Butch Boswell, a self-proclaimed “wood junkie,” is taking his 20 years of guitar repair skills and putting them toward building one-of-a-kind instruments that cater to his clients’ individual needs. Boswell builds guitars in small batches of two or three instruments at a time at his shop in Bend, Oregon. In a former life, Boswell worked at Taylor guitars, doing repairs and assembly. He later helped run the repair shop at Rudy’s Music Stop in New York City. His auditory templates for the instruments are the Martin guitars of the 1930s and ’40s. As Boswell puts it, the builders of this golden era of guitar making were only concerned about one thing: “Making the best sounding guitars they possibly could.”
In those days, the quality of the wood was important—and quality tonewoods were much more abundant back then—and Boswell has taken it upon himself to find the best sources for old-growth wood, including those species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The Boswell 00-14 has a small body with a 14-fret neck junction and a scale length of 24.9 inches. With a 1 23/32-inch nut and 2 1/4 inch string spacing at the saddle, the guitar is comfortable for fingerpickers. The compact body makes it ideal for light strumming as well. The 00-14’s appearance is simple and understated, yet elegant: The Italian spruce top’s grain is so fine it’s almost invisible and the koa back and sides have a honeyed mahogany look. Boswell indicates this is old wood and very stable. The touch of Brazilian rosewood used for the peg head overlay, rosette, and binding adds to the elegant styling. The 00-14 also features open-geared Waverly tuners, a light finish on the neck and forward-shifted X bracing.
The bass sound on the Boswell is so rich and clear that you really want to hang out there and not palm mute too much.
The Road Test
A soft strum with the pick brings out a beautiful shimmer. I played the Beatles “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” with a light touch and got a good, mid-voiced, balanced tone. Also I tried a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and decided I really didn’t need to strike the strings hard to get a rich and articulate sound. A forceful attack might give you more volume, but the Boswell is about refined tone and articulation.
However, playing single-note blues solo lines with a slightly aggressive attack, I was impressed with the cutting sound on the high strings. The 00-14 has a great-feeling neck, with its matte finish, and is easy to navigate from nut to the neck junction. The neck profile is a more modern C shape and should be comfortable for different-sized hands and playing styles.
The combination of light-gauge strings and a shorter scale also make it easy to bend strings and keep the “fight” to a minimum. Progressing through a run down to the low strings, I altered my attack, using a lighter touch, to get the most out of the punchy midrange of the fifth and sixth strings.
I really appreciated the Boswell’s bass sound—sparkling and nowhere near boomy—when I fingerpicked a swampy blues original. It was so rich and clear that I found myself avoiding palm muting, so that I could enjoy the bass notes in their full glory.
I played the traditional country-blues piece “Poor Boy Long Way from Home” in open-D tuning and heard what I thought was a rattle inside the guitar, but then realized that the soundboard was vibrating so excitedly it was causing a button on my shirtsleeve to buzz: confirmation that the Boswell does not need an aggressive attack to get the top vibrating.
All in all, the Boswell is a great choice for someone looking for a responsive guitar, and who has a light and refined touch.
The simple design of this 00-14 is elegant, not flashy, and if you’re willing to shell out a little cash, you will come away rewarded with lush tone and an impeccable playing instrument.
At a Glance: Boswell 00-14
SIZE 14-fret 00
TOP Italian spruce
BACK & SIDES Hawaiian koa
BACK BRACING Traditional ladder, German spruce
TOP BRACING Forward-shifted X, straight taper, German spruce
SADDLE 2 1/4 inches, compensated/intonated fossil ivory
END GRAFT Brazilian with single line red maple edge purfling,
PEGHEAD OVERLAY Brazilian with “Boswell” aged pearl inlay,
ROSETTE Brazilian, red maple purfling trim interior/exterior,
UPPER BOUT WIDTH 10 7/8 inches
WAIST WIDTH 8 ¾ inches
DEPTH AT END BLOCK 4 1/4 inches
NUT 1 23/32 inches, fossil ivory
BRIDGE PINS Ebony/pearl
FINGERBOARD Madagascar RW, 20 frets
FRETS Gold EVO wire
12TH-FRET WIDTH 2 3/16 inches
Hand built in Bend, Oregon
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.