More and more young people have been coming into our shop lately, wondering how to prepare for a career as an instrument maker. Should I be the voice of reason and advise them to pursue a less exclusive career path, like the NFL?
More and more young
people have been coming
into our shop lately, wondering
how to prepare for a career as
an instrument maker. Most of
them are still in high school,
the time when kids are trying
to figure out if they should be
doctors, lawyers, cowboys, or
astronauts—and at least around
here, guitar makers. I’m always
at a bit of a loss for what to tell
them. Should I be the voice of
reason and advise them to pursue
a less exclusive career path,
like the NFL?
With 32 teams and 53 roster positions each, there are 1,696 jobs available as a player in the NFL. I conducted a completely unscientific survey by adding up the number of employees at the guitar factories, small shops, and one- and two-man operations. My totally off-the-wall estimate indicates there may actually be fewer available positions as a professional American acoustic guitar builder than a professional football player. Maybe the best way to tell people how to get where they think they want to go is to tell them about the guys who work for us, and how they each ended up in this exclusive little club.
John Calkin has a degree as a gunsmith, but his experience putting together a dulcimer kit in his bedroom in the mid-’70s took him down this path. One of his friends who built muzzle-loaders had some shop space and machinery to share, and John was soon building and selling dulcimers. He eventually moved into his own space and began answering orders for mandolins, bouzoukis, banjos, electric guitars, and acoustics. Like a lot of builders from that era, he had to figure it all out as he went. John came onboard after interviewing us for a magazine article and has been part of our team for about 14 years now.
Dean Jones grew up in a musical family from Alabama (his uncle played Dobro with Hank Williams) and inherited his father’s love of woodworking. He went to college to major in art, but ended up with a business degree and spent seven years working in and managing bookstores. His interest in instruments and woodworking eventually led him to the Roberto Venn School of Lutherie and a job in our shop after graduation.
Ben Critzer came to us after answering an ad we placed in our local paper. He first picked up the guitar during the Great Folk Scare of the early ’60s. After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1971, he spent years working for newspapers and doing PR before a midlife switch to landscaping work, which led to an appreciation of working with his hands. Ben’s solid background (combined with some disappointing lutherie- school dreamers at the time) made him a great choice, even though he had no experience in this line of work. Ben sprays all of our finish and has been with us for over five years.
Ken McAlack’s path to our shop is similar to Ben’s. Ken grew up in the ’60s playing rock ’n’ roll, fighting the pressure to conform, until the realities of a wife and children made him buckle and get a “real job.” Auto mechanics had always come to him naturally, so he set out on a career path that eventually led to managing large service departments for auto dealerships. But he always vowed that after the kids were grown and college was paid for, he was going to do what he really wanted to do. A tour of our shop seven years ago was an eye-opener for Ken, and we just happened to be looking for a buffer. His enthusiasm and obvious eye for detail convinced us to give him a chance. Most of the guitars that have come out of our shop in the last several years owe their beautiful shine to Ken’s skilled hands.
Jeff Hill got his first guitar at age eight after seeing George Hamilton IV play “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” But as an Indiana kid, the pressure to play basketball was too great—he was soon convinced that guitar wasn’t cool and caved to the pressure. Three decades later he took up the guitar again. As an auto mechanic, he was curious about how his guitar was made and worked, and was soon spending his summers at Frank Finocchio’s weeklong guitar building and repair camps. A tour of our shop on a day we were interviewing potential employees caused him to impulsively pick up an application. Despite the unanimous advice of his girlfriend and parents that he was crazy, he resigned his position managing an auto repair service and came to work with us. His mother now proudly introduces him as her “guitar-making son.”
Danny Dollinger is our most recent hire. He grew up near Virginia’s legendary Wayne Henderson and spent as much time as he could hanging around Wayne’s shop as a kid. A lifelong musician, Danny could never afford the repair work that his instruments needed, so he learned to do things on his own. That led to a three-year stint in Texas working under repairman Mark Erlewine, and then the eventual start of his own repair business. A tour of our shop (there seems to be a theme here) at an opportune time turned into a position as our resident fret masher.
Six very different people took six unique paths to our door, and I’m not sure what overall lesson you can draw from their experience. Considering the comparison to the NFL (which, at the time I was writing this column, had still not figured how to agreeably divide the nine billion dollars they generate), they would have all been better off lifting weights and taking steroids!
co-owner of Huss & Dalton Guitar Company, moved to Virginia in the late ’80s to play bluegrass. He and his business partner, Mark Dalton, formed their company in 1995. Since then they’ve earned world-wide recognition for their high-end, boutique guitars and banjos.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
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Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.