I began working on guitars in 1968, by buying old guitars in pawnshops and fixing them up. In 1970, I moved to Berkeley, and had the good fortune to meet and work with Larry Jameson and Mike Stevens at the original Guitar Resurrection shop. I learned most of what I know about guitar repair from them. A few years later, Larry moved the shop to Austin, Texas, and Mike went to Texas to be a cowboy and build guitars. He later was the first head of the Fender Custom Shop. When they left Berkeley, I began my own repair business.|
I had my first workshop in the back of a music store. After a year or so of that, I started my own store, buying and selling used instruments and doing repair work.
A few years later, I went out of the retail business in order to focus on repair work and begin making guitars. I built my first acoustic guitar in 1977, in the style of a Martin OOO.
The 70's were a great time to be working on guitars in Berkeley. Among the many guitar people I met in those days were Jon Lundberg, Mario Martello, Richard Johnston, Steve Klein, Stewart Port, Ralph Novak, and Ervin Somogyi. Jon Lundberg ran one of the first and best shops specializing in vintage fretted instruments. He had a vast knowledge of old American instruments, and an unerring sense of how best to restore them, along with a certain debonaire pre-war style of his own. Mario Martello did most of the major repairs and restorations for Lundberg. He is the dean of guitar repairmen, now well into his 70's and still working, doing one perfect job after another. I met Richard Johnston when he, Mike Stevens and I went to buy some fixtures at a department store in San Francisco that had gone out of business. I got a couple of cast iron stands there that I still use to hold buffing machines. Richard moved around that time from Berkeley to Palo Alto, where he and Frank Ford had their store, Gryphon Guitars. When I met Steve Klein, he had built his first two or three guitars, and was working in the basement of his parents' house in Berkeley. His Kasha-influenced designs were much like the guitars he builds today. Stewart Port came out from New York City, where he had done repairs in Matt Umanov's shop. He shared the techniques that were in use there. Among other things, he showed me the right way to reset a dovetail neck joint. Another friend, Ralph Novak, also moved out from New York and did repairs. He went on to develop a multiscale fretting system and start Novax Guitars. Ervin Somogyi needs no introduction to guitar lovers. He has become one of the pre-eminent contemporary guitarmakers.
I have saved for special mention my old friend Marc Silber. Marc started the Fretted Instruments shop in New York City in the early 60's. We met around 1970 in Berkeley (although he claims to remember my visiting his shop in New York in 1964. I went in there to buy a harmonica). Marc is an authority on guitars and their history. Around 1973 we were roommates for a year or so, and shared a workshop space. We spent many hours discussing guitar design and repair back then, and we still do today. I have learned a lot about the guitar from Marc, and met and heard many wonderful musicians as a result of knowing him. When I build a new model, he is the first person to whom I show it. He is also a great player, and in recent years has been doing more performing and workshops on country blues playing.
Another special mention goes to my good friend George Katechis Montalvo, who I met in 1973. George is an expert in all phases of tone production. He and Marc Silber started the K&S Guitar Company and were the first to bring high quality, affordable handmade guitars from Paracho, Mexico into the United States. They helped raise production standards in Paracho. K&S is gone now, but George continues to produce classical and flamenco guitars in Paracho under the Casa Montalvo label, and Hawaiian steel guitars under the Superior label.
As you can see, Berkeley in the 70's was teeming with guitar people. Too many, in fact, for all of us to make a living at it. By 1978, economic reality set in. I closed my shop and went back to school. I had the good sense to put all my tools and materials in storage. For the next 19 years I pursued an academic career in law and philosophy.
Fast forward to 1997. I was teaching at Stanford, on leave from my permanent faculty position in Chicago. I was so happy to be back in the Bay Area, renewing old friendships with my Berkeley buddies. I also was dying to work with my hands again after so many years of mental work. If I was going to get back to doing fine craft, this seemed to be the time to make my move. I resigned my academic job, returned to Berkeley, and rented a warehouse that became my woodworking shop. For a few years my focus was not guitars, but woodturning. I had become fascinated with it. My turned vessels have been in several galleries, as well as group and solo shows. But I knew that I would come back to guitar making, and so I did.
Since 2001 I have been a guitarmaker. I found that there is enormous satisfaction in returning to an old passion, bringing to it greater experience and ability than one had originally. Thanks to the internet, I have many new guitar friends around the world. I meet with them daily to learn, and to share my knowledge. I have built classical, carved archtop, and electric solid body guitars, but most of my guitars are steel-string flattops. My designs are all original. I use contemporary materials and methods, while usually keeping a traditional overall look. I like to take risks and try new ideas. I am fortunate to be doing what I love.