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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.
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?
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.