From American Lutherie #87, Fall 2006
This one had it all: Perfect weather, the right size of crowd, great informational lectures and workshops, great music, lots of younger folks, honored elders, deeply learned and experienced scholars and craftsmen, and a beautiful, leafy, and quiet setting. What a pleasure to be with 450 people who value our open attitude of sharing and fellowship! This is the idea that turned the '60s lutherie boom into the Golden Age of American Lutherie.
Pacific Lutheran University, our convention site, features big trees, green grass, and century-old brick buildings, as well as the modern facilities we need. Lagerquist Hall, where we held our morning lectures and evening concerts, was built specifically for music and includes a massive and authentic pipe organ. Paul Fritts, the maker of this world-class instrument, lives just a couple miles down the road, and he came by to lead a private tour of the organ for GAL members.
Fred Carlson decorated the stage set with hand-colored cloth woodcut banners of fantasy instruments beginning with the letters I through P. We saw the letters A through H at the 2004 convention, and Fred plans to complete the entire alphabet at our next convention. The versatile Fred also concertized, served on the harp guitar panel, and exhibited his work. That's the full GAL experience!
When the luthiers roll in on Wednesday they are met by the friendly and efficient GAL staff, ready to complete their registration process and direct them to their dorm rooms. They drop their baggage and head out for one of the many workshops. It can be a difficult choice, but this is how we get you close-up to the information that means the most to you. It's an opportunity-rich environment, and you'll just have to get used to it!
At one of those workshops, the GAL reached a happy and significant milestone. R.E. Bruné is one of the Guild's founding members, a former Board member, and a frequent convention speaker and American Lutherie author as well as being a leading classical guitar maker and expert. But at this French polishing demo, it was not Richard Brun‚ wielding the mu¤eca, but his son Marshall! Although Marshall is ten years younger than the GAL itself and many of people attending the workshop were making guitars long before he was born, he expertly engaged the group and won their respect with his expertise in this challenging craft as he polished a beautiful guitar he had made, patterned after a prewar Martin. There was poignancy in this for those of us who remember R.E. as a freewheeling bachelor luthier in the 1970s and Marshall as a cute five-year-old at our 1988 convention in Vermillion, South Dakota. And it caused this writer to reflect on the strength and depth that the lutherie movement has built and marvel at the thought of what this new generation will achieve, beginning as they do from such a firm foundation.
Other Wednesday workshop choices included Dan Erlewine and Frank Ford, back for another session of their ever-popular guitar repair intensive. These lutherie gurus held forth for two days on the latest tools and techniques for the working luthier. Michael Gurian showed how he makes the purflings and marquetry for which he is justly famous. Erick Coleman of Stew-Mac demonstrated pickup winding and troubleshooting using new equipment from the lutherie gizmo juggernaught. Chris Burt gave mandolin makers a chance to try his arched plate rough-carving techniques. This was the practical session for Chris' three-part series in American Lutherie magazine.
Here's a story that must be told. Harry Fleishman arrived on campus just in time for his workshop on the process of voicing a steel string guitar by working through the access port, only to realize that he had left his guitar at the airport! Calls were made, and a lutherie spouse (Yvonne Hargreaves) was dispatched to retrieve it, but the workshop seemed doomed. Until, that is, the brave Mark Swanson offered his own guitar to go under the knife of Dr. Harry. The port was opened; the braces were cut; new braces were added. The crowd was wowed by the improvements made to the sound. Just then Yvonne arrived with Harry's guitar, and the process was repeated. The workshop was hailed by all as a resounding success.
Our first evening concert featured Kenny Hill playing Bach on the pipe organ. Yes, that Kenny Hill! Then David Franzen took the stage with a new sound-ported classical guitar by George A. Smith of Portland, Oregon for a delightful concert.
Thursday morning everyone was back at Lagerquist Hall bright and early for a lecture by Peter Prier on materials and strength in violin making. Then we broke into two large groups. One stayed in Lagerquist for a panel discussion on harp guitars. Panelists represented the 19th-century European traditions (Gary Southwell), 20th-century American inventions (Kerry Char), modern trends (Mike Doolin), and futuristic explorations (Fred Carlson). The other group enjoyed the classical guitar listening session facilitated by Cyndy Burton and Woodley White.
The Exhibition starts on Thursday early afternoon, and this is the soul of the convention. ``Show and Tell''
was always the best part of kindergarten, and it still is a great way to learn, teach, and connect all at once. Again we packed the two exhibition halls with a wonderful variety of instruments.
Speaking of Exhibition (and speaking of harp guitars), this year harp guitar kingpin Gregg Miner presented a special three-day exhibition of harp guitars and harp guitar images in Xavier Hall, culminating with a three hour lecture by Gregg on Saturday. Gregg has proclaimed that the ``Year of the Harp Guitar'' started in June at our convention!
Jim Forderer and James Westbrook graciously returned with their historic guitar collection and displayed it in the exhibition hall. What a rare opportunity to handle and play a real Panormo, for example, or Torres. They also brought instruments to display with Gregg's harp guitar collection.
Thursday's workshops included continuations of “The Dan and Frank Show” and Marshall Bruné's French polishing. Joe McNalley and the other members of the Hutchins Consort demonstrated the remarkable Violin Octet instruments and answered questions. Erick Coleman was back, this time with Erlewine prot‚g‚ Elliot John-Conry, to present an in-depth description of electric guitar setup using the Stew-Mac neck jig. And David Hurd showed how to use simple jigs to measure compliance: how far a soundboard will twist under string tension, and how easily it can be pressed down. This is physics, but don't let that scare you off!
Thursday night's concert opened with Gregg Miner and Fred Carlson in a number of very entertaining solos and duets featuring harp guitar, harp mandolin, banjo, banjo-uke, and 39-string harp sympitar. It was a tough act to follow, but the Hutchins Consort was up to the task. For most of us, it was the first opportunity to hear the eight members of the New Violin Family played expertly together, and it was an enlightening experience to be sure! The well-deserved standing ovation was for the quality of the musicians' performances as well as the arrangements by Consort members Joe McNalley and Frederick Charlton. And also, I think, for the decades of research and lutherie work by Catgut Acoustical Society and New Violin Family Association founder and GAL member Carleen Hutchins. We regretted that she couldn't be with us to savor the moment.
After the concert some night owls moved to The Cave for a steel string guitar open mike session facilitated by Mark Swanson, and others went off-campus for a flamenco juerga at a local coffee shop.
Friday morning brought a real highlight. Manuel Velázquez has been making classical guitars for an incredible seventy-five years, and is still working productively as he nears his ninetieth birthday. Guild member Bob Desmond lives near Manuel, and worked with the Guild staff to bring Manuel and his son Alfredo, a fine luthier in his own right, to the convention. Robert Ruck and Jeffrey Elliott, each with over thirty years of lutherie experience, asked questions while Alfredo translated for Don Manuel. The whole experience was simply magical. The members showed their love, honor, and appreciation for one who has done so much to lay the groundwork for their own success, and Manuel's gracious and humble reciprocation of that affection was truly moving.
While Mike Doolin explained his ideas on the logic and practical techniques of adjusting guitar intonation, Saul Koll and Tom “TV” Jones facilitated the electric guitar listening session.
Friday afternoon's workshops included Scott van Linge's session on parabolic shaping of guitar braces, and Steve Andersen's demonstration of fitting braces and bridge bases to the complex curves of an archtop guitar soundboard. John Park facilitated the flamenco guitar listening session with his brother Bob serving as guitarist, and Géza Burghardt described the process of designing and building a bass viol.
That very same bass viol was featured in a solo concert that evening by young virtuoso Salvatore Pedraza. The crowd really connected with his athletic performance. He was followed by John Doan on harp guitar, playing an instrument built for him twenty years ago by John Sullivan, and co-designed by Jeffrey Elliott. As the harp guitar grows in popularity, this instrument is increasingly used as a design model by other builders, and so is beginning to look familiar.
Saturday morning brought Tim Shaw to the lectern for an illustrated talk on the prototyping methods he uses in his work as Principal Engineer at Fender. Tim goes way back with the GAL. He spoke at our 1977 meeting before his corporate adventures began, and again in the '80s when he was Vice President of Gibson.
A panel discussion on the question “What is the flamenco guitar?” was next up, moderated by Jeffrey Elliott and featuring panelists R.E. Bruné, Eugene Clark, and John Park. Meanwhile, the steel string guitar listening session, facilitated by Ervin Somogyi, had broken up into smaller groups and was meeting at various shady spots around the campus. The listening sessions are becoming difficult to manage because of their increasing popularity.
Saturday is the busiest day of the exhibition when the public can attend and everyone gets their last peek at all the fantastic instruments, wood, and supplies. The silent auction ensues, and then the exhibition is torn down. Where did these four days go already? And then it's the auction!
Sunday morning's first lecture featured lutherie mentor Charles Fox describing his work with double-top Nomex sandwich soundboards. Although most makers who use this technology are making classical guitars, Charles incorporates it in his new high-end steel string ergo model. Next up, for our very last lecture, was Gary Southwell. Gary's fascinating work shows us that everything old is new again; he bases his eye-poppingly modern work on design principles drawn from the 19th-century Viennese tradition.
Then suddenly it was all over. A large group spent the afternoon at the Guild office open house, eating, laughing, and telling stories (and even hugging!) as the day cooled down and folks hit the road for home.
The indispensable Todd Brotherton was on the job again this year. He's the guy whose years of dedicated service and attention to detail have enabled the staff to bring you these ever-grander and smoother-running events. Thanks Todd! The GAL Staff gives 110% at convention time, but we couldn't do it without Todd and our crack team of friends and family who help out: Cyndy Burton; photographers Hap and Anne Newsom, and Bob Desmond; videographer Isaac Olsen; registration helpers Margie Reichlin, Gary Pinkney, and Sam Olsen; auction/open house helpers Kathy Lawson and Emi Brizuela; and general helpers Ruth and Bjorn Peterson, Jim Waller, and Aaron Salinas. And thanks to all the members who lent a hand when needed, were patient when needed, and were friendly, open, and sharing: the hallmark of GAL conventioneers! The PLU Staff says that we are one of their favorite groups to work with, and that says a lot about what a great group our members are!
I'll end like I began. What a great convention! The GAL is a great bunch of people and an event like this gives us a chance to appreciate what we have built together with our cooperation and openness. It's really a beautiful thing to see. Thanks, everybody!