From the February 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
For five decades, the California-based luthier Steve Klein has been known for his radical acoustic and electric instruments, with their ergonomic, sculptural designs, played by equally unconventional guitarists like Bill Frisell, Michael Hedges, and this month’s cover subject, Joni Mitchell.
The Great Acoustics page in AG’s January/February 1994 issue featured a custom steel-string that Klein made for Mitchell in 1977—one of fewer than 30 acoustics that the luthier built himself before his former apprentice Steve Kauffman took over their production altogether. Two other examples of the same vintage now reside in the collection of Wilson Schünemann, a Boston-based avocational musician who champions the luthier’s work through the website kleincommunity.com.
Both of Schünemann’s Kleins—one made in Oakland, in 1976, and the other in Sonoma, in 1977—bear the model number L-45.7. They are formidable instruments, each with a 45.7-centimeter (just shy of 18 inches) lower bout, 25-21/32-inch scale-length ebony fretboard, and 1-13/16-inch nut. The soundboards are spruce, and Guatemalan rosewood is used for the backs, sides, necks, and headplates.
While the instruments’ bridges might look like art objects, their asymmetry is functional. Klein got the idea for the design—segmented between strings 1–3 and 4–6, and much larger on the bass side—from Michael Kasha, a biochemist and guitar enthusiast who had a unique understanding of how guitars work. The bridge is engineered to help each string best transfer energy to the soundboard, with six individual ivory saddle pieces rather than a single component, allowing for precise adjustment of string height and intonation.
In the fall of 2017, Schünemann presented an exhibition—“Steve Klein: Breaking the Mold—50 Years of Innovation”—at an arts center in Concord, Massachusetts. While the Klein twins are in a sense museum pieces, Schünemann takes great pleasure in playing them regularly. “The notes have excellent separation, clarity, and crispness, and the bass response is full and thunderous, like a grand piano,” he says. “This pair is such a good example of flattop guitar evolution and history, and I feel very humbled and fortunate to have found the guitars!”
This article originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.