This is a feature from the September/October 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on Prince and his guitars, virtuoso guitarist Paul Gilbert and his insatiable lust for guitars and passion for sharing his knowledge, the story behind Creedence Clearwater Revival’s breakthrough year, a visit to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.
UNHEAVY METAL: Ozztosh Luma S
By Richard Bienstock | Photography by Massimo Gammacurta
Brian Ostosh is not your typical guitar builder. For one thing, he’s never played guitar, though he is well versed in piano, marimba, flute, and piccolo. Furthermore, he spent much of his adult life working not in the MI industry but in aeronautics. After retiring a few years ago, he switched his focus to guitar making, a move that, in his estimation, is not as radical a shift as it may seem.
“I’ve always been fascinated with building things,” he says. “When I was young it was surfboards, because I’m from Southern California. Then it was canoes. After that, aircraft.” The connecting thread? “They’re all hollow, lightweight structures,” he continues. “So when it came to the guitar, I just used that same knowledge, even though I had never built a guitar in my life.”
Given his unique background, it’s hardly surprising that Ostosh’s guitars, which he builds under the company name Ozztosh, are untraditional. Take the model shown here, the Luma S, which, at first glance, bears a resemblance in shape, pickguard style, and pickup configuration to a Fender Stratocaster (hence the S in its designation). But the instrument’s brilliant reflective surface is the first hint that this is not an ordinary electric guitar. Rather, every Ozztosh creation boasts a body crafted from 6061 aluminum alloy, the same material, Ostosh says, that is used in the construction of Boeing aircraft.
Of course, Ostosh is hardly the first builder to employ metals in his creations. But one of the more appealing aspects of his metal bodies, he says, is how thin he is able to cut them. “In my years in aeronautics I did a lot of molds for wings and wing tips and things where lightness is important,” he says. “So I learned how to cut very, very light parts. I translated that machining knowledge to guitar bodies to keep the weight down. One thing I realized from looking at other aluminum guitars is that when you’re coming from the world of wood construction, you design heavier pieces because you don’t realize how strong aluminum is. But the strength of aluminum is phenomenal compared to, say, maple.”
In Ostosh’s guitars, the tops and backs are carved and partially routed from two 35-pound solid blocks of aircraft-grade 6061 aluminum billet and then joined together with machine screws. Inside, Ostosh explains, “a vertical wall keeps the top and back from collapsing,” adding that he has received a U.S. Patent for the contiguous sound chambers resulting from the hollowed-out body cavity. As for what the chambered aluminum body offers in terms of tone? “I would say clarity, accuracy, distinctiveness,” Ostosh says. “There’s no absorption. I would compare it to a xylophone versus a marimba: wood key verses metal key. When I was younger I played in a marching band, and you could hear the guy with the glockenspiel over the other 120 instruments. That’s the sound of metal.”
Continuing the non-wood theme, the Luma S boasts a Moses Graphite neck and fretboard, while the pickguard is CNC-machined aluminum-alloy finished on this example in a blue-tinted polyurethane clear coat. Other features include a trio of Nordstrand NVS pickups (“their most basic duplication of the Stratocaster single-coils,” Ostosh says), a Super-Vee BladeRunner bridge, Sperzel Trim-Lok tuners, a Graph Tech Tusq nut, one master volume and two tone knobs, and a three-way selector switch. The guitar shown here boasts a stunning basic polish finish, though, Ostosh says, “We can put any finish on the aluminum. We’re experimenting with direct-embed coating, automotive paint, and laser etching. We can do things that are impossible with wood.” That customization applies to every facet of an Ozztosh instrument, from pickup and pickguard options to guitar necks, which Ostosh recently began crafting from the same billet aluminum used for his bodies.
As for whether he believes tonewood purists will find his aluminum instruments appealing, Ostosh acknowledges that he is fighting traditionalists. “But when people hear the guitar first, they don’t know it’s metal until they pick it up, because the tonality, richness, and clarity are so incredible.” And in some areas, he continues, aluminum is clearly superior to wood. “Sustain, for one—it’s just incredible,” Ostosh says. “And stability—we send these things cross-country by FedEx, and when they’re picked up on the other end they’re still in tune. They’re rigid and they’re not affected by humidity. They’re ready to go at all times.”
Ostosh is just getting started in his new career—at present he has built roughly 15 Ozztosh guitars in three different models—the Luma S, the Luma T (similar in shape to a Telecaster), and the Luma P-Bass. But he believes his guitar-building days will be somewhat limited, due to a degenerative eye disease that will eventually compromise his vision. “My plan is to get these designs out of my head, onto the computer, and into reality,” he says.
To that end, he’s currently working on a new design. “I’m developing an amp head chassis,” he announces. “It’ll be billet aluminum, shiny on the outside, and will absorb the heat from the tube. Hopefully we’ll have that for the NAMM show next year. That’s the next super-project to come.”
LIST PRICE: $5,995
Ozztosh Luma Guitars, ozztosh.com
Want to read more from this issue? Order your copy of Guitar Aficionado‘s September/October 2016 issue today by clicking HERE.
This is a feature from the September/October 2016 issue of Guitar This is a feature from the September/October 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this complete story and more photos, plus features on Prince and his guitars, virtuoso guitarist Paul Gilbert and his insatiable lust for guitars and passion for sharing his knowledge, the story behind Creedence Clearwater Revival’s breakthrough year, a visit to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and much more, and much more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.