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I've had these two books for just a few weeks and have read everything at least twice, many chapters many more times than that. Each time I go through I find something new. They only seem expensive. For the person who wants to move beyond merely producing a well made variation of a factory guitar, the information in these books can put you 10 or 15 years ahead of where you are now in your quest. What's that worth on a per year basis? They seem under priced when I think of them this way.
They are also useful for players and collectors who wish to expand their understanding of how the instrument works. To pick one example from many instances, Mr. Somogyi will tell you how a blues guitar benefits from a certain bracing pattern while a finger picked guitar works better using a different design.
The author is a master builder who has earned his place in the history of lutherie, yet he openly discusses methods that are alternatives to the ones he uses, right alongside his own approach. When one knows as much as Mr. Somogyi, there is no need to be dogmatic. Likewise, when one writes as well as Mr. Somogyi, there is no obfuscation of complex discussions, yet neither does he talk down to the reader. He treats his readers with respect and offers direct, plain-English access to what he has learned from his many years of rather profound work. At times, he demonstrates great love for the reader as well.
The books are beautifully made too. The paper is substantial, the photographs excellent, the layout elegant, all of which make them both easy and pleasurable to read. Contrary to one opinion expressed here, Somogyi did not need better advice about how to write a book. He set out to make the best books he could make and succeeded to the extent anyone who wants to do their best succeeds.
November 27, 2012: I've had the books for many months now. I added the word "INEXPENSIVE" to my review title for a very plain reason: These books contain more useful information than all the other lutherie books in my collection combined. The total cost of the other books was more than these two. Hence, using my "bang for the buck" scale, Somogyi's books cost the least.
I also recommend his DVD for anyone seeking to understand his "secret". The secret is there, almost naked, when he taps out a top that he tells the audience is destined to become the top of a finished Somogyi guitar. It is so openly presented some my miss its importance. "Tone" is the result of several entities: species of soundboard, thickness, grains per inch, brace design, choice and configuration of bracewood, surface area of top, location and size of soundhole, and so on. When combined, each specific mix contributes to the specific tone and responsiveness of a specific top. There is no single element that can be isolated from the others and declared "the secret", which frustrates many who follow Somogyi. A member of the audience wants to see the braces. Somogyi refuses. I'd bet dollars to donuts what is behind the "mystery top" is some variation of the many Somogyi tops photographed in the books. That is, it looked more or less like most other X-Braced tops made by advanced luthiers today. The braces are but one ingredient of many. Somogyi had already revealed his "secret" when he tapped out the top into a very high quality microphone recording the session. It is a good idea to play back that short segment over and over until you have a solid sense of the sound he generously offers to anyone who wishes to listen. Unlike factory guitars, guitars at his level are not the result of following specifications as closely as possible. While specs are a part of the process - and he offers many concrete, measured suggestions, such as top thickness, brace configurations, etc. - they are the starting point, not the final destination. That is reached in the adjusting process known as "voicing". Until you hear and internalize the sound of a great raw top, you are not voicing but rather removing wood and hoping.
That is, when a luthier builds a top he or she must be able to achieve and recognize a certain sound before the box is closed, finished, neck and strings attached, then finally played. There is little you can alter at that stage. However, when the top is still "raw" you can make changes to its "voice". The Somogyi DVD reveals in a very specific way what that "voice" sounds like when voicing is completed. Buy the books if you want to see what his braces look like, if you want to know his ball park specs, the woods he uses, the jigs, the molds, how to French Polish, determine neck set angle, join neck and body, bridge height, saddle construction, etc. Buy the books if you want to understand how the various parts can be altered and the likely outcomes of specific alterations and their combinations. Buy the DVD if you want to hear what the whole package - in the raw - ultimately sounds like. Buy them all if guitar making is important to you.
I also want to address whether these are beginner's books. The sheer volume of the discussion may lead some to think they are not "practical" for beginners. Certainly, they are a large meal that no one can digest in a few settings, whether beginner or expert. But if you are a serious beginner, they are extremely important, because they are utterly basic. They cover the foundation of what is of necessity a long journey. I have made some "good" guitars. If these books and DVD had been available when I started, they would have been much better, including the very first one. My other books would have been more useful to me if I had known the foundation he offers. If it is your first guitar you will still need something very specific, like the David Russell Young book, which is clearly written and not much money if you look for a used copy on Amazon. But if you don't alter Young's instructions with what you can learn and hear from the Somogyi material, you will get a good guitar that is overbuilt and restrained, though long on playability, and will sound as good or better than most factory guitars. But it won't be as good as it could be if you had digested just a little of what Somogyi offers.
Assuming your shop has most of the tools needed, there is still considerable money to be invested in quality materials for just one guitar, not to mention the immense about of time it takes to do the first one well from a technical point of view. We routinely pay $75 per hour to get our cars fixed. Somogyi's materials cost pennies per hour of use, and will pay off with an astonishing guitar, even if it is your first effort. You would do well to follow Young's advice to keep it simple looking because decoration contributes nothing to sound and decoration sloppily done hurts, rather than helps, the look, while consuming hours of time. But I would not worry about avoiding rosewood (as Young suggests). Instead, use quartersawn Indian rosewood, which is expensive, but not much more expensive than good quality mahogany. It is very stable and easy to work and you will get a more "live" instrument. Both authors suggest a laminated neck you carve yourself, but a CNC pre carved neck would do fine, especially if you avoid the difficult to fit dovetail joint. If you read nothing else in Somoygi, read his discussion of tops in both books and listen to his finished top in the DVD. Follow his suggestions and with a modicum of care, your first guitar should sound better than any factory guitar you can buy and many hand made instruments.
Whether you are a beginner or expert, never forget that the best instruments are achieved by paying attention to the basics. That is where great sound is born. That is what Somogyi's books and DVD cover.