2001 Guild of American Luthiers
After twenty-five years in the lutherie convention business I think we've figured out the magic recipe: Take a few hundred luthiers, add two dozen information presenters, blend in first-rate musicians, sprinkle with world-class guitars, mandolins, and violins, (add hurdy-gurdies, dulcimers, and banjos for variety) season with fun, and mix thoroughly. Grease a gorgeous concert hall with anticipation and pour in luthier batter. Bake at comfortable summer temperatures for five days. OK, we could go on and say something about turning loaves out onto open minds and wrap while fresh in pages of American Lutherie magazine, but the metaphor has already gone too far, don't you think?
We kept close to the same idea we used last time with lectures in the morning, demos and exhibition after lunch, and music in the evening. This flexible schedule led to many impromptu lutherie discussion sessions by some lecturers whose audience couldn't get enough the first time. The Regency Room was made available for this purpose and seemed to be steadily occupied.
The beautiful campus of Pacific Lutheran University was again the setting for our five-day event. This campus just seems to get more beautiful each time we return. New buildings have been added, the most popular being the impressive South Hall dorm which is more like nice apartments than dorm rooms. Many lucky members who signed up early got to take full advantage of it. Hardy luthiers kept with the traditional and rustic qualities of Harsted for their dorm experience. The gods must have been smiling on us this weekend because the weather couldn't have been more pleasant. If anything makes people move to the Northwest this weekend would have done it (and really, it does rain all the time, honest!). The daytime temps were a comfortable 70s and the nights were comfortable and clear. There wasn't one complaint of heat exhaustion from the old Harstad dorm. Now that's a record! At anytime of day or night there were various groups of people playing music, laughing, and talking outside in the beautiful weather.
Again we used Lagerquist Hall for our lectures and musical events. Its combination of fine woodworking and great acoustics is nothing short of perfect. Getting the chance to see the amazing 40¦ PLU pipe organ that fills the entire north wall of the hall could certainly be described as an extra added attraction.
Another “return” that we all benefited from was provided by long time GAL member and truly amazing individual, Fred Carlson. Fred topped himself this year with the most glorious array of handmade block-printed banners we've ever seen. You've no doubt noticed Fred's work used in conjunction with our preconvention publicity, but his work is so much more spectacular “in-person”. His brightly colored banners were used as the backdrop on the Lagerquist stage during lectures and performances. However, this time Fred also made many extras to hang all over the University Center where registration, exhibitions, and meals took place. Many agreed that this gave more of a festive air to the entire event. As generous as he is a genius, Fred donates these amazing artworks to the GAL benefit auction.
We started off with a bang for our July 4th as luthiers from all over the world converged on the registration table to get badges, dorm keys, and schedules to keep them informed on all the events of the convention. If the staff ever has any question as to why we go to the trouble to host conventions, the answer comes when we see all our old luthier friends coming through that door. Watching everyone get back together is always a treat. This year we were happy to notice many younger faces among our ranks. People with backpacks, instruments, and skateboards registered right along with the luthiers who looked just like them twenty-five years ago! It was certainly an eerie experience to suddenly realize that now we'd become the old duffers! How did that happen? It made us remember how far we'd all come, from thirty-five people camping out in Tim's mom and dad's back yard to this five-day lutherie blowout.
Enough reminiscing, let's get busy! Wednesday afternoon was packed with demos to start everyone off on the right foot. Members had some tough choices to make. Frank Ford and Dan Erlewine started their “Frank and Dan Show” on acoustic guitar repair, John Greven and Ervin Somogyi gave instruction on carving, Géza Burghardt taught traditional neck joinery in classic guitars, and Scott van Linge led a demonstration of his ideas on flattop guitar vibration patterns.
In the midst of all this action is when our one hitch of the entire convention occurred. Maybe it was a salute to the 4th, maybe it was to make our California members feel more at home. Whichever, all the power went out on the south side of the PLU campus. This happened right in the middle of the demos and included Lagerquist Hall and those cushy new dorms we'd been gushing about. Ingenious presenters used flashlights to continue their demos while people bumped around over at the dorms. Our main immediate concern was what to do if there still was no power when that night's scheduled concert was to begin. Luckily the performance was a dramatic and musical Renaissance lute presentation by Thomas Berghan. It was decided that in staying true to the time period, Lagerquist could be illuminated by candle light. After enjoying this amazing performance, everyone agreed that the power outage might have been a happy coincidence. Of course the folks in the dark over in South Hall might not have been able to romanticize the situation as easily. Regardless of the coziness/suffering, the power was restored by the next day.
Steve Klein got everyone back on track Thursday morning with his talk on guitar design. In the mid-morning Harry Fleishman gave his demonstration on inlay and Kenny Hill got the classic guitar listening session underway.
It's not really a convention until the exhibition starts. On Thursday afternoon the fun began. Pre-setup helped ease the exhibitor's stresses over getting everything ready before the masses descended on them. When the doors opened at 1:00 PM the place started buzzing with activity. Just as in past years, two rooms were filled to capacity with exhibits. The instruments were mainly kept to the downstairs more quiet and carpeted, Scandinavian Center. Upstairs, Chris Kuntzen featured mostly suppliers and some instruments. This year we had more suppliers than ever before and members seemed eager to take advantage of the incredible variety and quality from our lutherie dealers.
We were also very fortunate this year to have the loan of two exhibits from the estates of two recently-departed members, Robert Lundberg and Dan Most. The Robert Lundberg exhibit displayed Lundberg lutes owned by Terry Schumacher, Thomas Berghan, and Clive Titmuss, and all three were on hand to answer questions about the instruments. Bob's daughters Branwyn and Tabitha were also there to talk to the many people who came by to admire these incredible examples of Bob's work. Another popular exhibit displayed some of the collection of Dan Most. A unique range of antique harp guitars and Hawaiian guitars, tastefully arranged by Dan's close friend Pat McGehee, made for a very interesting presentation. George T. Noe, coauthor with Dan of a fine book about Chris Knutsen's harp and Hawaiian guitars, spent Saturday afternoon at the display table, accompanied by Dan's mother.
Thursday afternoon Frank Ford and Dan Erlewine continued the second part of the “Frank and Dan” show, this time with electrical power. Concurrently Mike Doolin and John Greven demonstrated waterborne finishing, Eugene Clark showed everyone marquetry in Spanish rosettes, and Charles Fox conducted a lutherie tooling Q&A session. A busy and informative day was capped off by David Franzen's beautiful classic guitar concert. David is a GAL favorite and after his incredible performance it was easy to see why.
On Friday morning everyone flocked to Bob Benedetto's lecture on archtop guitar making. Members have been wanting Bob to speak at our Convention for many years and we were glad he could make it. Aided by Harry Fleishman and a comedic opening schtick from Todd and Tim, this lecture was well worth the wait. From there we all spilled out onto the amphitheater risers for that old tried-and-true GAL group photo. No matter how many of these photos we've gathered for, it's still an impressive sight! Hap Newsom, once again defied death by hanging out of the Mary Baker Russell building window to snap our picture.
The steel string listening session got underway headed up by Ralph Novak. All of the listening sessions have always been a great way for our members to see how their instruments hold up in a small concert setting. The luthier audience gives praise and advice in this noncompetitive environment. During this time David Gusset was speaking on the elements of classical violin design and construction. Then after another successful afternoon of exhibition, four demos ran concurrently: John Greven demonstrated pearl inlay, David Giulietti showed off his metal engraving skills, Don Overstreet taught violin setup and maintenance, and Ralph Novak presented information on guitar neck construction.
The music on Friday started off with one of our favorites, Gypsy jazz from Pearl Django. Headed up by GAL member Shelley Park and local '60s rock icon Neil Andersson, they entertained us on beautiful Selmer-style guitars made by Shelley. Rounding out this great group was violinist Michael Gray and bassist Rick Leppannen. Guitarist Dudley Hill was out sick. This was Pearl Django's third time performing for our members and if the standing ovation and brisk CD sales were any indication, the staff isn't their only fans! With Pearl Django's growing success, we feel fortunate that the GAL convention is still on their concert schedule.
Friday late night is time to go down to the Cave and catch the action from our wilder conventioneers. Blues jams blasted up through the building as members cut loose mostly on electric instruments. Saul Koll and Brent McElroy organized the night and K.P. Kendall served as master of ceremonies. We heard blues, rock, Irish reels, and something that sounded kind of like music from Girl Trouble, a local rock act made up of GAL staff members Bon, Kurt, and Dale, plus Bon's (and Deb's) brother Bill. Excellent performers during the night included Saul Koll and the Peashooterz, T.V. Jones, Brady Anderson, Brent McElroy, Ralph Novak, Jay Hargreaves, Louis Freilicher, Fabio Ragghianti, Jason Lollar, Mike Doolin, Dave Corey, Paul Bristow, and Dolph Payer. It was a rockin' good time as they say.
Saturday morning saw Jeff Elliott's detailed lecture on his restoration of an 1869 GonzŒlez classic guitar. Next came a panel discussion on soundboard woods with experts R.E. Bruné, Fabio Ragghianti, Ervin Somogyi, and Todd Taggart. Concurrently, our first-ever electric guitar listening session was being presented by moderators Saul Koll and T.V. Jones.
Saturday! It's the nutty day for everyone hosting or attending the convention. To start it's the last day of exhibition. People scrambled around one last time making sure they saw everything, getting their displays organized to pack up for the journey home, or both. Added to that confusion is the silent auction where all those items that didn't make the nighttime festivities are carted out and sold off table by table every ten minutes. There was a bidding frenzy as Tim and Bon tried to figure out when their broken buzzer would actually go off: “The bidding will be over in ten seconds, oops... make that a minute and ten seconds!” Even though the competition was strong, the bidders were totally patient and kept their sense of humor. That's one of the attributes that makes dealing with GAL members such a pleasure.
After the dust of the afternoon's activities had settled, it was time for one of the more popular events of the convention, the GAL Benefit Auction. This is the only event of Saturday evening and for good reason. It's a workout for everyone involved! See page 30 for all the gruesome details.
Can we handle this? Partying all night and getting up bright and early for the last of the lectures on Sunday morning was OK twenty years ago but a little tougher these days. Apparently if there are a couple of good morning lectures we can still rise to the occasion. People showed up a little worse for wear but nevertheless very enthusiastic to hear Harry Fleishman and Mike Doolin discuss sound reinforcement and Richard Brun‚'s challenging talk on the architecture of the guitar was a great way to end the five-day information flow.
Deb and Tim always invite everyone to the Guild HQ after the official event is over, for one last get-together before people leave for home. It's hard to say good-bye to friends we probably won't see for another three years. Winding down was easier with the big spread Deb laid out. Everyone hung out in the beautiful weather eating sandwiches, vegetables, and desserts. We were tired, but it was a good kind of tired.
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