June 2, 2009 The regular acoustic guitar is such a familiar and effective shape that it's hard to get past the bizarre looks of Paul Kinny's 'Stereo Acoustic' guitar - but rest assured, it's built that way for a good reason. While standard acoustics have a sound hole that faces forward, projecting the sound to a listening audience, the Stereo Acoustic's two sound holes are pointed directly up at the player. That means that it's an instrument you play for yourself, sitting right inside the sound, enjoying a huge dynamic range and the natural stereo and chorus effects it produces. We took the opportunity to put these unique - and remarkably affordable - acoustics in the hands of classical guitar god Leonard Grigoryan for a video review. Then we locked Lenny in a cage of microphones to take some studio recordings and demonstrate the gorgeous sounds these oddball guitars can produce on tape.
Paul Kinny is perhaps as much of an oddball as the stereo guitars he'll become best known for. Not the 9-to-5 type, Kinny is a guitarist and songwriter with a deep love for music and a keen ear for picking which modern day songs are stolen from which classical composer. From the back yard of his guitar-shaped home, he's got a 100-kilometer view across Australia's stunning Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.
A self-trained luthier, Kinny enjoys experimenting with shapes, sizes, odd designs and materials in his guitarmaking - from his Double Baritone "guitar within a guitar" design to guitars that are played like keyboards and tiny mandolins.
He stumbled upon the idea of making a stereo guitar after noticing that when he wanted to play quietly to himself, he had to put his head down close to his regular guitar's forward-facing sound hole, or else he'd lose all the bass, presence and dynamic range in his playing. Why not create a guitar specifically designed for the player's pleasure?
And heck, if you're going to point a sound hole upwards for your own enjoyment, why not use two sound holes? To accomplish this, Kinny came up with a design for a guitar with an extra resonant chamber above the fretboard, and two large sound holes facing up to the player from the left and right. Without a front sound hole, the guitar wouldn't need as much internal reinforcement, either, so Kinny used thin, resonant wood and very little bracing. Over ten painstaking years of development, the Stereo Acoustic guitar was born.
The Stereo Acoustic Guitar
Kinny was nice enough to send down three different Stereo Acoustic models for us to test - and the experience of playing one of these things is completely different to anything I've used before. The left sound hole (from the player's perspective) seems to pick up all the big, warm bass frequencies from the extra resonant chamber, while the right seems to focus on string noise and trebles.
The combination is quite amazing - you feel like you're sitting inside a world of sound, with a lovely natural chorus and stereo effect. Even playing softly, the bass is huge - in fact, hitting a big chord can be surprisingly loud, so it's a lot of fun playing with that extra dynamic range when you're noodling about.
Leonard Grigoryan road tests the Stereo Acoustics
We thought it would be a good idea to put the Stereo Acoustics in the hands of somebody who *really* knows guitars - classical spanish guitar and jazz/folk star Leonard Grigoryan. Lenny and his brother Slava Grigoryan perform together as part of the Band of Brothers - and Lenny is also receiving great reviews as part of progressive folk-jazz band FGHR, which has just released its second CD, "Going Home."
Lenny spent a couple of weeks getting to know what he came to know jokingly as the "Elephant Guitars" before filming the video review below.
Recording with the Stereo Acoustic
If you can get a microphone on each of the sound holes, these guitars really shine in a recording context. We didn't have access to the sort of top-shelf guitar-mounted mics that we'd generally prefer to use in this sort of situation, but a Shure Beta dynamic on each sound hole, coupled with a Neumann TLM condenser out in front, still produced a magic sound, even if it made the recording experience a bit uncomfortable for Lenny. Have a listen:
Nylon string stereo acoustic (original untitled composition):
Bright steel-string stereo acoustic (improvisation):
Thin redwood stereo acoustic (improvisation):
Here's a video of Lenny recording that last clip with his favorite of the three, the thin redwood. The poor guy couldn't move, in case he knocked one of the microphones. We've separated out the different mic channels so you can hear the differences in sound between the channels.
Listen in headphones and you can hear what happens when we shift from a single mono channel to the left and right dynamic mics in stereo at 1:22. Quite a stunning effect, and the crispness of the condenser finishes the sound off beautifully when it comes in at 1:45.
Prices and Options
Paul Kinny makes guitars to order and ships internationally. The Stereo Acoustics start from a pretty compelling AUD$600 (USD$485 at today's exchange rate) and go as high as AUD$2000 (USD$1617) depending on construction, materials and options.
It's difficult to describe the experience of playing one, other than to say it's a very personal and unique experience. We wish Mr. Kinny all the best with his innovations and look forward to seeing what else he comes up with.
More information: The Kinny Guitars website.
Thanks to Paul Kinny for trusting us with his wonderful guitars, Leonard Grigoryan for his amazing playing, Fabian Fitzgerald for camerawork and video production, and Chris Blain for audio engineering.