Mike Kinal – Luthier Extraordinaire

Mike Kinal with one of his custom built jazz guitars

You don’t have to spend much time with Mike Kinal to find that he knows a bit about building basses and guitars.  That of course is an understatement.  Mike has been building instruments for some forty years and estimates he’s built about 500 basses and guitars.

Mike recently opened his shop to 101 Basses.  I’d seen his work before and was surprised by the size of his work shop.  Mike does most of his work in what is essentially a single car garage.  Mike’s day job is  a high school teacher, so some of the work is done in the school’s wood shop.

Mike Kinal’s Workbench

Regardless of size, Mike’s workshop is a model of efficiency.  No space is wasted and everything has a place. While we were talking I’d ask about how something is done and Mike would pull the appropriate tool from some nook or cranny.

A ton-o-clamps

Clamp Wall

Arctop in progress and some of the planes used to shape the top

Somebody once told me that you can tell a good carpenter by how many clamps they have.  Mike has a wall full of them.  But you can see why when you see some of the acoustic and hollow-bodied instruments he builds. Mike showed us an archtop guitar that is a work in progress.

This looks like an old time guitar and violin lutherie, with lot of tiny planes and a gauge to insure the instruments top have a uniform thickness.

Mike’s work is anything but production line.  We saw, it seemed maybe a dozen or more guitars and basses that were in various stages of completion.  A number of them were solid body basses, a few were what he calls the Kompact Bass.

Kompact Bass

I had a chance to play the Kompact Bass at the Vancouver Guitar Show.  It was interesting to see one while it was under construction.  The neck was rough sawn with no fingerboard and just a slot where the truss rod will go.  The top was loosely fitted and not cut quite to size.

It was strange to see these beautiful instruments in their raw form.  But once completed these are truly fine pieces of woodworking.

Prototype Semi-Acoustic Guitar (You saw it here first!)

One instrument that Mike was working on was a prototype for a flat top semi-acoustic guitar.  This guitar’s construction is not like a traditional acoustic guitar but rather like a Rickenbacker semi-acoustic where the chambers are routed from a solid piece of wood and a thicker flat top is attached to the main part of the body.  I love this styling and would love a chance to play it in a bass.  Maybe fretless!

Piles of wood stacked on a warm dry room.

One thing that I’m just starting to learn about is tone woods.  Mike has a wealth of knowledge in this area.  Mike’s shop has a drying area where he stores piles of wood that will eventually be used to make instruments.  The last thing you want is for the wood to dry out after construction.  The pile contains more types of wood than I could name here.  Everything from koa to rosewood to ebony and many types of maple.

Wood Sample Board

Mike spent some time explaining how to hear the different sounds of wood.  He had a piece of rosewood and a piece of ebony.  Both were cut to be used as fretboards.  He showed that by hanging the piece of wood with one hand and flicking it with your finger with the other hand how the woods sounded different.  I was surprised at how much ring came from the ebony.

With all the choices of woods to use for instruments, Mike uses a sample board to show how the various woods will look when finished with natural gloss Varathane.  Before the wood is finished it all looks very dull.

Terri, Mike and his new prototype guitar.

The photo here does not show the colours and grain well.  But this is a great way for someone to see what the finished wood will look like.  Its amazing how the finish brings out the warmth and personality of the wood.  For me, the Koa was absolutely beautiful.

My visit to Mike Kinal’s shop was a great lot of fun.  And I learned volumes about lutherie.  Thanks to Mike for showing us around and allowing us take lots of pictures and play some of his instruments.

Stay tuned for more on Kinal Basses as we head to Mike’s music room and try out a few finished basses.

Thanks Mike!


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