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In Memoriam: Robert Mattingly

In Memoriam: Robert Mattingly

Passed on March 23, 1991

by Chris Hanlin

Originally published in American Lutherie #25, 1991 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

Master Luthier Robert L. Mattingly, my teacher and a craftsman I personally believe to be one of the greatest builders of this century, took his own life on the evening of Saturday, March 23, 1991. He was a man I came to love like a father in the short year that I was fortunate enough to spend under his tutelage. I cannot find the words to express my heartbreak. Musicians and luthiers alike may never know the full extent of their loss.

The man was a true genius at his craft, and I can honestly say that I was in humble awe of him. He craved no publicity. He never advertised. He never foisted his name or work upon others. And yet players and students continually sought him out, and examples of his work exist all over this country, and indeed the world. Though he worked out of his adopted home of Long Beach, California, he always kept his life and home firmly rooted in his native-Missouri common sense. And his instruments reflect this simple honesty. They ring with a richness and warmth as palpable as his own Falstaffian personality.

Photo courtesy of Sue Mattingly.

I have never been so happy as I was under his tutelage. Sweeping the floor in his shop was for me an honor. But he took me into his confidence, and revealed to me many of his hard won secrets. Exactly why I won his trust I cannot say, but I always tried to make him proud of me, and I believe we were close. Now he is gone, and he has taken with him over thirty years of building experience. My own instrument that I was building under his teaching is incomplete; may God give me the wisdom and skill to complete it without him.

If you own a Mattingly instrument, one of hundreds he built, treasure it. No more will be made. If you are presently lucky enough to be studying under a master, burn each day into your memory. They will not come again. And if there is anyone you love, tell them so. We get too few chances in this life.