Meet the maker - Nicolai of Schorr Guitars
In recent years, I've really craved the unique. The guitar is a wonderful tool and outlet for musical creativity, but as the years go by and I see more and more of the same iconic guitars hanging in shops and at guitar shows, my desire to seek out 'different' is really becoming an obsession. The guitar has become more than just a tool for musical creativity to me. I was introduced to Nicolai's guitars by Florian of Millimetric Instruments, and I was captivated by the design and unique approach to every detail. It was clear there was more than just a guitar based background in Nicolai's designs and after being lucky enough to attend the Holy Grail Guitar Show this year and seeing his guitars in person, I knew I had to get him involved in my 'Meet the maker' series to learn more. So I welcome Nicolai Schorr of Schorr Guitars!

Meet the maker - Nicolai Schorr
Photo by Frank Deimel

J - I'd love to start this off by discussing your art background. When I first looked through images of your guitars, I really felt that there was striking art and design aspect to them. Could you talk us through some of your art background and interests, and whether you think that affects your guitar designs?

N - I studied Fine Art with a focus on figurative painting and drawing for a total of seven years, so it makes sense to think that all this exposure to, and experience in, this field is still influential in my current work. 
Making art is mostly a solitary process and requires any technique needed to find the form one is looking for to get out of the way. This relates to guitar building in my experience. Furthermore, I am used to developing ideas and executing them in a proprietary way, and seeing that as a strength. My building is driven by joy mostly and to a certain extent by a necessity to create. 
I still have some connection to the art world, mainly through my partner Anna Roberta Vattes. I am definitely influenced by the clarity in her work, and by our visits to exhibition openings of mostly contemporary drawing, painting and sculpture. When Florian from Millimetric Instruments and his wife Anne-Marie were staying with us for the Holy Grail Guitar Show this year, Florian also pointed out that he could relate the colours of Berlin to my guitars. So it seems I am still incorporating influences from my immediate surroundings into my work, like I did as a fine artist.

J - In terms of influences from the guitar world, for some readers who perhaps haven't seen your instruments before, it might seem difficult to see any obvious ideas lifted from existing guitars out there. Where do you see your influences originating from existing guitars and as a guitar designer did you find it difficult to be 'original'?

N - I never found it difficult to be 'original', because as an outsider to the guitar building world, I always felt the freedom to tackle any aspect of the guitar in a way that was just interesting to me. I try to build in a very clear language, and I appropriate very traditional methods sometimes to get there. My headstock is very influenced by Ken Parker, but I worked it into a rectangle. The V-joint I use to attach the headstock to the neck is a very old-school way to make that joint, and I think I like it because it forms a triangle. 
The adjustable neck joint I use on the Owl model is my take on the Howe Orme neck joint. These acoustic guitars were bult in Chicago around 1900, and Rick Turner has been making his version of that joint for a while, which is how I learned about it. 
More generally, I am visually influenced mostly by European guitars from the 1950s and 1960s. Framus, Klira, Herrnsdorf, maybe some Eko, Fenton Weill and Wandre. One of my early influences was Nic Delisle from Island Instruments, whose work I first saw at a Holy Grail Guitar show some years ago. 
Millimetric Instruments, Tao Guitars and Cow Brand are contemporary builders that I constantly admire and look up to for their unique and radical approaches. They are probably more influential to me than any of the old stuff at this point.

In the making podcast

J - I've become a regular listener and fan of your podcast, 'In the making' also featuring another Home of Tone 'meet the maker' interviewee, Florian of Millimetric. Although it centers quite specifically around a luthier's point of view of guitar design and building, it offers a great insight into your techniques for the listener. As the episodes have developed, it seems it is becoming a lovely community for guitar makers in it's own right. What made you want to begin a podcast and in particular, base it specifically around luthiery/guitar design?

N - The idea of starting a podcast came to Florian and me seperately around the same time, if I remember correctly. From my side, I thought it was a good way to be able to talk to another guitar builder, and be joined by people we find interesting from time to time. I get a bit lonely sometimes, so it’s a good way to feel in context. It also gives me this nice illustion of having something relevant to say that people find interesting.
The field was still kind of wide open, especially since all the relevant guitar bulding poscasts are North American. We felt like there should be a more European voice, something that would be more content-based and less about business. I am very happy to hear that it feels like a community, because I think in it’s stronger moments, that is what it is. We only talk to people we like and whose work can relate to.

J - Let's talk a little about your models if we may! It's a rather streamlined affair with two shapes in your lineup, The Neptune, and The Owl, with there also being a bass variation of the Owl. Was it a conscious effort to keep your lineup simplified? And if you wouldn't mind talking the reader through the key differences in the models?

N - I would not call it a conscious effort, but I think it makes a lot of sense when you look at my instruments, that there are not five or six models. Also, I haven’t been doing this for more than five years, and coming up with a new model takes inspiration and time.
Neptune was the first model I developed. It is a set-neck guitar with a floating, height-adjustable bridge and (mostly) top-mounted pickups. The Owl originates in making Neptune a double-cutaway. I don’t remember why, but I suddenly really liked the idea of being able to look right through the neck joint, to have the neck suspended, hovering above the body. This is a good description of how I work, actually. I have an idea, sometimes a very specific yet blurry picture in my head, and have to follow that. 
So I worked that neck joint out and The Owl was born, so to speak. The assembly allows for a fixed-height bridge. The Owl also often features sliding pickups, which is an old idea that I found interesting and wondered why nobody was doing it. The Owl is definitely the more experimental and arty model, and is named after the Jason Molina song, 'Alone With The Owl'.
I am currently working on a semi-acoustic model called The Owl The Owl, which is a lot of fun to figure and, and which will hopefully debut at this year’s Sonore Festival in Montreal.
The Owl Bass was originally a custom instrument for bass player Lucas Dietrich, who wanted a super short scale bass with wide string-spacing at the body, like on an upright bass. I liked the outcome so much that I decided to offer it as a model. 
All my guitars feature all-external electronics and my own single coil pickups, which are based on a Berlin-made 1950s archtop guitar pickup I really liked. I use light and resonant woods like poplar, spruce and pine a lot lately, and bog oak, plum, walnut or maple for fretboards. My guitars, through some of their key aspects, are almost like quiet acoustic guitars, a term I stole from Ken Parker. 
All my guitar bodies are finished in a chalk paint made in Germany by a small company called Yellowchair, and then oiled for protection. My necks are either oiled or french polished.

Schorr Guitars interview

J - There aren't many aspects of your guitars which aren't made in house, by hand. Do you think the notion of making your own hardware or pickups for example was out of frustration for existing(or lack of!) items available or was it always the plan to further the unique aspect of your guitars?

N - I usually feel like I am cheating when I don’t make something myself. If I could I would make the machine heads too. When I started building guitars, it was also a good way to learn about materials. Still I would never use a third-party bridge or pickup, because these are such big aspects of the look and the sound of the instrument. It is important to me to feel like the „author“ of the instrument. That being said, I am not generally opposed to outsourcing work. There are situations in which it can make a lot of sense, and I won’t say I will never do it.

J - From listening to your podcast, I have been fond of hearing the differences and also similarities in techniques between yourself and Florian, particularly your use of hand tools. Do you think using hand tools predominantly over power tools is derived from your luthier training? And do you think it affects the final guitar's style at all?

N - The main reason I hardly use power tools is that I spend a lot of time building guitars, and I don’t want to spend my time wearing hearing and breathing protection, worrying if I will stil have all my fingers at the end of the day. The work you do is generally more than half of the time you are not sleeping, so I try to spend it in a way that I like. I also worked for a wonderful classical guitar builder here in Berlin, Angela Waltner, for a couple of years, and I am sure her way of working informed my decisions as well.
I think it affects the look of the guitars, and the construction, too. Maybe I use traditional joinery a lot because I use traditional tools.

Schorr Guitars Interview

J - On a similar note, with so many aspects being completed by hand, do you have a particular stage of a build which you love?

N - I enjoy most aspects really, and they are all such different work. If I had to pick one, I think carving the transition between the headstock and the neck is very rewarding. Getting the v-joint, that attaches the headstock to the neck, right is also lots of fun.

J - One build at Holy Grail that caught my attention was one presented by the EGB, which was a great looking Owl model. I read on the information card about it being a community build alongside Mete Cem Kuzu from Novacorda Guitars & Frank Deimel of Deimel Guitarworks, could you explain perhaps how that came about and the idea behind the community build?

N - The EBG (European Guitar Builders ) Community Build is a project with the goal of getting builders to cooperate. For this years Holy Grail Guitar Show, three groups build an acoustic, an electric and a bass guitar for three female players, which were heavily involved in the process. Another group did a brainstorming in the form of prototype kids’ guitars, with Frank and Kora’s original idea being that it would be a kind of quaility kit guitar that could be assembled by children with little assistance. My guitar featured acrylic top and back, and some heavy carving work done by Michael and Tania Spalt’s son Eric. It was a fun project and we are still hoping to get it to „production“ stage at some point.

Schorr Guitars Interview

J - During my research for this interview, I noted your own recorded music. Do you find any inspiration from your music into the guitars, or even vice versa?

N - I think I build the kind of guitars that I would most enjoy playing myself. Being predominantly an acoustic player, my guitars are not typical electrics, but resonate quite well acoustically and play a lot like vintage German archtops.
I am actually getting ready to record a new album at the moment. I will be playing my own guitars for the first time, and this is actually quite heavily influencing my playing. I use different positions of the sliding pickup, and also utilize the huge amount of extra string behind the bridge from time to time.

J - Where do you see the future for Schorr Guitars? Any projects in the pipeline currently, hardware or new models, collaborations perhaps?

N - I am in a great position at the moment. I already have all build slots filled for this year, and hope to be able to keep working in this way in the coming years. All of my customers so far have been very friendly people, who seem to enjoy their instruments as much as I enjoyed building them. Many of my builds are to a certain extent collaborations between the customer and me.
As mentioned above, I have a semi-acoustic in the works that has been challenging and a lot of fun to develop. I tweak things all the time in my designs and construction, to keep things interesting and make a better instrument.

Schorr Guitars Interview

A huge thanks to Nicolai for his time in talking with me, I really do encourage you to look into his work, perhaps enjoy listening to his podcast or following the social media pages. Regardless of your tastes in guitar, I think Nicolai's approach is fresh and insightful into the new world of luthiery. You can check out his work and podcast via the links below! Thanks for reading, James.


Ty Danco

Ty Danco said:

Is the “In the Making” podcast still available? I found a listing of 11 episodes, but couldn’t get valid files to download.

James Gascoigne

James Gascoigne said:

Hi Ty, Thanks for reading this article :)
As far as I’m aware, sadly Florian & Nicolai stopped recording the podcast, at least for now anyway. I hope they’re able to bring it back to life one day though, one of the few guitar based podcasts I thoroughly enjoyed listening to.

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