Dörr sisters by Stańczuk

full story

Sergiusz Stańczuk


It happens to all of us, by no means exclusively to luthiers: events that are unforeseen, astounding and utterly unexpected, all the more so when they instantly spark some ingenious outcome in one’s mind. And it was exactly one of those times. Following a standard repair, the instrument’s owner, instead of the usual payment, offered to me a particular item that he meant to make use of in creating a sculpture (him being a visual artist and a sculptor rolled into one), but after consideration decided none of his works required. Later he told me he bought it in one of Warsaw’s flea markets – on the cheap, naturally. The price I paid for it was somewhat higher, nonetheless accepted without haggling, because (as said before) I immediately hit upon a serious purpose for the item in question. That item was a spruce soundboard of an old grand piano, with its maker’s label containing the instrument’s serial number.

As it turned out, the piano was made in Austria and precisely in Vienna, the country’s capital, around 200 years ago. Its maker, Carl Dörr, labelled it with a serial number 5317. Here begins the story of two unique guitars that I took upon myself to build soon after.

Carl Dörr

First, I decided to educate myself and find out, who Carl Dörr was and in what time period he worked as an instrument maker. After all, I was to make use of the fruit of his craft roughly 200 years after him, in late 2023 and early into 2024. Here’s what my online research managed to unearth:

Daniel Von Dörr was one of the first piano manufacturers in Vienna, first registered as one in 1817. He was recorded as a working craftsman in Vienna throughout the 1820s and 1830s, but apart from that, very little is known about him. Later in the 19th century Viennese records list the presence of a piano maker called Carl Dörr, presumably the son of Daniel Von Dörr. References may also be found to a piano-making enterprise by the name of “Dörr Piano Manufacturing Company, Wieder Hauptstr. 117, Vienna”, assumed to have evolved from the combined businesses of Carl and Daniel Von Dörr. Their surviving pianos are specimens of impeccable quality and craftsmanship, most commonly made of exquisitely carved exotic woods. The last mention of the name Carl Dörr is dated in 1920.”

End of note. Now, a word of appeal: anyone who is reading this, should they possess some broader knowledge concerning Viennese grand pianos and their makers, please contact me at sergiuszstanczuk@gmail.com.

How 200-year-old spruce turns into a guitar (two of them, to be precise)

It is a well-known fact that resonance spruce is luthier’s pure gold, for there is no lutherie without it, but to come upon a quantity of spruce that is old, seasoned and played-in, having been performing as a part of an instrument (a grand piano, in this case) for 200 years and not just laying idly in some attic or elsewhere – that’s altogether a pipe dream and a great windfall, should it happen for real. It also sparks the craftsman’s imagination: the opportunity to extend the life of such a piece of wood, to bring another instrument out of it, to save it from oblivion, and so it effectively crystallizes their time for the upcoming months. Here the starting point is in my line of work.

The label bearing the piano maker’s name and the instrument’s serial number, also displays three coats of arms that certify royal warrants of appointment, i.e. point out that Carl Dörr was at that time a purveyor of instruments to three European courts, including the imperial court of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (the middle coat of arms).

Old piano ribs will provide the bracing in both new guitars.

I meditated upon the choice of body shape and measured which of them were within my reach. Starting off, I was going to build the biggest guitar in my builder’s catalogue, the baritone, and the second one was to be the smallest (almost), namely the parlour. Finally, instead of the baritone, I settled on the classic dreadnought, but that happened later. For the time being, he baritone was the plan. Here’s what the parts of the future instruments looked like:

For that set I bought a substantial amount of mother-of-pearl, which turned into two rosettes right about that time. The rosettes are practically twins (in everything but size), because the finished guitars are going to be very much alike. I figured that since they were to be brought forth out of one instrument, then I would make them a set, of sorts.

Here are the bracing struts in their raw state, more or less ready to be glued in.

The next step was to design and carve the necks, headstocks and fingerboards. Ebony, mahogany and mother-of-pearl crossed paths in a dance of Benedictine work.

Before the enterprise went underway, I had to think through all the materials I was going to use. That applies to any guitar project in general and is worth doing even before the tools are sharpened. The selection of materials is wide, of course, for the sides and back of any guitar can be made of various exotic tonewoods – mahogany, rosewood, walnut, cocobolo and many others. I tried to determine which wood would best complement that exceptional spruce. My eventual choice was gradually becoming clear, but it’s neither uncomplicated nor in any way easy on the pocket to obtain the kind of wood I had in mind. Which was Brazilian rosewood. Dalbergia nigra. The Holy Grail of guitar luthiers, as well as a CITES-protected tonewood variety. This international convention requires the amount of purchased wood, put in cubic centimetres, to be expressed with the accuracy of two decimal places. The day this valuable material “knocked on my door” was a very special day for me. 2901,36 cc of excitement. 0,003 metros cúbicos – the wood was shipped from Spain, so its entire certificate was in Spanish. I went absolutely nuts! See for yourselves:

Then the enterprise gathered momentum and everything was going smoothly (until it wasn’t).

After both instruments were closed, mother-of-pearl, ebony and sycamore were called upon again for their destinies to be entwined in a final union.

At this stage you can look at the future with more ease, because the final lap is now well within sight. The bridge, fret markers, joining the neck to the soundbox, carving the neck and fingerboard profiles, the frets…

The final stage of guitar-building is, for me, an exceedingly thankless affair, full of dust stuffing every corner of my workshop and settling on all those who are there (usually myself and Norvid – my dog). All surfaces must be cleaned before varnishing, which means picking through various sandpaper grits to remove any toolmarks, scratches, scuffs, flecks and scrapes from literally every nook and cranny of the guitar. Filler must be applied into all pores of the wood to finally lacquer and buff its surface. Only then it’s fun time: setting the scale length, installing the tuners, carving the bone for the nut and the saddle, polishing the frets, setting string action. And striking that first chord. For me, it’s usually E major in my favourite inversion. It’s only after all those things are done that the guitar can be put away in its case and another challenge pondered. I have a great job and believe me, although there’s a thousand things to be produced, found, calculated, ordered and considered before another hand-crafted guitar comes into being, things I haven’t described here – the answer, to me, is always the same: worth it.


There is one final chord left in my venture adventure with the instruments I’m talking about – the last remaining piece of the spruce soundboard. Containing the label signature of the maker of that grand piano to which I became so bonded. I decided to divide that piece in two parts, which would – paradoxically – bring the two guitars together. That leftover spruce yielded two pickguards. I don’t usually put pickguards in luthier guitars (unless the client expressly wishes me to), but when I do, they are made of transparent 1-mm-thick adhesive foil, which does not cover the wood grain figure; when the soundboard is made of highest-quality tonewood, no luthier, I deem, would be willing to obscure it. The pickguard protects the finish and the wood itself against the elated player’s pick or fingernails. Obviously, not everybody needs it – I know numerous guitar players technically proficient enough to abandon the pickguard, but I know others as well, who are not bothered when their instrument is scuffed or even scratched right through, down to the bracing. The history of music knows them too. Nonetheless, I searched for a common thread, to tie the guitars in at first glance, and so resolved to make that last piece of spruce into two pickguards, to be glued on top of the soundboards.

Final results

Dreadnought Dörr-30D

Parlor Dörr-30P

Both guitars are (were) available at Happy Guitar

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