The sweet sound of success
by BETTIE MARLOWE
Jul 27, 2011 | 1276 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GUITAR MAKER PAUL BRZOZOWSKI shows a favorite one of his guitars — an instrument shaped like the state of Tennessee made from Tennessee hardwoods: cedar and poplar. On the wall hangs the first guitar he made, which is not for sale. Photos by WILLIAM WRIGHT
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Guitar maker Paul Brzozowski builds a unique guitar and gives his craft a unique name — Tsunami, meaning a “wall of sound.”

And “sound” is what makes his guitar a “standout.” He has his shop set up to build small, curved items (like guitars). To begin, he listed the engineering changes to make in order to produce the perfect sound while, at the same time, keeping the instrument beautiful. “I wanted my guitars to look good and sound better,” he said.

And his target market was to be a group of musicians who would spend less than $1,000 on a guitar and those who were outstanding players, but “had not hit the big time,” Brzozowski confided. His custom guitars run in the price range of $400 to $700.

He said he decided that pickups mounted directly to a large piece of wood or a sheet of laminated plastic were not the answer to the best sound. “I really did not believe strings could vibrate a solid wood body or plastic pickguard enough to make a difference in the sound.”

So in crafting the instrument, Brzozowski routed out a large chamber in the solid body, and mounted a thin pickguard made of hardwoods directly over the chamber to hold the pickup and controls. The instrument’s neck is bolted on, since, he says, it didn’t make any difference in the sound and could be done at a more reasonable cost.

Brzozowski said, “In the end, I created a guitar with a tonal chamber below the pickups with a solid 1/3-inch pickguard mounted to the face of the body holding all electronics. The pickguard can vibrate ever so slightly with the strings and the magnetic fields of the pickups vibrate along with it, giving my guitars longer sustain and hotter attack.”

His guitars are also works of art. Woods such as white oak, Pennsylvania cherry (trees from the 1900s), redheart, African woods, bloodwood, Tennessee cedar (with its red grain), purple heart, brown oak, maple hardwood poplar and other exotic woods work together as he custom-crafts each Tsunami guitar to enable players to pick, “and the sound will keep going ... going ... going and going ...” he said.

His first guitar experience was in 1965 at the age of 15 when he bought a Danelectro Bellzouki in Laramie, Wyo., at the only music store in the area. It was a 12-string teardrop model — “those 12 strings were a siren song to me” — which he took home, tuned and played a few chords upon. He sold it about two months later when his parents didn’t see the need for guitar lessons. But it started him on the road of using his skills to created lasting treasures of wood which spanned four decades.

In 1971, Brzozowski was honing his woodworking skills in the shop he set up in the attic of his bungalow where he and his wife, just recently married, lived in Norfolk, Va. His first table saw was an upside-down circular saw mounted to a wooden bench and he got his wood from a nearby veneer plant. He said he built everything from tool chests to chairs to end tables. But in 1975, they moved to the Poconos, leaving the source of exotic woods.

In 1976, he joined with a good friend and began operating a refinishing service — a non-stop work refinishing everything from chairs to pianos — that continued for 12 years.

After closing the shop, Brzozowski focused on things he liked — building anything that had curves. “I’ve always loved the possibilities of a set of French curves in your hands,” he said, “letting the pencil line wander into something wonderful and beautiful.

After going through a divorce, Brzozowski remarried in 2005 and journeyed to Shanghai, China for 16 months to work for a furniture company. It was in China, he says, that “my faith in the non-straight-edge world was reinforced.” He bought a Chinese harp and a yang Ch’in (like an overbuilt hammered dulcimer), along with an acoustic guitar. His playing began to make progress and he was able to play simple songs.

He returned to the U.S. in 2007 and spent a year working on his motorcycle collection. He still had his “day job” working for the furniture company as manager, and one day a coworker asked him since it was obvious he wasn’t going to be a world-class guitarist, would he ‘consider building a guitar?’” The challenge was there.

With all the great luthiers out there, Brzozowski asked himself, “How could I possibly compete?”

His almost four decades of woodworking skills took a detour with that question. He went home, checked out his tools and his collection of instruments and asked himself, “What would I do differently?” And a musical interest at age 15 gave impetus to a work of love at 60.

A few weeks later, Brzozowski showed his co-worker his first guitar. The man took it home and the next day, offered Brzozowski $400 for it, saying the sustain and ease of play was like nothing he had held.

The guitar maker didn’t sell it. That first guitar he created hangs on the wall of his small workshop in the basement of his home. Next to it, another guitar shares the honors — one shaped like the state of Tennessee.

Brzozowski said his guitars are “babies to me, hand-built right down to the neck pocket.” He said no two are ever alike. He doesn’t have CAD or a CNC machine — just standard woodworking tools such as a planer, jointer, routers, a table saw and lots of hand tools and ... his set of French curves. He uses only nitrocellulose lacquer, but if a player wants color, he has a small bake oven.

Since he started in 2009, he has built 27 guitars. He has sold 20 in the last year and gave some away, one to Ooltewah United Methodist Church, where he attends. There are three bands playing his guitars, he said. Some send drawings of what they want in a custom guitar with certain necks and pickups.

They’re guaranteed. If the buyer is not happy, he can return it in its new condition and get all the money back. So far, only one has been brought back and that just for some tweaking. “I want to make the buyer happy,” he added.

Brzozowski told of a bluegrass player — 74 years old — from Kentucky who came to see him. Brzozowski had just finished a guitar the night before and when the man played it, he said, “No way can this sound this good — got to be the amp.”

He then tried a different amplifier with the same response. Brzozowski let the man have the guitar for $400. He said, “Not much compared to the world class luthiers, but to me, I put a wonderful sound into the hands of a 50-year-old veteran of bluegrass who sounded like Chet Atkins. You cannot ask for more than that.”

To learn more about the Tsunami Guitars, visit www.tsunaiguitars.com or email Brzozowski at tsuamiguitars@gmail.com.