James L. Mapson Guitars
Handcrafted Archtop Guitars
3230 South Susan Street
Santa Ana, CA 92704
Tel: 714-754-6566
James L. Mapson

Price List
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Background and Construction Philosophy

I am located in Southern California in Orange County. I began building instruments in 1995. I am a member of NAMM, ASIA, and GAL, and have displayed instruments at the NAMM Anaheim California Annual Convention, the Healdsburg Guitar Festival, the Long Island NY Classic Guitar Show, and the NAJA National Association of Jazz Artists Annual Convention. I hand carve 8-12 archtop instruments annually to order and enjoy working directly with the player, personalizing each guitar's aesthetics and sound.

Technique and Design

As a self taught luthier, many of my ideas come from studying what is published in books and taught at various seminars and publications available to members of trade organizations (GAL, ASIA), as well as the open book of ideas shared freely between builders. Empirical evolution of the designs is a constant refinement of my instruments based on the reality of what works best. This can only come through careful building of 'quality' instruments, as opposed to 'quantity'.

I am currently exploring the theory's of Robert Benedetto and James D'Aquisto. Bob has volumes of published material easily obtainable, while James D'Aquisto passed away with only a few interviews and understudies, as well as his instruments, to draw from.

Tools of the Trade

My experience in tool and die design and fabrication, and computer aided design has provided the foundation of my approach to designing and building archtop guitars. Metal work and metal working machinery deal in accuracy's of .001", roughly 1/3 the diameter of a human hair. The discipline and techniques required to work this precisely is helpful in understanding and controlling the outcome of each instrument.

For instance, instead of a hand held router and Plexiglas/wooden jigs to cut the dovetail joint in the body and neck, I utilize a vertical 3 axis milling machine with digital readouts (.0001" increments). This means I can very precisely hold a 3.5 degree neck angle with a .003" slip fit (for glue gap) if I want. The result is better control of construction dimensions in the areas that matter.

By using CAD to design my instruments, I can debug the design before cutting wood. My customer can get a rendering for approval prior to beginning construction. My system outputs dimensioned prints for use in the shop to create tooling. I can enter the top arch and desired string action, for any scale length and compute the exact neck angle required to achieve a desired saddle height.


It all starts with obtaining the best quality and appropriate species of wood available. I utilize suppliers as close to the source of cutting as possible, to be sure of the origin and age of the wood. I resaw, thickness sand, and store the wood stickered; monitoring changes in moisture content periodically.

I use domestic sources for Bigleaf Maple back and sides, and Engelmann, Colorado Blue, and Sitka Spruces for tops. My European woods are typically German Maple and Spruce from a supplier of Cello and Violin wood.

Once a customer defines the parameters of the instrument and its use, I will select complementary woods and the appropriate dimensions of arch carve, bracing, and body depth to compile the voice we are looking for.

Tap Tuning

This phrase means many things to many builders. For myself, I prefer the term 'tap response optimized'. This refers to the process of carving, bracing, and recurve (final carving) of the back. The goal is to establish the most efficient transfer of string energy through the top, and the most sensitive reaction of the back to the air placed in motion by the top vibrating.

These instruments tend to have enough treble and upper-midrange by design. The real task is to develop a balanced spectrum of tone by bringing lower-midrange and bass projection out of the back. This is where a production line approach sacrifices the last 20% that can mean the difference between an average or a spectacular voiced instrument. Each of my guitars in a batch will have a week where I work only on it, devoting my full attention to developing and maximizing its voice.


Although these instruments can stand on their own merits acoustically, the reality of the range of performing venues makes electric pickups a necessity for most professional musicians. If the customer knows the setup he wants, I can accommodate most applications. The typical installation is a floating humbucker in the neck position, mounted on the pickguard, with volume and tone controls. I have had good results with a custom pickup made for me by Kent Armstrong with adjustable poles. Setups are checked through an Evans Jazz amplifier. Done correctly, the electronics should not detract from the acoustic quality of the instrument. A good mix of the pickup output plus a mike near the lower sound hole produces a very pleasant and full archtop sound.

Guitar Models
Bop City
Jazz Bandit
Jazz Standard