smell of wood hit me. Hopefully, some of the wood smell will remain for the life of the guitar. The construction, fit and finish of the guitar are excellent. I had expected this level of quality due the various guitar photos on his website. Played the guitar for about an hour and noticed a few aspects of the guitar. First is the neck shape. It is a cross between a v-shape and round shape, so I guess it would be a soft v-shape and very comfortable to play. Second, the guitar is more balanced toward the neck which is due to the neck construction (Honduran Mahogany and Koa) and how Ken attaches the neck to the body. While some might prefer the guitar to have a "center" balance, I like the slight neck balance. Also, it instills confidence that the neck will be problem free over time. Third is the fret wire. I was expecting a larger gauge wire which would have been fine, but the fret wire used reminds me of my 1978 Les Paul. Slides and bends are extremely easy to execute and this was a welcomed surprise.
12/08/11 The guitar spent the night with an Oasis OH-6 Case Humidifier with OU-2 Digital Hygrometer. The humidity level was 47.8 percent. The guitar sounded even better and more balanced in tone as well as playability.
12/09/11 to 12/11/11 On Saturday, I spent a solid hour playing along with one of my favorite Joe Ely CDs, Live at Liberty Lunch and the new CD by Cody Canada and the Departed (excellent CD after leaving Cross Canadian Ragweed). The guitar has continued to improve in sound and tonal balance. The playability of the guitar is exceptional. While it is hard to imagine, the guitar should continue to improve over the next six months. Extremely satisfied with my purchase and will have one made for my Dad for delivery next Christmas.
-- Jody / Abilene, Texas / December 2011