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Mark Speer of Khruangbin: the best guitarist you’ve never heard of.

The guitarist of Khruangbin is too humble for the accolades I’m about to give him. Sorry, dude.

Mark Speer of Khruangbin is the best guitarist you’ve never heard of.! He is a musical magician living and playing in our own time. He has a sound and style all his own. No guitarist in the world is doing what he is doing. There are surely some incorporating multiple styles of playing into their overall sound. But, not like this guy! Is there a guitarist you know who incorporates Vietnamese opera vocal stylings or Ethiopian folk instrument technique into their sound. No, you don’t because there is nobody.

If you surf the Tube at all discovering new music, you will have undoubtedly come across at least one Khruangbin thumbnail, even if it flew under the radar of your fleeting attention. If you haven’t, trust me when I proclaim that someone in your circle has. These guys are simply one of the best bands in the world right now. Oh, so you’ve heard of them? What’s the guitarists’ name? Hmm?

Hart’s Guitars hereby announces its first annual Unheard of, Uncanny, Unearthly Guitarist of the year award! The winner is Mark Speer of Khruangbin. I make custom, out of the ordinary nylon string guitars. But maybe some day soon I will get into building electric guitars. If I do, I will most certainly, as a matter of first order, design and make a custom Mark Speer tribute model from my premium collection of Brazilian Rosewood (and maybe a little birds-eye maple).

My favourite guitarist (which, of course, makes him the best guitarist in the world).

If you’ve somehow never heard of Khruangbin, you have a treasure trove of discovery awaiting you! That’s not just for guitarists, mind you. The music they create is a pastiche of so much that is good in music. Musical traditions from around the globe come out in their sound. Mark Speer on guitar, Laura Lee on bass, and DJ Johnson on drums are Khruangbin.

How can one describe Mark Speer’s guitar playing style? At times, there’s a hint of disco guitar drenched with soupy wet pentatonic goodness. But in a flash, it will dry up a bit into an ethereal jazzy chord melody accompaniment for their sparse yet perfect vocals. The thing about this band is that they never try to do too much.

They have finesse. Their sound conjures up so many different musical styles without ever going completely into any particular one. They make it seem so effortless, as if they were born to do exactly what they do. Like an autonomic process requiring no thought, Khruangbin seems to stir their melodious melting pot as easily as the rest of us breathe.

Mark Speer’s musical influences

I was first drawn to Khruangbin when I would often feel the African guitar influence in Mark Speer’s style. There is not simply one African guitar style by any means. But, the first time I began listening to African music, such as Ali Farka Toure or Fela Kuti, I heard the distinct approach to a guitar’s role and function in the wider context of a band. But I also heard other things in Khruangbin’s sound I did not recognize. Let’s take a quick peek at some of the musicians and world music traditions which Mark Speer brings to Khruangbin’s sound.

Vọng cổ

At times, Mark Speer recreates sounds he finds in folkloric music you’ll never hear in your lifetime without actively searching for it. One of those is vọng cổ. I personally had a high opinion of my own world music knowledge and tastes. Mark Speer has introduced me to so many new sounds. The guitar of the vọng cổ style has very deep scalloped frets, enabling the musician to bend the notes, creating a sound that would otherwise require a tremolo for any musician to even approximate.

Franco Luambo

African guitar players are the world’s best guitarists. Period. Go ahead, say something! You don’t want to fight me on this, brah. I could never be a journalist because when I really love something I cannot be objective. This IS an opinion piece, remind you. But seriously, if you have not explored African music, there is another treasure trove awaiting you. One of my favs is Orchestre Baobab. Make a Pandora station based on them and let your mind be blown by all the related bands you’ll hear and all the guitar playing will leave you dumbstruck. This guy, Franco Luambo, is no exception and a big influence named by Mark Speer.

Selam Seyoum

The krar: an Ethiopan musical instrument

How I cheated to write this article….

There’s a great Youtube video in which the cool cats of Khruangbin describe their musical influences. I watched it at least three times. Because I love this band so much, I thought it would be cool to give a bit of elaboration on some of the influences Mark Speer mentions. I’d be simply a thief to not point the reader to this video because it’s where I got all my pertinent information. They speak to their music much more eloquently than I ever could. Here you go, kids! Drink it in.

The video that inspired this article.

Guitarists who give me goosebumps

Mark Speer’s guitar has given me goosebumps more than once. Back in the day…….the first musician who seriously put a spell on me was The Edge. He made colossal soundscapes on U2’s amazing Live Under A Blood Red Sky. It’s still my favourite live album…. of all time! It affected my musical taste and playing style for life. It was the cassette tape soundtrack of my 1971 sky blue Volkswagen Bug all through high school, my 1970 4-speed Camaro in Freshman year of college, in my beautiful FIAT Spyder convertible the rest of the way through college, and in my old, rustic, cool Dodge Dart in grad school. I went through so many changes, became a new person and morphed into new political, intellectual, and social identities. But I never outgrew Live Under A Blood Red Sky.

It never failed to give me goosebumps. As soon as I could afford it with my new fellowship stipend, I got an effects pedal with chorus, distortion, and (most importantly) delay to create my own sound. Much like what Mark Speer does now, I added a dash of everything else I’d heard that grabbed me by the soul: Jimi Hendrix and Robert Smith (The Cure) most notably but among many others.

The timelessness of Mark Speer’s guitar playing.

Khruangbin’s music has some serious staying power. There’s nothing cliché or gimmicky about them and I can see how their entire discography will have a long shelf-life. In fact, there will be a whole generation of guitarists that points back to this guy, Mark Speer, as the one musician who put a spell on them, who had the biggest influence on their sound, and who encouraged them to explore world music. It’s been a long time since I had a genuine guitar hero, one that captured my imagination the way Mark Speer does. Thanks, man! Let me make a guitar for you some day!?!

<strong>Johnny Hart</strong>
Johnny Hart

Public school teacher dropout turned luthier and artist. I want to make guitars I’ve never seen or heard anywhere, ever before, for the curator of the uncommon! I could never find my dream guitar, so I decided to make it and now I want to make yours.

Who is Mark Speer?!

Hart’s Guitars

Some previous articles from Hart’s Guitars

Join the waiting list to have your own custom nylon string guitar built by me!*

Prices start at $3500 and vary depending on wood selection.*

*Currently a 4-month waiting period for your guitar’s delivery.

I can make your guitar at standard scale or shorter for smaller hands/easier playability.

*Current wood choices include:

Backs and sides: Brazilian Rosewood, Mahogany, Bird’s Eye Maple, Black Walnut, Padauk, and more

Soundboards: European Spruce, Western Red Cedar both dried for minimum 50 years. Mahogany! (We’ve made many Mahogany top guitars and Love-Love-Love them! They have a deeper, punchy low end, mellow sound. Great for finding an unheard of sound in the studio).

Fretboards: Brazilian Rosewood, Ebony, Macassar Ebony, Maple, Bird’s Eye Maple, Indian Rosewood, Padauk, Black Walnut, Bolivian Rosewood, Canary Wood

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Guitar 010. The Bird.

I began this making this guitar alongside a student building his in February. Then a pandemic came. We focused on finishing his. To say the least, it has been a very strange gap between my last post and what I have to share today, which is a small gigantic milestone. I want to celebrate the fact that I’ve made 10 guitars.

But, aside from this being a trivial matter considering the moment we find ourselves in, there just really isn’t any reason why the number ten should be any more meaningful than 9. In fact, in some regards, the number 9 is a sacred number (in the Bible and also in other major religious texts and traditions). But, I digress. Let’s get to the pics, shall we.

Hart’s Guitars Ltd Co is back in full swing. Don from Brunswick is coming next week to stay here at The Bamboozle and build a guitar using plans based on an 1864 model of Antonio de Torres, an unrivaled and revolutionary figure in the world of 19th century classical guitar luthiers.

When I get a new set of plans…I trace all the parts, transfer the trace paper to the pieces of wood, cut and sand to shape.

Then I need to make a monstrosity of a jig to bend the sides.

I spend about an entire day building this “side bending machine” for each different guitar.

The guitar is from a set of plans for an 1867 Francisco Gonzalez and he had a much more flamboyant rosette and binding style than most guitars we see today. My intent to make this one in his style really got off to a slow, then ugly start. I almost threw the soundboard away.

I was not even close to happy with the way this was developing. I screwed up. The outer ring is made up of three slices of different species of wood bent to circles. From the outer layer goin in: Brazilian Rosewood, Spanish Cedar, Cocobolo Rosewood. You can see that some of the pieces were damaged especially in the 3 o’clock range. I’ve read that the secret to becoming a better luthier is to become better at covering your mistakes. So, I stayed with it and I’m surely glad I did because I am so proud to say that I turned it into this….
Ugly duckling into swan.
The soundboard is Alaskan Yellow Cedar. The binding that flows along its perimeter is made up of three thin strips of different species of wood that I spent forever and a day cutting, sanding and re-sanding, throwing away, re-cutting and sanding (Cocobolo Rosewood, Maple, & Chakte Viga). They meet up at the corner with with a beautifully made vintage strip of binding I found at a local exotic-wood shop, Carlton’s Rare Woods and Veneers.. The sides of the guitar is bird’s eye maple. I’m beyond satisfied with how this all turned out aesthetically. It added a week to the job of building this instrument, but in my attempt to balance the art and the science of being a luthier, I’ll always have my scales tipped to the art side.

A while back I asked people to vote for the fingerboard to be used. It was a very contested result, split down the middle between choices B and D. So, I threw the results out the window and went with the canary wood, E.

This has been a fun one to play and it sounds really distinct. I’m still letting it “settle in” which is a phenomenon that takes place over a few weeks and longer wherein the instrument plays and sounds a little better with every passing day as you make micro adjustments. It will be available for sale with all of the others, except 001 of course, in the coming days on a newly designed store page, with prices and photo montage videos with audio of the instrument being played.

This instrument sounds amazing. I am ready to sell it with no hesitation for $1795. This is quite a bargain for anyone who knows what hand-crafted guitars go for usually or have seen websites that sell independent-luthier handcrafted classicals. I will personally deliver within a 2 hr radius of Atlanta, GA for gas money and lunch. Honestly, I hate the thought of my instrument sitting in a place where it’s not cherished. If you have buyer’s remorse, there’s a no questions asked 30-day 100% money back guarantee. After that, a lifetime guarantee on anything other than normal wear and tear.

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Guitar 006. Prototype.

This guitar 006 was completed in record time, for me. It has been an experimental guitar in that I drastically changed the shape , moved the sound hole, again, and even shortened the scale to 580 mm (22.8″). This is an ideal shape for a travel guitar or for a young person who is interested in learning the guitar, among other things. It’s simply easier to play but still sounds like a regular guitar. The same construction principles were used as with all the other ones. Sometimes this is referred to as a “half-size.” By the numbers, it’s not a half size but actually 90% of a regular sized guitar. A glass half full is one thing but this is a guitar 9/10ths full. Nevertheless, the little change in size makes a big difference in the change of comfortability of play, especially for people who aren’t professionals or who have hand sizes that are not matching well with the “full size” models.

Yellow Alaskan Cedar, maple fretboard, mahogany sides, and sapele back, cocobolo end piece.

Comfortability while playing an instrument is the number one reason individuals don’t get past certain points in their guitar playing development because their hands hurt after a short amount of time. One of the worst things that can happen to a young person interested in learning to play the guitar is to give that poor soul a guitar that hurts to play. Adults who never learned an instrument and find themselves wanting to learn often buy a cheaper guitar to sort of dip their toe in the pool before diving into serious study. This guitar would be perfect for these situations as would my previous guitar, 005. There is a way to calculate the ideal guitar scale size for any person and that is exactly what I’ll do for you when I make your custom guitar. I hope everyone is having a good Christmas season, a happy Hanukkah, and a cool Kwanza. Here are a few pics of the new instrument.

This is probably the last guitar I’ll make for 2019. I plan to do some home renovation work I plan to build cabinets for at least a partial remodel of my kitchen and also gonna explore some creative ideas for taking out the carpet In a basement bedroom and doing a mixed harwood floor using plywood and scrap wood. Plywood floors are a thing and they look pretty cool. I also hope to find time to do a thorough setup of my fledgling luthier’s shop. Maybe I’ll sit and write a couple of posts thru all of this.

If you are interested in buying this guitar, let me know with a message. $225.