Linda Manzer is a master luthier with some 35 years of guitar making under her belt. She makes flat tops, archtops and some very unusual guitars by customer request. She builds the hard way, by hand—no CNC in her shop. Linda’s designs are simple yet elegant at first glance, with lovely, carefully selected woods meticulously built into musical works of art. She also has deep artistic instincts and a great sense of humor that show in her amazing inlay work.
Linda apprenticed with Jean Larrivée, learning the nuts and bolts of fine craftsmanship, then she went to New York to spend a year studying archtop building with master Jimmy D’Aquisto. She has built instruments for some inspiring pickers, such as Carlos Santana, Stephen Fearing, and Bruce Cockburn, and has enjoyed a long, fruitful association with Pat Metheny.
Which came first for you, woodworking or guitars
Guitars, definitely. I was a folksinger in high school, and I have always been pretty handy. The woodworking followed when I wanted a dulcimer. I needed to make one, because I couldn’t afford one. Building a dulcimer from a kit when I was a teenager was the beginning of my building career.
Do you play guitar?
Yes! Not terribly well anymore. I am secretly studying piano.
Did you learn inlay with Jean Larrivée?
Yes, it started at Larrivée, working with two talented, innovative inlay artists: Tony Duggan- Smith and Heather McCrae (Tony is a gifted guitar builder/restorer as well). Heather and Tony designed the original inlay for Larrivée. They were inspirational to me. My studies at art college were also very influential. Inlay allows me to express some rather fun concepts on the guitar. It’s the icing on the cake.
It seems like there are two sides to luthiery, the crafts side and the artistic side. Some builders lean a bit one way or the other, but you seem to really strike a balance. How do you see the role of your artistic side as it affects the craft side of building?
Photos by Brian Pickell.
I went to two art colleges and painted and silkscreened, dabbled in photography and animation, yet I found myself in the woodworking shop making dulcimers. I like the tangible side of making an object. I like to see something concrete at the end of a day, and sometimes that was elusive with conceptual art, which was the trend when I was in art college.
How did your Wedge design come about
The Manzer “Wedge” was first designed and implemented in 1984 on my 42-string Pikasso Guitar for Pat Metheny, a much wider instrument than my normal six-string and one requiring a longer reach for the right hand to play all the strings. It was also important to figure out a way for Pat Metheny to see the strings from above, so he wouldn’t get lost when he was playing.
At this time I was bantering ideas around with a friend, Tony Duggan-Smith, another former Larrivée apprentice. While trying to figure out how to achieve my goals without compromising the sound, it became clear to us that by tapering the body, the box volume could remain the same (maintaining low end) while the depth of the body could be decreased under the right arm, providing better comfort and visual access to the top. I then set about to bring the concept to life and voila! The Pikasso and Wedge were born. From the mid-eighties, I started including the Wedge as a design feature in my other smaller models. Since then, it has been a common option on my steel-string and classical models, and more recently on my archtops. For those who may be wondering if a “wedged” Manzer Guitar sounds different than the non-wedged version, I have noticed no effect on tone or volume. I believe this is because the overall internal air volume is the same as my regular guitars.