I began my journey making creative musical instruments nearly 50 years ago, when as a teenager I wanted to build myself a banjo. The first mentor I worked with was a young artist who made Appalachian dulcimers that were amazing, free-form sculptures. I later went to a small guitar-building school, to learn the nuts-and-bolts of acoustic guitar building, but I was always drawn to bringing in sculptural, visual and tactile aspects that were beyond the accepted traditions. When I became accomplished enough in my understanding of the relationships of wood, strings, space and sound, I began also to design and build instruments that allowed for more expansive, or different, musical possibilities than their traditional counterparts.
These days, I call myself a "creative luthier", when I feel like I need to identify myself to someone as an artist who's medium of expression is building stringed musical instruments. The art of "lutherie" is not always associated with the so-called Fine Arts (or thought of as a visual art), probably for a couple of reasons:
1) Traditionally, a luthier creates a musical tool, an object for themselves or another musician to create sonic art with. That the object itself has inherent beauty and could be considered a work of art is not the reason for creating it; it is created to make music in the hands of another sort of artist.
2) In our culture, most of the stringed instruments people will be familiar with, come in contact with, or own, are mass produced in factories, rather than built by individuals. That can be a very efficient way to produce good musical tools, but we don't tend to think of those instruments as "art", at least not in the same way we think of a one-of-a-kind original oil painting (for instance).
There are of course many ways musical instruments get made, from individual builders to small companies to large corporations. The terms "art", "craft" and "manufacturing" get used in varying degrees to describe the "products" of these individuals or enterprises.
So, I create musical tools. Usually these are one-of-a-kind, often with emphasis on their visual and tactile presence, but still most importantly providing a musical tool, of which the more purely aesthetic aspects don't detract from it's intended function, but hopefully augment the experience of it for both listener and player.
I often make use of unusual materials in pursuit of these ends. For years I have been developing a method of using a paper-mache-like material, made from recycled grocery bags and aliphatic resin glue, for the backs or "shells" of instrument bodies, inspired by years of working in mask theater, and making masks. This involves making a clay positive sculpture, casting it in plaster, and laying the paper-and-glue into that negative mold. This makes a wonderful back especially for banjo-like instruments, and allows me to create shapes and contours I couldn't practically achieve with solid wood. Of course, I love the beauty of natural wood, too, and the traditional uses of it in lutherie. I enjoy finding or harvesting my own wood from salvaged trees and old stumps, and helping that wood have a new life of song.
Other innovations I've been involved in developing over the years include the use of additional "sympathetic resonating strings" in guitars and other instruments (inspired by both Early European and East Indian instruments); the addition of (banjo-like) goatskin resonators to guitars; and unique design features related to guitars, harp-guitars, banjos, cellos and other instruments.
As I get older, I am slowing down, but the work is also getting deeper. I find myself wanting to simplify some aspects to allow further exploration of others. Much of my work is complex and intricate, some pieces taking hundreds of hours to complete. Since I often work on commission, I don't always have pieces on hand that are available for purchase. I do usually have a number of interesting projects I'm working on that will need homes one day, and I always welcome inquiries about commissions. I also offer skilled and reliable repair and restoration work on a variety of stringed instruments. Please get in touch if you're interested!