When I started building guitars in 1974, I assumed that, given a few years of experience, I’d pretty much figure out the secrets of guitar making. It didn’t take long to realize how naive this assumption was, but by then I was hooked and it was too late to turn back.
To say that guitar making is a challenge would certainly be an understatement and this is probably the main reason why I’ve remained excited all these years and still look forward to going to work each day. I also realize that I am very fortunate to have a career that I love. What could be better? It is truly mind-boggling to realize that I will never come close to unlocking all the secrets to the world of guitar making. Some might find this reality hopelessly frustrating, but I see it as an exciting and stimulating challenge. There is always so much to learn.
As a guitar builder I can expand my knowledge in many different directions. Of course, there is the purely technical aspect of 1st class craftsmanship. This is an area that I love and the possibilities are endless. You can keep getting better & better if you try.
As well, there is the understanding of sound production and bracing, not to mention the ever evolving area of aesthetic design and the constant improving of production methods and efficiency. This is an ongoing learning process but is absolutely essential if one wants to actually make a living at building guitars.
There are other areas of knowledge as well but, as you can see, there is no limit to the amount that can be learned. I can say without exaggeration that not a week goes by that I don’t learn something new. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the design of my guitars. Since my instruments are constantly evolving, I notice significant changes in guitars that are only a couple of years old! These can range from purely cosmetic to structural or general design changes. But the thing is, they are continually developing as my knowledge grows. Now I realize that in many cases these changes may be obvious to me alone. It’s also true that this doesn’t mean my older guitars can’t be excellent instruments. As an example, Cathy Miller, the talented Canadian singer songwriter has owned and used her Beneteau since 1977 and it plays and sounds great. Still I like to think that my latest guitars are my best, having the accumulated knowledge of 26 years behind them.
In summing up, I’d have to say that my work is rewarding, sometimes frustrating, always interesting and more than anything else stimulating and challenging. It works for me.
From the first time I saw Bocote wood I was struck by it’s rich beauty. I find the colours both warm and brilliant. The contrast of the golden amber and the darker grain lines was beautifully striking.
Like many guitar makers, I am always on the lookout for beautiful or unique tonewoods. While visiting one of my favourite wood shops a while back I came across some stunning Flamed Granadillo. This wood was incredible with an amazing curly figure throughout combined with a contrasting figured white sapwood along the edge.
2 1/2 years ago Don Ross approached me asking if I would consider taking on a Harp Guitar project. Though my first inclination was to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction, I soon warmed up to the idea and was pretty excited about the challenge involved.
I've seen a lot of changes in the guitar making world since building my first instrument back in 1974. At that time there were no personal computers and the idea of a world wide web would have sounded not only amazing but the stuff of science fiction. When I started out there were only a handful of books on the subject and these were not easy to find. I did devour the few that I came across and this, besides meeting Jean Larrivee in 1975, was the extent of my access to established knowledge on the subject. I learned by studying quality instruments but mostly by trial and error.
I find myself building and promoting, or is that promoting and building more maple guitars recently. I’ve really come to love this wood in its many figured varieties. Flamed or curly maple, birdseye and quilted maple all have their own unique visual characteristics. It took me a long time to warm up to the idea of maple as a guitar wood, but now I really enjoy working with it. I guess in the early days, you could say I was a bit of a purist, using only Mahogany and Rosewood.
One of the attractions of guitar building for me is the ability to create a wide range of guitars starting with one basic model. Even small detail changes can greatly alter the character of an instrument. In this talk, I’d like to show you what I mean.
As I touched on in an earlier guitar talk things have changed greatly in the realm of guitar wood choices. Not so long ago, an instrument made with a non traditional wood (something other than Rosewood, Mahogany or Maple) on the back & sides of a guitar was a rare sight.
As with many other design features on my guitars, the soundhole inlay has gone through a series of transformations over the years.
My first few instruments had a simple ring of alternating dark & light wooden strips. This was simple to execute and served the purpose and my somewhat limited skills at the time.
When I built my first guitar in1974 which, incidentally, I still have, I was under no illusions as to the quality of the finished product. In fact, I used an old set of Kluson tuners salvaged from a Gibson I had owned, thinking that I wanted to improve my skills before spending hard earned money on new machine heads.