Six years ago, when Greg Opatik founded a boutique guitar company called Sinuous Guitars in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he had two Charles Eames quotes stored in his toolbox. The first: “The role of the designer is that of a good host anticipating the needs of his guests.” And second: “Good design has a ‘way-it-should-be-ness.’ If something was really well-designed, then the idea of it being designed shouldn’t come up at all.” These are two of the core philosophies that breathed life into Charles and Ray’s wide array of timeless products still in high demand after so many years. Opatik understood when he started Sinuous that these were more than just the creeds of some mid-century designer; they were the foundation of good, honest design.
As is true with any well-made product, along with the mind and hands behind it, the Sinuous story is one of process, and while the company was founded in 2009, it was many years prior that the journey began. Opatik was twelve years old when he started playing the guitar, and he instantly fell in love with the instrument. Later, while in high school in West Michigan, he also took a great interest in shop class.
Whereas most students were satisfied with a simple coat-rack that only mom could love, shop class was where he designed and built his first two guitars. “Everything I did seemed to look like a spinoff of other guitars,” Opatik explained of his early experience. “I quickly realized I was not interested in building another knockoff guitar, and looking back, I realize authenticity was extremely important to me then. Later, when I could take what I learned about Charles and Ray’s philosophy and thoughts on design and craftsmanship, I was able to take a new look at designing an electric guitar.”
Now, as an adult working full time as the Director of Design & Development for Genesis Seating, Opatik has worked both with and for Herman Miller for the last seventeen years on the classics collection, including the timeless Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman. “I am not just working on and maintaining these pieces of furniture,” Opatik said, “I am a student of the way Charles and Ray built in authenticity and craftsmanship during the design process, and how it should withstand the test of time. This is what I brought into my work on Sinuous Guitars.”
Opatik suggests that electric guitars, similar to sports cars, can have a soul. He believes this is because of the vast variance in performance from one guitar to the next. “The way they look and sound, and the way they feel and perform from the first day to 10 years down the road, all give them their own life and personality. The connection the owner is going to have with an object with a soul is going to be a very emotional one that starts the first time they lay their eyes on it. An object with soul deserves to be very well-thought-out in the design process and that is something the Eameses did very well.”
Sinuous Guitars first came onto my radar in 2011, when a staff member of the Eames Office sent me an article about Opatik’s luthier endeavor and his connection to Charles and Ray Eames. One can’t help but ogle over how remarkably beautiful these guitars are. It is apparent upon first glance why these instruments have “Sinuous” stamped on the headstock and just how fitting of a name it is. But like the Eameses and their contemporaries, the product, while eye-catching, does not fall short of function.
The curves of the guitar were not cut that way for show—its not just some flashy gimmick. The guitar was cut that way for a very specific and well-thought-out purpose: comfort. The contour of this ergonomic guitar actually allows for a more enjoyable playing experience for the guitarist. “I am not the only one trying to make electric guitars more comfortable. Not to say all current guitars are uncomfortable, but when you play a Sinuous Guitar you will feel the difference and will be more relaxed while playing.”
Opatik explained what makes Sinuous Guitars so unique: “The upper section wraps and conforms to your body, almost hugging you, and the lower section rolls away where you do not want it hitting you. It is thin, light weight and really bends where your strumming arm rests, bringing your hand comfortably down to the strings versus having to bend your arm around the body of the guitar. This makes playing for long periods of time easier on your body; it’s something you need to play to experience.”
Lucky for me, I was able to experience that comfort first hand. While I admit that, previously, I never had any complaints about the comfort of my guitars, after holding a Sinuous Guitar, nothing else had that “way-it-should-be-ness” that Opatik’s guitars possess. It just fit.
The guitars are made of poplar wood, which is not only great for tone, but according to Opatik, it is also softer and more flexible than many other wood species, allowing them to press and bend these guitars into shape with heat and pressure. This is how he creates the ergonomic contours of the guitar, of which Opatik has a design and utility patent. He explained that, “It then gets machined on a 5-axis CNC. Most other guitars use glued planks of wood that would require being around five inches thick to get the contours that we have because of this process. Charles and Ray really contributed to helping get compound curves into wood.”
According to Opatik, one of his biggest challenges as a progressive-thinking guitar designer is to get the guitar-playing crowd to accept new and unique shapes or designs. “As wild and radical as the guitar crowd poses to be, at the end of the day, most are traditionalists looking for another Les Paul, Strat or Tele, etc. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with these. Let’s face it, the 50s and 60s were a very inspirational design era for more than just furniture, but these guitars were not designed using these same design principles at this time. Charles once said that ‘One must always admit the influence of those who have gone before,’ and these guitars of the past really have the ownership of certain guitar design details. But instead of thinking what these guitar designs are doing, I spend more time on thinking what they are not doing, and ask myself how I can contribute to the situation.”
The world doesn’t need another electric guitar, but according to Opatik, it could use another cool one. Sinuous Guitars are certainly that. Available in several different finishes, I am drawn to the signature Palisander wood finish, which is also one of the most popular finishes available for the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman.
Photos by Wojtek Dabrowski