The works of master luthiers on display at the 2010 Montreal Guitar Show
The best guitar makers in the world can walk down the street unnoticed. In some cases, they are unknown even to the faithful who play their instruments. Heck, the word “luthier” isn’t even in most dictionaries. This is fitting, actually. Most luthiers are happy to fly under the radar and quietly work on their craft. Avoiding the spotlight seems to be part of the job description. You might have a different opinion, however, after taking a stroll across the Montreal Guitar Show floor.
The MGS is like an all-star game for luthiers. More than 130 of the best guitar makers in the world were at the fourth iteration of the event showing off their stuff, sharing their design philosophies, and soaking up a high level of appreciation from A-list artists, fellow gear makers, and fans of stringed instruments. Some of the luthiers’ reputations preceded them. Some were relative newcomers whose innovative work got them an invitation to exhibit.
For attendees in the market for a handcrafted instrument as well as those just curious to see and hear some cool stuff, the MGS was the proverbial candy store for wide-eyed, eager kids. More than 60 mini concerts took place, pairing notable musicians with guitars right off the show floor. There were workshops. There were lectures. Oh, and the world-famous Montreal Jazz Festival was going on right outside the door.
It’s impossible to crystallize the event in a few magazine pages, but here’s a taste of what we encountered this year.
The Papaléocada by Jean-Yves Alquier (alquier-guitar.com) is a lap steel made of a stainless steel exoskeleton and 115 pieces of grain-matched curly maple. The matching KT66-driven amp was made by Christophe Jégou (guitares.jegou.free.fr/web).
LEFT: Michael McCarthy specializes in acoustic archtops that he builds using a CNC machine to carve self-bracing tops. mccarthystringedinstruments.com
RIGHT: Prairiewood Guitars’ Midwesterner (left) features a butternut body, while the Hardtop (right) has an Eastern maple body. prairiewoodguitars.com
LEFT: Ken Bonfield demonstrates Alan Carruth’s latest creation, a harp guitar with a separate soundboard for the bass strings. Carruth built it as part of a competition in which luthiers create instruments from materials that cost less than $100. alcarruthluthier.com
RIGHT: Tom Ribbecke’s fan-fret Halfling is so-named because it combines a bass side that’s flat like a steel-string acoustic with a treble side that’s carved like an archtop. ribbecke.com
The Cherry Seven guitars by (left to right): Randy Muth (rsmuthguitars.com), Joseph Hart (hartguitars.ca), Jeremy Anderson (legatolutherie.com), Marc Saumier (archtop, saumierguitars.com), Alan Carruth (alcarruthlithier.com), Marc Saumier (classical), and Joshua House (houseguitars.com).
In 2009, Marc Saumier, a Canadian luthier who builds guitars exclusively from woods he cuts in nearby forests in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, had a bold idea: invite a group of luthiers to each build an instrument using wood from the same trees. In addition to Saumier, five other luthiers took part in the project—Randy Muth, Joshua House, Alan Carruth, Jeremy Anderson, and Joseph Hart. These six builders created seven instruments (Saumier contributed two) from red spruce, black cherry, and Eastern hop hornbean that Saumier sawed himself and provided to his fellow builders. Because each guitar features a cherrywood back and sides, the endeavor quickly became known as the Cherry Seven Project.
Exhibited as a collection at this year’s show, the seven guitars attracted a lot of attention for their sonic appeal and visual beauty. Though the woods used in these acoustics came from the same logs, each guitar emerged from its respective workshop with a unique look and sound, proving it’s a luthier’s hands—not the materials he uses—that ultimately determines an instrument’s character.
With his Cherry Seven Project, Saumier wanted to prove a point. “I make my instruments entirely from local woods, including cherry, maple, butternut, red spruce, hornbean, poplar, basswood, blue beech, Eastern hemlock, Eastern white cedar, willow, and apple,” he said. “Though our native hardwoods are not as dense as some of the more exotic woods from the rain forests or Africa, it is certainly possible to make master-grade instruments from local materials.”
LEFT: C.P. Thornton’s HTL model honors the classic Fender Strat but features a 4.5-degree neck angle meant to make the 25"-scale guitar immediately comfortable for players used to a Les Paul. cpthorntonguitars.com
RIGHT: Edward Klein has developed a reputation for bringing head-turning designs to Montreal every year. This year he brought two guitars with metal sides that were bolted to the top and back. edwardkleinguitars.com
LEFT: Michael Potvin’s Mercury GT features a black-walnut body with a maple top, while the Ranchero Grande Thinline has a flamed, spalted maple top and back with a mahogany core. potvinguitars.com
MIDDLE: This custom archtop by Claudio Pagelli reflects his philosophy that “Jazz is not symmetrical.” pagelli.com
RIGHT: Kenji Sugita guitars are known for their small neck joints and elegant touches. sugitakenji.com
LEFT: Dimitri M. Tenev custom archtops feature a 25.5" scale length and Florentine or Venetian cutaways. dmtguitars.com
MIDDLE: These jazz guitars were built by Sigmund Johannessen, a senior luthier and instructor at the Summit School for Guitar Building and Repair. summitguitars.com
RIGHT: Dean Campbell made this UK-1 for Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski of the Screaming Headless Torsos and the Jack DeJohnette Group. campbellamerican.com
Dutch guitarist Teye, who is known for his flamenco playing and his work with Joe Ely, incorporates classical and flamenco guitar construction techniques into his striking A-, S-, and T-Series lines of guitars. teye-guitars.com
Michael Greenfield’s guitars are all unique and handcrafted to the tastes and playing styles of his clients. He makes about 15 instruments a year. The harp guitar in the center was delivered to Andy McKee during the show. greenfieldguitars.com