I built my first guitar in 2001. As I look back at nearly two decades of building and restoration work, I am delighted to know that despite the years, and many thousands of hours at the bench, my enthusiasm for guitars has only deepened! In many ways, I am continuing my original quest for the most sonorous and beautiful guitar in the world! Every day, I get a little closer, knowing that guitar-making, in the end, is a life-long journey, not a destination.
I live in Portland, Oregon, which is in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. However, let’s go back to the beginning.
I grew up in the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan, which is now an independent Central Asian country, situated along the ancient silk and spice trade route. East and West, Asia, Mediterranean and Europe spiced and flavored the music, art, culinary and culture of the region.
As a young boy I took piano lessons at a local music school. Keyboard is a great introduction to music, but nowhere nearly as cool as the guitar! Or so it seemed, when around the age of 12 I became increasingly fascinated with the guitar.
My first guitar was a rather cheap, Soviet factory product, replete with a plywood body and a bolt-on adjustable neck. Even with all the adjustments, it seemed the action on this beast was about twice it’s optimal height. Despite all the shortcomings, it was enough to get me started.
My first encounter with a hand-made “real” guitar was in the late 9o’s, at a local Pioneer Music store in Portland. One of the guitars hanging in their shop was a 70’s Manuel Contreras flamenco (Manuel Contreras was a well-regarded Spanish luthier who initially worked for the Ramirez guitar-making dynasty, eventually setting up his own shop). There I stood, looking at this beautiful, well-used guitar. It displayed evidence of various repaired cracks, none of which detracted from the guitar’s charm. It had obviously lived a full and adventurous life. I asked the store clerk for a permission to see the guitar. I was allowed to hold and examine it. And then I played it. It was a revelation! I have never prior to that moment played anything that even came close in sensitivity and depth of sound. My eyes and ears were opened to new possibilities!
Soon after my “Contreras” encounter, I began devouring all published literature I could find through bookstores, libraries and the internet. Around that same time my spouse and I relocated to Europe to teach at a Czech gymnazium on the outskirts of Prague.
During that year, I savored every opportunity to travel and visit luthier shops everywhere I went, including Spain, Italy, France, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovenia. Last, but not least, the GAL ( Guild of American Luthiers ) has been a tremendous resource, and a connecting hub to many luthiers from around the world. I am deeply appreciative of their work, and the collective wisdom of its members.
Upon my return to the United States, I set-up my first tiny shop in Keene, New Hampshire. I built my first half a dozen guitars there. The entire shop space was a mere 4ft. x 8ft. footprint, and situated in a residential building. Any power tools were out of question. In hind-sight, I am grateful for the space constraints, as I was forced to learn and finesse hand-tool technique. There are quiet, understated beauty, freedom and exquisite precision to well-tuned, expertly used hand tools. The unbridled freedom they present to the woodworker is incomparable to just about any machine I can think of. I’m thinking “finesse”, not “brute force”.
After several years on the East Coast of the USA, I moved back to Portland, Oregon, where I continue my lutherie pursuits. Musicians pour a lot of heart and soul into their art, sharing from the core of who they are. So do I, making each instrument form the very core of my abilities, sensibilities, and skills. From my hands to yours!