Austin-area guitar builder/repairman Tony Nobles was, like everyone else in in high school wood shop class, needing an idea for something to build. Unimpressed with classmates’ ideas to construct various napkin holders, gun racks, and pipes, he ordered an acoustic guitar kit. And in the Martin D-18 copy he built that semester, Nobles found his calling. After high school, he studied Industrial Technology, and in the summer after his Junior year, he went to work for Austin luthier Mark Erlewine. After finishing his Bachelor’s degree, he stayed on at Erlewine’s shop, doing warranty work for Martin, Fender, Gibson, and Guild, and building custom guitars for the likes of Billy Gibbons, Johnny Winter, and others.
In 1993, Nobles opened his own shop, Precision Guitar Works, where he repairs and builds guitars of all varieties, including Kendrick solidbodies for fellow VG contributor Gerald Weber. These days, however, Nobles’ efforts are focused on building what he calls “heirloom-quality” acoustics that are exemplary works of the luthier’s art. Wanting to see if his efforts were up to snuff, we recently asked Tony if we could take a look.
In terms of size and design, the Nobles 006 model is reminiscent of a vintage Gibson L-00, but with a bit more slope in the shoulders. Its 251/2″-scale mahogany neck meets the body at the 12th fret (the guitar has 18 frets total, all flawless in fit and finish). The ebony fretboard, headstock, and top are dressed with multi-ply binding highlighted by natural-finished maple that nicely complements the curly maple heal cap. The slotted headstock is capped with ebony, with a striking abalone torch inlay. Engraved open-back Waverly tuning machines with ivory buttons, combined with its gloss black finish, give the guitar a notable vintage vibe. A black pickguard completes the aesthetic.
The guitar’s V-profile neck is very comfortable, with a wide neck that measures 17/8″ at the nut, succintly dressed up by abalone side markers. It uses a dual-action truss rod hidden under a discrete cover. The nut, bridge saddle, and bridge pins are all cut from high-quality, unbleached bone, while the banner bridge is made of ebony, and the body topped with solid Adirondack spruce – the same material used for the bracing. Peeking inside further reveals Nobles’ flawless craftsmanship; Nobles uses an X-brace pattern shifted slightly toward the soundhole.
Sound-wise, this guitar has very full low-end with no boominess, and crystal-clear highs along with an abundance of vintage midrange punch. Tonal balance is perfect; the 006 sounds broken-in. This is one of the best-sounding acoustic guitars we’ve reviewed.
The Nobles Exhibition is a single-cone resonator with body and neck dimensions very similar to the 006, using the same maple binding, torch inlay, ebony headstock faceplate, and bone nut.
The Exhibition also gets a curly maple neck topped with an ebony fretboard. Frets are flawlessly installed and highly polished, and on this one, the Waverly tuners sport ebony keys.
The key differences between this guitar and the 006 include a body of solid curly maple, flawlessly finished in a light tobaccoburst lacquer, and the visually arresting cathedral-motif coverplate, tailpiece, and soundholes are made of antiqued brass with a metal mesh covering. It makes for a beautiful look.
The Excaliber’s sound is produced in part by a spun-aluminum Quartermane biscuit-style cone with a maple saddle topped with ebony. And as with the 006, the level of craftsmanship is especially noteworthy. The Excaliber uses graphite to reinforce the neck, as there is no adjustable truss rod. The neck on ours was very straight and even.
We tuned the Excaliber to open G and grabbed a slide. The guitar, with its oh-so-warm-sounding wood body, quickly revealed a unique tone we heard as a cross between a Dobro and a National. It’s not quite as loud as a metal-body, but it’s got sustain to rival one. And this is a very musical-sounding resonator with a pleasant tone, not tinny or trashy.
The Nobles 006 and Exhibition are crafted with obvious care – Tony is a stickler for tone, and both guitars offer plenty of it.
Tony Nobles 006
Features Solid Mahogany back and sides, Adirondack spruce top, maple neck, ebony fretboard, maple triple-binding, adjustable dual-action truss rod, graphite-reinforced neck, engraved Waverly open-back tuners, black lacquer finish
Tony Nobles Exhibition
Features Adirondack Spruce tops and bracing, ebony fingerboards, slotted headstock, engraved open-back Waverly tuners, TKL hard case, Quarterman biscuit cone.
Contact Hill Country Guitars, 11 Old Kyle Road, Suite 200, Wimberley, TX 78676; phone (512) 847-8677; hillcountry
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.