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In Memoriam: Don Bradley

In Memoriam: Don Bradley

1949 – 2016

by Deb Olsen, Chris Herrod, Alan Carruth, and Fred Carlson

Originally published in American Lutherie #127, 2016

We are fond of all our GAL members, for sure. But there are some members who have been with us for so many years, who have grown up with us and the Guild, and who we have enjoyed spending time with at so many conventions over decades, that they have a special place in our hearts. Don Bradley is one of those. Happy, amiable, kind, funny, smart, and humble, Don has always been a great supporter of the Guild and its ideals. He has been with us from way, way back — a member continuously since 1977, he attended his first convention in Tacoma that year after completing one of the early courses at the Roberto-Venn School, and he attended at least a dozen in all, including the last five held in Tacoma from 2004–2014. (See his “Meet the Maker” article in AL#111.) I’d have to do a little research, but it’s possible that he attended more conventions than any other member (other than the GAL staff). So we were always delighted when we’d get his convention registration and knew we’d be seeing him again. Conventions can be daunting, but one of the things that encourages us to keep doing them is knowing that we’ll be seeing some of our old pals like Don. We’ll really miss him at the next one.

—Deb Olsen

Intelligent, soft-spoken, and kind, Don Bradley was for many years a welcome fixture at NCAL (Northern California Association of Luthiers) and GAL events. We grew accustomed to his friendly, easy-going presence and that makes his sudden passing all the more difficult.

Aside from building a variety of instruments, Don applied his keen, inquisitive mind to a wide range of pursuits: banjo playing, electric cars, folk dancing, raising llamas, and gardening. Perhaps he will be best remembered for building the signal generator device for Chladni testing (“free plate testing”) that was sold for many years by LMI and others.

Thank you, Don. You will be missed.

—Chris Herrod

Photo by Teri Korsmo

I first met Don at the GAL Convention in Vermillion, South Dakota, in 1992. He approached me, introduced himself as an electronics engineer, and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I was looking for somebody to take over the business of making signal generators that I had suspended on the death of my father a few years before, and his offer was very welcome. I sent the parts and information to Don with gratitude.

Those machines were only slight updates of the ones detailed in the old GAL Data Sheet #112 by Matt Fichtenbaum, and were very far out of date by then; so Don came up with a wholly new, and far better, design in consultation with me. Although from habit I use my old unit for day-to-day work, when I need real precision or portability I turn to Don’s device.

Thereafter we would see each other in Tacoma when I was able to get out for conventions. When I had a table we would set up a signal generator, and Don would spell me in demonstrations. He would also help out if I had a talk to give.

Don hosted me at his home when I went out for what turned out to be the last Healdsburg Festival, providing a pleasant and undemanding oasis amid the cacophony. My flight home was late on the Monday after the close of the festival, and Don took me on a sightseeing tour. We took in the Armstrong redwoods and Bodega Bay in a pleasant and relaxing day’s drive.

I always hoped that some chance would enable me to return the favor, and show him some of the scenic attractions near my home in New Hampshire. Sadly, that will never happen now. I’m left wondering how his instrument making went, and whether he ever got that Tesla that he wanted.
Adios, Don: I owe you.

—Alan Carruth

Don Bradley was such a nice guy! I met him at the first GAL Convention I ever attended, the one in Winfield, Kansas, in 1978. I was oh-so-young (early 20-something), on my first real trip away from home on my own, at my first luthier convention, showing off some of my instruments to other luthiers for the first time. Don was so warm and easy going; I immediately felt comfortable with him. We got caught together in some building when a brief and wild summer tornado cruised through, filling the streets with water in minutes. Watching this amazing phenomenon of nature, we got to talking, and it turned out he had just locked his keys inside his truck. I spent quite a while taking apart my backpack to get at a metal rod that was a part of the frame, and we used it to pick his truck-door lock. The sort of experience that one remembers, and that can lead to lasting friendship, which it did. We mostly only met, over the years, at lutherie-related events, and saw each other less frequently as the years went by, but each meeting was a happy event, and the friendship was always there, waiting to be enjoyed.

Wherever luthiers go when they pass on, I know everyone there will be happy to see him, but we’ll sure miss him here!

Happy journey into the mystery, my friend!

—Fred Carlson