Surrounded by friends who played the guitar, it was in my third year of college that I finally picked up the instrument and started to play. Around the same time I started attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival each year, and that exposed me to the best steel string guitar players in the world. Fast forward seven years and I found myself enrolled in a wood working program, then employed for a year in a custom cabinet shop. It was during that year that I wondered if my growing love of the steel string guitar, and my developing skills in the work shop, might set me up to someday build my own guitar.
It was not until three years later that I finally dug up the courage to tell a few people I was going to try building a guitar. Circumstances and timing were just right. People I knew were able to connect me with two of Winnipeg’s professional builders and they each gave me an hour of their time - one even scribbled lighter brace dimensions on plans I showed him. Even though my first guitar didn’t turn out pretty, those lighter braces were responsible for it being a successful instrument. I still play it every day.
I built my first few guitars during the infancy of the internet, when many luthiers were starting to promote their work with web sites. Those sites often included a page with photos of their building process. This led me to spend about half my hobby time in the workshop and the other half scouring those web sites, trying to figure out how I could tackle the next step in the project with the limited tools and even more limited skills I had. I read the books that were available, but really leaned on seeing all those pictures of how guitars were built.
The blessing of those instructive pictures has also been matched by the generosity of the guitar building community. Soon after completing my first guitar I began to send emails to other builders, usually asking specific questions about their construction process. Each time I was blown away that replies would come from world-class guitar builders. Speaking of world-class builders, Allan Beardsell is a local builder who I consider a mentor. His generosity in answering questions is matched by the creativity and beauty of his instruments. What I have found time and time again is that if you ask an intelligent question, that demonstrates the effort you’ve already put in, you will receive a generous response. While the age of apprenticeship has come and gone in the world of guitar making, the spirit of generosity and passing on knowledge is alive and well!
As of 2016, I have completed about 16 instruments. I play the first, but the rest have ended up in the hands of friends, or friends of friends. Some of those guitars have traveled professionally to many gigs around the continent. Some have gone as far as Africa and South America and lived to tell the tale. One was turned in to match sticks by WestJet. One is a work horse in a professional recording studio. Some of them are used for leading worship, and some are faithful song writing companions for their owners.
I count myself blessed to participate in a process that turns mother nature's trees into instruments, and that uses those instruments to make music out of thin air. I’m lucky to play a very small part in such a magical process.