-photo by Stuart Carter, 2006
My interest in the inner workings of the guitar were evident when, upon receiving my first electric guitar in 1974, I promptly disassembled it. I'm happy to report I was successful in its reassembly. I didn't find it to be particularly challenging, having by that time familiarized myself fully with the intricacies of the coaster brake as well as all other things I could find to turn a wrench on.
I took shop class in high school, both in small engine repair and woodworking. I made, among other things, a slalom water ski which never saw the water, an upholstered footstool which eventually saw service as a tool shelf, and a guitar body shaped like a Gibson Explorer that never got a neck, but became a rolling plant stand complete with three gold ball casters out on the pointy ends of the body from some long forgotten sofa. It is still in service and, like the B 52, there is no replacement for it in the near future.
My pride and joy from shop class is the mahogany rifle stock I carved for a 1944 Mauser K98 that my father brought home from Viet Nam. I was enamored with the shape of the many Weatherby rifles I saw while perusing Dad's copy of Small Arms of the World. I designed the stock myself, basing it on an aggregate of those beautiful rifles. The outer shape was a challenge due to the asymmetry of my design, but the real difficulty lay in fitting the very complex underside of the rifle into the stock. I had to visualize that shape, with it's myriad protrusions, and project it in reverse, so to speak, into the top of the stock itself. It took months of carving and fitting etc., and I thought I'd never finish it, but I did, happily, and my father, years later, presented it to me as a gift. The stock functions well, and the rifle, being 7.92mm, will knock you on your backside if you aren't careful. Did I mention it's really loud, too.
In the intervening years I made a meager but happy living playing guitar, doing my own maintenance along the way out of necessity. I obtained several certifications in welding and put them to use in all manner of ways, from the sub-assembly of construction cranes to roughneck fabrication in the oil fields of western Colorado. One of the most interesting time periods was the year I spent with the Exhibit Fabrication department at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where I was exposed to an array of craftsmanship including elements of cabinet making at a very high level. These craftsmen were the real deal, building out exhibition spaces along with the associated stands, fixtures, hardware and such for displaying priceless pieces of art. I later went to school and obtained an A&P license which, as the school recruiter told me, qualified me to work on "...everything from a hot air balloon to the space shuttle". I was still unsure about my career path going forward, but the needle finally found the groove when I refretted my first guitar with the guidance of George Ellison of Acme Guitar Works.
I was thoroughly hooked and decided that as much as I enjoyed turning wrenches on aircraft, I sensed guitar repair was the correct path. I started looking at guitars from a different perspective. I began thinking more in geometrical constructs with regards to things such as the fret plane, the lie of the strings, the arch of a saddle, the radius of a neck and how it all fit together. Over the course of the next several years I soaked up all the guitar-specific knowledge I could lay my hands on, through both hands-on experience and the written word. I assisted George in the construction of several guitars for his company, experimented on my own guitars, and started working on instruments owned by friends and acquaintances. I later attended the Northwoods Repair seminar at Bryan Galloups Guitar Hospital where I sought and received specific instruction in resetting necks among other things. I was also exposed to a wide variety of building and repair techniques taught by some very capable and experienced luthiers such as Dan Erlewine, Frank Ford, Bryan Galloup and others. To say the experience was enlightening would be an understatement. I came away with a head full of invaluable repair techniques and ideas for tools and fixtures. I had, by this time, hung out my shingle so to speak and I've been lucky enough to have made a living repairing guitars ever since.
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