Lacey Nightingale

The Lacey Guitars website features some stunning examples of Mark Lacey's archtop work, along with a star-studded client list. But you won't find anything like this Lacey Nightingale (inv. AM4327, $4850). In fact you won't see any flat top guitars at all.

A Lacey flat top is a rarity. In the United States, it's as rare as rare can get. "About three years ago, my Japanese distributor asked me to make some large-body flat tops," Lacey said. "I made five for the Japanese market. This one I built for myself, in early 1999."

A flat top, Lacey said, "is a whole different beast. There's almost as much work because you have all that internal bracing to deal with. I like the sound of flat tops. They have a more delicate sound than an archtop has."

Like all of Lacey's guitars, the Nightingale is a beautiful piece of work, with highly flamed maple for the back, sides and neck, but Lacey did not make it just as a showcase piece. It was made to be played -- live, by Mark himself. When he's not making guitars, he's playing one with Mitch Ballard and His Big-Ass Swing Band.

The Nightingale is truly a player's guitar, with a 25" scale ("because that's the scale that I'm comfortable with," Mark explained), fast action and a Fishman Acoustic Matrix II pickup. The acoustic sound is, in a word, "Big!" Lacey said. "It's very balanced compared to some J-200s, where they're all low-end and nothing else."

The Nightingale reflects Lacey's major archtop influences -- D'Angeleco, D'Aquisto and Gibson. His peghead has the ornamental cutout from the D'A heritage, and the fingerboard inlay derives from the slashed blocks of a D'A or a Gibson Super 400s. The neck is classic archtop style, of three-piece maple with mahogany laminate strips. The 17 1/8"-wide body with the circular lower bout is unmistakably modeled after a Gibson J-200. The finish is a warmer (redder) version of Gibson's tobacco sunburst. Inside bracing is standard flat-top scalloped X-pattern.

The folks at Gruhn Guitars are particularly glad to have a Lacey guitar because he's one of a long line of former employees who've made an impact as instrument builders (the list includes Stephen Gilchrist, Kim Walker, Marty Lanham and Paul McGill). A graduate of the prestigious Musical Instrument Technology program at the London College of Furniture and Interior Design, Lacey spent four years working for Norway's largest instrument importer. In 1981 George Gruhn brought Lacey to the U.S. and battled the immigration service for two years to get Lacey a green card. (See the Lacey Guitars website for the complete story.)

Lacey's work at Gruhn Guitars and in later experiences as a repairman served him well as a builder. "I've had the opportunity to examine in detail many of the older archtops and I incorporate their best features in my own guitars," he said. "Having done a great deal of repairs over the years one learns how not to build a guitar."

He moved to Los Angeles in 1983 to work for Bill Lawrence and then for Voltage Brothers. In 1986 Gruhn again enlisted Lacey's help, this time to work in quality control and as a design engineer for Guild Guitars in Westerly, RI. (Gruhn was a partner in Guild at the time.)

Lacey returned to L.A. in July 1988 and opened the Guitar Garage just off Sunset Strip to repair and build guitars. In 1995 he returned to the Nashville area where he builds about 15 guitars a year for an all-star clientele that includes Aerosmith, Jackson Browne, Herb Ellis, Pink Floyd, John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, Frank Gambale, Leo Kottke, Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul McCartney, Sting, Andy Summers and Stevie Ray Vaughn.