This Koa jumbo has astonishing balance and tone. It belongs to poet and musician Songmuang "Summer" Greer. He shared this with us about a month after his new guitar was delivered:
"I've been putting as much play on my new guitar as my fingers will take, and it really does sound better every day. It's quite astonishing. This guitar really is the best guitar I've ever played *in every way*, and it's not even a month old. The response, tone quality, and playability are not only excellent but *flexible* as well. I can strum hard without overdriving the top and I can pick lightly or play fingerstyle and still get a full tone at low dynamic levels. This instrument would allow a player with excellent technique to explore unique dynamic and tonal possibilities. I only hope I can keep up with the guitar as it opens up - it certainly inspires me to play. Since we both have connections to the flute, I'll use a flute analogy to describe my perception of the tone I get from this guitar. Flute players and builders try to make flutes resemble a pleasing human voice, but they have the benefit of wind instruments that allow the player to at least hold out and shape a note. Guitars can't do that. Yet this guitar has such a characteristic tone that it sounds like the echo of a voice, which I have no doubt will become more distinct. Now all I have to do is learn what it's telling me."
John had this to say about his new custom Ken Miller: "I've had your (now mine!) guitar for about five months and I couldn't be happier with it. The intonation is perfect and the the punch and tone unbelievable. I just put some new strings on and wow! What a cannon! I want to thank you for the care you put into the instrument. Everyone who sees it marvels at its beauty and tone."
"I'm picky and demanding when it comes to guitars. I want my guitar to sound sweet and gentle on ballads, gutsy and gutteral on the blues. I want it to ring like a bell for bluegrass and sing out elegantly for swing and jazz. Most of all, I want it to be responsive and loud, so I don't have to struggle to get sound out of it. Only a handful of guitars I've ever played fulfill this requirement completely. My Ken Miller guitar is one of them, and it has a unique voice which somehow manages to sound traditional and/or modern as the music requires. In addition, it is simply a joy to hear and FEEL it resonate. The neck profile and setup are so perfect that I never even think about whether it's comfortable or not. In the bargain, it's a thing of beauty to behold (thanks in part to Virginia's amazing and tasteful inlay work), and it grows prettier every year as the face darkens. It is one purchase I've never regretted, and one of just a couple guitars which are definitely here for the duration."
"I've owned many guitars in my musical career: Collings, Martins, Taylors, Gallaghers and now I own a cherrished Ken Miller Guitar.It is the most beautiful of all the guitars I have ever owned. Made of a figured Babinga African tonewood for the back and sides and Red Spruce top and braces. But beauty is only skin deep. Ken's building skills are among the top few in the world. Coupled with Virginia's ability to create imaginative and intricate inlay patterns. They have crafted my guitar for beauty and to have the most even and balanced tone possible. It has the punch and volume of an old herringbone and the warmth and grace of a Ramirez classical. Whatever sound, whatever song, whatever tone I need, I can find it in my Ken Miller Guitar." http://www.flatpik.com/Steve-Kaufman-Acoustic-Kamp
"Ken Miller has to be one of the pre-eminent custom, small-shop guitar builders of the new millennium. In my opinion, his work can be added to the pantheon of master luthiers widely known among flatpickers: Henderson, Walker, Hoover, Huss, Proulx. There are many good builders, but few can turn such humble materials into the magnificent tonal and aesthetic creations that are Ken’s instruments. Last summer I commissioned my second guitar with Ken and Virginia, based on two words I saw on their web site – “The Tree.”
Ken started building my guitar in 1965, although he did not know it at the time. In 1965 lumber mill scouts in Honduras' Chicibul jungle located a “magnificent mutant,” a mahogany giant, and cut it. Because of the way the cut tree fell and its overwhelming size, it was not until the early 70’s that a company with heavy equipment pulled the tree in sections from the rain forest and sawed it into boards. This was the beginning of the legend of “The Tree” which is described in an article by Mark Berry in the 1985 September/October issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. I had also read about “The Tree” in an article by Bob Taylor some years ago. George Lucas, creator Star Wars, apparently had his office in San Francisco paneled with it.
Ken indicated that he had managed to obtain 3 sets of “The Tree,” an auspicious and fortunate beginning to a great guitar. He called it “Brazilian favored mahogany.” We agreed that he would bring the wood to Kamp for a preview, including a “surprise” top set. So, I first saw my new guitar -- wooden pieces stacked next to the sink between the Kamp doctors’ rooms in Carnegie, the beginning of # 118: thin ribbons of dark Brazilian binding, a chocolate and caramel piece of Brazilian veneer, a long thin strip of black Ebony, two pieces of the dark, hard, glassy “Tree” with big quilt and three-dimensional figure even unfinished. The surprise top was an extremely rare piece of wide-grain Adirondack spruce with bearclaw. I don’t mean red spruce with occasional spots of bearclaw here and there, but top to bottom symmetrical bearclaw carved into the plank-board, wide grain.
Add to the fine collection of stacked wood pieces, stainless steel fret wire, mother of pearl pieces, oil varnish, and a set of hard-to-find “Tony” turners from Stew-Mac. We agreed that he would work to deliver the finished guitar by Christmas.
Two weeks before Christmas I received a note from Ken. “Poor news” the e-mail read. Ken had carved and mounted the neck, and he did not like something he saw in the neck wood. He decided to fashion a second one. This meant no Tree for Christmas. I was disappointed by the timing, but I was also pleased. I took this as another positive indication of Ken’s need to create the perfect neck for the already perfect body, without flaws or doubts.
Ground Hog Day about two months later, I received a note that it will be shipped within the next week. The silence is broken. The wait begins for what my friend Mike calls, “the brown truck of happiness.”
As it sits on my guitar stand now, I see stunning perfection, understated at a short distance, but full of marvelous details when held up close. I’d forgotten about the highly figured, Brazilian bridge mounted with hand carved walrus ivory pins with matching end and strap pins. There is no guitar like it, and probably nothing like it again.
How does it sound? Right out of the box, it was loud, focused, and commanding -- a guitar for playing lead. The trebles ring clear on all frets. The bass is dry mahogany, but a bit darker and richer than my other mahogany guitars. Ken’s guitars have a light build, the kind that delivers rib rattling bass from the back. The mid’s are really indescribable. They are not bluegrass mid’s but strong and cutting nonetheless. I attribute this special mid-range to the dovetail neck joint, a construction that delivers the open “G” note the entire length of the guitar. The setup of the Les Paul-shaped neck is perfect. A fine red line of wood separates the ebony fretboard and the Brazilian fretboard binding, pearl fretboard dots, and still more visual subtlety to distract me when I look down."
The back and sides are darker than most mahogany and with enough big, 3-D quilt to make a sailor seasick. Most of the expense of the guitar is in the back and sides. The varnish finish delivered all the excitement and beauty I expected.
Doubtless finer and more expensive guitars have been built, but today none finer in sight or sound than #118. Thank you Ken and Virginia."
February 9, 2008
"Last year I commissioned Ken Miller to build me a custom dreadnought guitar. I received my guitar on Wednesday and I want to say a public THANK YOU to Ken and Virginia for building me a Masterpiece.
My guitar is made of Black Brazilian Rosewood (back and sides), and is from the same set of wood as Old 97 but with out the orange strip. The top is Adirondack Spruce.
Virginia did the inlay of a Dragon from a sketch I made. When I made the sketch I never imagined that the details would be recreatable but somehow Virginia was able to far out do my expectations for which I am beyond grateful for.
The guitar has a short scale neck which makes medium strings feel like butter and Ken put a small bevel where the right arm rests to make it more comfortable. It is like having a recliner for your picking arm!
This is the most comfortable guitar I have ever played and it is also the easiest acoustic guitar I have ever played. Like all of Ken's guitars, it is LOUD! It of course sounds wonderful and has that Ken Miller sound. I am very proud to have it and equally overjoyed to have it. It will provide tough competition for my 1939 Martin D18.
Again, Ken and Virginia, thanks for making my Dragon come true!
"I have to say here that I played Old 97 before it went to it's home, and it was the best sounding dread that Ken and Virginia had built to date, with mine being a close second. If your guitar is of the same stock as that one, it should be a fine sounding guitar.
Mine is Brazilian, but of different stock than those two. In the past two months this guitar has started to really open up. It doesn't have the big boomy Martin sound that a lot of folks seem to be going for these days, while it does have great balance and plenty of bottom end. But it has the drier woody tone that simulates the vintage stuff closer to my ears. It mics well because of that character, imo. While I have always enjoyed playing this guitar, in the last couple of months it has just gotten so much stronger, and I have some pretty strong stuff around at times to compare it to, and it holds it's own very well."
"Seeing Phil Anania's glowing account of his new Ken and Virginia Miller creation -- #108 : Dragon -- I am moved to report on its sibling, Old 97, which I have had in hand for the past 14 or 15 months.
And that's where it has been -- literally -- for most of those months: in my hands being played and played and played, and then played some more.
It has become my guitar of choice when playing out, and it never fails to garner multiple compliments on its tone and power, some of which (quite accurately) note how truly fine the guitar must be to shine through the hum-drum picking being applied to it by its current custodian. (The preceding was a "McGaughy Moment", an inside, inside joke.)
Since I have a couple of fine alternatives from which to choose, I keep coming back to Old 97 because I really like the way it plays and the way it sounds. It has also become my in-house cure for GAS. Whenever I get to thinking about maybe purchasing another, I just pick up Old 97 and realize how futile it would be to try to find something better.
There are so many great guitar makers (not to mention makers of great guitars) who frequent this list, and I am incredibly pleased and proud to have one of Ken and Virginia's finest right here.
Phil, if your Dragon 108 is anything like Old 97 -- and I'm confident that it will not be lacking in that old Miller Magic -- you've got a real winner on your hands. Pick it in good health."
Ken & Virginia,
I have a breathtakingly beautiful, magnificently brilliant, hand-crafted custom built Ukulele which has a label in it that says, "Kenneth Miller".
This Kenneth Miller must be some sort of mythical dragon because only a dragon could build such an exalted musical piece.
There really are no words that do this instrument any justice. One really has to see it, hold it, smell it, and strum it's strings to fully grasp the meaning of expert craftsmanship. Simply put this musical instrument is amazingly beautiful and sounds like a million dollars.
Thank you both for all of the time and effort you put into building what I'll call the Eudy Ukulele.
Thanks again for an awesome musical instrument.
Mary bought a Ken Miller quilted mahogany dreadnaught for me a couple of years ago. It is far superior to the Martin and Gibson guitars we have had and comparable to the very expensive pre-war Martins owned by a friend who is a collector. The sound is crisp and clear and the volume is exceptional even with light gauge strings. I can easily be heard even playing with several banjos and fiddles! The guitar is very easy to play and frets true up the neck. I couldn't be more pleased.
I have a Martin D-21 from the 60's. This was one of the last made from old growth coastal Brazilian Rosewood and is considered collectable and was valued at $3,000 ten years ago. Ken did extensive work on it for me which made it easier to play and much louder. However my Ken Miller guitar totally blows it away. I have played very expensive pre-war Martins which come close and a variety of other guitars, but have played nothing better IMHO.
It is a beautifully made and tastefully ornamented guitar with spalted magnolia around the sound hole and an Anhinga inlayed on the peg head. The quilted mahogany is very beautiful.
If I ever get another guitar it will be another Ken Miller, probably with a different wood for variety. On the other hand if I never get another guitar it won't matter because I am so pleased with the one I have.
If you pick up a guitar and it says, “Take me, I’m yours,” then that’s the one for you.---Frank Zappa
There is a chapter in Philip Toshio Sudo’s, Zen Guitar, called “Pick Up Your Guitar.”
Here is a bit of his advice on choosing the perfect guitar for his Zen method.
# Go into the world and find the instrument that’s waiting for you, the one you are meant to play.
# There’s an instrument for everyone.
# What’s important is that when you pick it up, it makes a sound that’s beautiful to you.
# Avoid poor craftsmanship; it’s a sign of a poor spirit.
# Learn to identify quality and appreciate anything that’s well made, wherever you find it.
Ken Miller certainly didn’t have me in mind for Little Star when he built her with care and spirit,
but even a banjo picker could tell from the first time she held Little Star, that this was a very
special guitar filled with wonder and special tunes.
Ken, I couldn’t be happier with this guitar. Love the ziricote, Spanish cedar, green snail, ivory,
gold and especially the black pearl tuning buttons. I love it that even with the parlour sized body
—it still has a full bodied guitar voice.
I can gently touch a note and it rings out loud and clear — perfect for a student of Zen guitar.
Thanks so much Ken and Virginia for building such a spirited and wonderful guitar pal for me.
Mary Z. Cox