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In Memoriam: François Pistorius

In Memoriam: François Pistorius

November 10, 1969 – June 23, 2002

by Rodney Stedall, Stuart Deutsch, Larry Baeder, and Anne Ludwig

Originally published in American Lutherie #73, 2003 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Seven, 2005

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, François Pistorius spent his childhood in the town of Bethlehem in the Eastern Free State. He attended high school in Pretoria and was interested in the creative arts, including pottery and sculpture.

François started playing guitar at fourteen. After military training, he and his older brother traveled in Europe for a few years, and when he got to Galway, Ireland, he fell in love with the musical culture and the people. He stayed for four years, apprenticing with luthier Paul Doyle. He returned to South Africa and started his own shop at his farm called Kayuta, twenty kilometers east of Pretoria. He was also the leader of a band called Baraka, which played Afro-Celtic music.

François was a perfectionist. He worked on his own to produce a few detailed, high-quality instruments. His designs were innovative and his instruments were far from typical. He was confident in his abilities (in an unassuming, nonarrogant way) and did not rate himself second to any other luthier in the world.

François Pistorius died tragically in a motor car accident. I have fond memories of visiting him on Lynnwood Road and how much he taught me in the short period I knew him. I will always remember him for his unconventional and original approach, and for the fine instruments he crafted. I can still see him tapping his foot to those Celtic rhythms.

— Rodney Stedall


I thought the world of Fran’s instruments and was certain that he would be one of the great luthiers of this century. Now all I have to remember him by is a 000, an archtop, and a 12-string.

I met Fran while doing sound for a documentary in Jo’burg and Cape Town. His friend Gideon worked with me as an assistant cameraman. When he heard that I collected and played guitars, we were introduced. I bought a small flattop, which quickly became my favorite instrument, then ordered a 12-string, an archtop, a classic, and a dreadnought. Unfortunately, the very day that the director of the film, Lee Hirsch, was to meet Fran and bring the last two instruments to me, fate stepped in.

It’s sad that he’s gone so soon; I had been working on creating a market in the U.S. for him. His instruments blew away anything in my collection, and I have a 1936 D’Angelico archtop and 1920s and 1940s Martins and Gibsons to compare them to.

— Stuart Deutsch

Both photos courtesy of Rodney Stedall.

I will never own one of François’ instruments, and for that I will forever be at a loss. I did not meet him, but on the phone he was articulate, insightful, and gracious. I did, however, play several of his instruments and knew that I had to have one. They are truly remarkable in every way. The line between art and craftsmanship is fine and difficult to tread. To produce something practical, superbly made, and with a higher aesthetic is to create something for the ages. François has left us with far too few instruments, but no doubt, they are for the ages.

— Larry Baeder


One of the highlights of my time with Guitar Talk was the article that I did on François Pistorius. His workshop was amazing and very organized. He tapped some wood for me so I could hear the difference between a good piece and one that would not perhaps make such a good guitar. His life story was fascinating to hear while I saw the many different instruments in his workshop. I was fortunate to hear his band rehearsing at his cottage in the country east of Pretoria, and also hear him play his double-neck guitar/bouzouki at a Tárrega club meeting. I was very impressed with his music, which was mainly Celtic in style. I feel very fortunate to have met him. Having known him, even very briefly, has added more color to my life. In the words of his friend Irma Wouters, “He’s making harps for the angels now.”

— Anne Ludwig