Magnatone Giveawya

August Issue
more... Builder ProfileAcousticJune 2011Charles Fox

Builder Profile: Charles Fox

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Builder Profile: Charles Fox


This Ergo Blanc grand concert has quilted-sapele back and sides and snakewood bridge and bindings.

When did you build your first guitar, and what drove you to get into lutherie?

I built my first guitar in the mid 1960s. Today’s thriving artisan guitar-making scene didn’t exist, and North American guitars were still virtually all factory-made. In the mid '60s, though, the guitar was emerging as the magical Excalibur-like counterculture power object that inspired the post-war youth generation to break free and boogie. The music, the drugs, the dramatic social changes, and our shared belief in a brilliant future . . . it was all incredibly empowering, and anyone with a new idea, insight, or dream felt more free than ever before to just go ahead and do it. So that was the zeitgeist when a number of us independently took it into our heads to build our own guitar.


This Ergo Blanc features a grand-concert body with Brazilian rosewood back and sides, a Honduran mahogany neck, and a Gabon ebony fretboard.
I was in my 20s then, with a master of fine arts degree, painting and teaching art in Chicago and studying flamenco guitar at the Sherry-Brener guitar shop—at that time, the US distributor for Ram’rez and other handmade Spanish guitars. Like so many other soon-to-be-luthiers, I wanted a guitar that I couldn’t afford. Buying a Spanish, handmade flamenco instrument was out of the question on my budget, and no economically priced student flamencos were available. But the real things were there in the store for me to examine, and by chance there were some guitar-making materials for sale there, as well—though I’m not sure why. I’m sure I wouldn’t be a luthier today without that serendipitous combination of frustrated desire, available examples and materials, and being still young and cocky enough to decide to just build my own damn guitar. Thus, a life began.

You’ve influenced or taught or supported the early efforts of a lot of other builders, and with the American School of Lutherie, you’re working with more builders all the time. Was teaching always part of your mission?

I was a teacher before I was a guitar maker. Education has always been important to me. I founded the first school for guitar makers in North America in Vermont in 1973 during a leave of absence from my position as head of the high-school art department in Hanover, New Hampshire. Since then, I’ve introduced the craft to many hundreds of individuals and taken experienced builders further on their path. Along the way, I developed the basic learning model and teaching formats used by other guitar-making classes and schools, of which there are so many today in North America. Since closing a demanding full-time version of my school in California in 2002 and downsizing to my Portland, Oregon, home workshop, I specialize in intensive, short-term, full-immersion classes designed for busy working adults—beginners and experienced guitar makers for whom long-term study isn’t an option. I enjoy the high energy and focus of working this way, and one- and two-week classes are easier to schedule into the rest of my guitar-making life.

How did you establish the American School of Lutherie?


Charles shaping a back-and-rim assembly’s two-piece linings in his Portland, Oregon, workshop.
The current version of the school that I began so long ago dates from 1993, when I moved to Healdsburg, California. It grew into a full-time program of short- and long-term classes, a teaching staff, and a roster of guest instructors like John Monteleone, Jeff Traugott, Frank Ford, Don MacRostie, Jeff Elliott, Dana Bourgeois, Rick Turner, and others. But running the business was all consuming and eventually left no time for my own guitar making. In 2002, my wife and business partner, Denise, and I relocated to Portland and downsized ASL to a program of small, intimate classes taught by myself here in my home workshop. I still work full-time, but the current mix of teaching and building my own guitars is more balanced—and it feels almost like retirement to me.

You have several classes for a multitude of experience levels, right? Can you tell us a little about your Hands-On Acoustic Guitar Making course?

It’s a short-term, intensive workshop in which you’ll work long hours every day building a no-compromise, performance-quality guitar. You’ll build an acoustic steel-string or classical instrument in two weeks, and a solidbody electric guitar in seven days. These are not kit-assembly classes. Every step is explained and demonstrated as you work from the raw materials, learning every step of the guitar-making process—from parts making to final setup. On the last day of class, you’ll be playing your new guitar. The class is designed to be the best possible foundation for continued self-learning.

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