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In Memoriam: François Pistorius

In Memoriam: François Pistorius

November 10, 1969 – June 23, 2002

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

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In Memoriam: Terry Demezas

In Memoriam: Terry Demezas

July 17, 1953 – December 16, 2004

Originally published in American Lutherie #81, 2005 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Seven, 2015

Terry Demezas died unexpectedly on December 16, 2004. The call from Vicky Demezas left me stunned. My associations with Terry reach back twenty-five years.

That night when I had time to think about it all, memories started flooding in. I first saw him bent over an ailing guitar at Kent Rayman’s shop sometime in the early 1980s when I was trying to get my own repair business going in Portland, Oregon. Terry was a tall guy and he always had trouble with normal-sized workbenches. I’ve been storing his oversized bench in my shop for years. In what proved to be our last conversation, he said that he was going to reclaim it and get back into guitar building. That’s the way that I think of him. He changed hats many times in his too-short life but he approached each metamorphosis with energy and thoroughness. He had the soul of a responsible gypsy.

When I flaked off and ran away to Europe, Terry ran my shop for me. When I returned, I asked him to keep running it. Over the ensuing years we’ve kept in contact, and he would tell me of his current projects and loves. I remember very well when he fell in love with Mexico and Vicky, and brought her back to Portland. He started a cultural exchange, “sister city” program with a small town near Vera Cruz that went on for many years and changed the lives and awareness of folks from both places. I remember him telling me of how Bob Lundberg’s beautiful and blond daughter, Branwyn, caused much distraction in the local boys. I wish I had participated, but my gypsy days were over.

Photo by Cathy Monroe.

He was alternately an archery bow manufacturer, a guitar maker again, a nursing student, and a hospice nurse. Through all of these later times he was a fisherman and that was probably why I was there to hear of all the changes in his life. He would call me up and lure me out of my basement shop with the promise of a ride to the Deschutes River and a day of fly-fishing. We had two hours each way of philosophy and catching up, and dinner at the Warm Springs Café. In the last two years his news really astounded me.

For his fiftieth birthday Terry decided to give away one of his kidneys. He found a stranger on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation who needed one and that was that. I imagine a few folks tried to talk him out of that one, but he persisted. One was evidently enough for him. Next, I get a call from Bob Steinegger asking me to make mastodon-ivory bridge pins for a totally tricked-out guitar that Terry was ordering for an old friend. When Steiny and I drove to Salem, Oregon, for Terry’s funeral service, we met the guy. The gift had come out of the blue.

We grieved with Vicky and Terry’s much loved daughter Myriam. Chris Brandt had gotten the news and was there. We talked about trying to round up one of Terry’s earlier guitars, but we didn’t know where to start to look. Michael O’Dohmnaill may still have one in Ireland. Vicky and Terry had parted ways as friends many years before and he was engaged to marry again. He was teaching his future adopted son to play the Beatles.

Terry was a better fly fisherman than I am. In his extra-long green waders he looked like Gumby. He would work a spot on the river for all it had to give, often finding its hidden prizes behind submerged rocks. When the spot didn’t pan out he would move on. I’d still be flagellating the same stretch, sure that if I found the right pattern, a fish would find me. When I finally looked up Terry was somewhere around the bend, long gone, exploring a new place. I probably won’t be fishing as much now that he is gone.

— Eric Meyer

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In Memoriam: Hammond Ashley

In Memoriam: Hammond Ashley

Passed on May 1, 1993

Originally published in American Lutherie #34, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

Hammond Ashley died on May 1, 1993 at the age of 91. We have lost an advocate for fine music and fine musical instrument making, and a good friend. Music was always an important part of Ham’s life. He played banjo in a dance band while studying mechanical engineering at Stanford University. Later, when working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Europe, he bought a bass and began learning to play. Years later, while working in Seattle as an engineer for Boeing, he played bass with the Highline Symphony, a group he helped to found. At the age of 80, Ham’s hearing deteriorated so he couldn’t hear directions from the conductor, so he took up the cello, which can be played without a conductor in smaller groups.

He had a woodworking background, too. Ham had his own cabinet shop 1928 and specialized in custom antique furniture reproductions and fine interior woodwork. His clients included Edward G. Robinson, Jack Benny, Jerome Kern, and Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein.

After the Christmas 1963 layoffs at Boeing, Ham planned on having an active retirement. With a background in engineering, woodworking, and music, lutherie seemed a natural choice. He set up shop under the airport’s landing approach and worked on a little of everything — organs, pianos, and even furniture. But the second floor was devoted to lutherie. He ended up having a whole new 30 year career.

His lively interest in advancing the science of sounds led him to explore both the old and the new. Making, restoring, and repairing included experiences with many varieties of stringed instruments including gamba, bass, cello, viola, violin, the eight members of the “new family” of violins, rebec, sitar, sarod, crwth, and harp. But his specialty was the violin family, particularly basses. He worked with Carleen Hutchins of the Catgut Acoustical Society, and was an active member of the GAL.

Dozens of people worked for and with him over almost 30 years. Ham set the pace. You might see him elbow-deep in papers at his desk, or working with the plates and winding up with glitter all over his face, or all bent over, with curled up hands, carving a scroll, varnishing a bass, or talking with customers, many of whom became friends. At age 90 he cut his hours down by taking more than an hour for lunch, and so putting in less than 44 hours a week.

Ham made music by playing, by his craftsmanship, and by making instruments usable and available to others. Joyful noises came from the house over the years as Ham had fun making music with others.

Ham knew what he liked, and generously helped himself, as he in other ways helped others. Friends were invited to stay to lunch or overnight on the spur of the moment. He treated others as he’d like to be treated, giving them the freedom to be themselves. When asked if something was all right with him, he’d say something like,“Whatever works for you,” or, “Don’t undervalue yourself or your work, or others won’t appreciate what you do for them.”

Ham was well educated, interested in a wide variety of subjects, and had a wide variety of friends. He was a woodworker, a builder, a storyteller, a figure-it-out scientific kind of person, a thinker who worked with his hands, a courteous, determined, matter-of-fact, down-to-earth gentleman. He was greatly loved, and he will be missed. Hammond Ashley Associates, Inc. will continue under the guidance of Dave Wilson and Paul Hammond Ashley, his grandson.

— Dave Wilson and Peggy Warren

Photo by Michael Darnton.

Ham called the Guild office a few weeks ago to let us know he was dying, and to say goodbye and thanks for everything. I asked him how he was feeling about it, and he said he was tired, that he was ready. He said he missed his wife. They were married for 63 years. She died in 1991. He said there was to be a party at his house. He was so matter-of-fact.

I went up there with my wife, Ruth. He was sitting in a wheel chair, looking very content. There were kids running around, and co-workers, family and friends eating and talking, having a good time. Not a tear in the house.

Ham and I talked. It was like every other conversation we had ever had. He had such grace and dignity, such honesty. We shook hands, and said goodbye.

I learned a lot from Ham, almost none of it about stringed instruments. What a man! I loved the guy.

—  Jonathon Peterson

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In Memoriam: John Sullivan

In Memoriam: John Sullivan

April 5, 1964 – April 21, 2007

Originally published in American Lutherie #90, 2007

My good friend John Sullivan passed away early on the morning of April 21, 2007. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer less than a year ago, and things progressed very quickly.

Where do I begin? John was just a sweet, sweet man who poured everything he had into his instruments, relationships, and golf game. He was extremely generous with his knowledge of lutherie, and many builders have come forward in the past weeks to tell stories about how they called John up to ask a question or two, and wound up with notepads of info or an invite over to the shop/kitchen for some hands-on demonstrations.

Although he was well known for his mandolins, John was also a go-to builder for harp guitars, archtop guitars, and fiddles. His last instrument was a wonderful 5-string fiddle that is now in the capable hands of Darol Anger. Had he lived, I have no doubt that he would have built many more 5-strings. He loved to make them, and the ones he made were very good.

Photo by David Riggs.
Photo by Bruce Harvie.

I remember one night we went down to see Foghorn String Band at the local Portland pub. Foghorn’s Caleb Klauder plays one of John’s F-5s, and Jon Neufeld from Jackstraw was there with his Sullivan archtop, another cannon of an instrument. I wound up sitting in too, so there were three Sullivans going off like a bomb. I don’t think I’ve ever seen John so happy, and it’s a memory I’ll always hold very dear indeed. I’m sure everyone who reads these pages can relate.

A benefit to help cover John’s medical expenses was scheduled for April 29th at the Wonder Ballroom in Portland — a benefit that became a memorial after the news of John’s death. Forty of his instruments, including his first mandolin, were on display, and bands featuring John’s instruments played onstage upstairs. It was a wonderful and touching tribute to a luthier and friend who left us much too early.

John leaves behind his wife and partner Patricia Lackaff, who has just lost her best friend. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her. He also leaves behind a very large band of happy musicians who I imagine at this moment playing “We Bid You Goodnight” at points all over the globe. And all with impeccable tone.

— Bruce Harvie

Long-time GAL member Bruce Harvey presented a moving musical memorial to John Sullivan at the recent Handmade Musical Instrument Exhibit in Portland, Oregon. Bruce played a Sullivan F-5, set a repeating loop, then soloed over that on a Sullivan electric mandolin. John Sullivan had exhibited at this show many times in the past, and he was deeply missed by the builders in his hometown.

All three photos courtesy of Bruce Harvie.
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In Memoriam: Arthur E. Overholtzer

In Memoriam: Arthur E. Overholtzer

January 27, 1910 — 1982

Originally published in American Lutherie #35, 1993 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004

In 1969 I was a student at Chico State, a hippie living in a rented house. One day the older man who lived next door came over to introduce himself. He said he was teaching a group of people to make guitars, and needed space for wood and tools; could he use my basement? I had never even played the guitar at that time, but I told him he could use the space if he would take me on as his apprentice.

That’s how I met Art Overholtzer. For three years I was his neighbor and private student. He became like a father to me. I helped him write his book Classical Guitar Making and took all the pictures except the ones that I am in. I’m proud of my legacy and relationship to one of the world’s best classical guitarmakers.

Arthur Overholtzer. All photos courtesy of Bruce McGuire.
Art and Bruce (seated at front) with students of the 1969 guitar-building class at Chico State College.
Bruce McGuire.
Art working on a soundboard.

Art suffered a severe heart attack in 1971, and he summoned me to his bedside. He asked me to take over his guitarmaking class at Chico State and carry on after him. I did both as best I could. He asked me to look after Orpha, his aging wife, and to make sure his book was published. As it turned out, he lived to see it in print and his heart condition was abated for awhile.

After moving to Santa Cruz in 1972, I continued building by Overholtzer’s technique. I also took on a student by the name of Richard Hoover. He built his first guitar under my supervision and we worked together as partners. My instruments bore my name as BR McGuire Guitars. His guitars bore the name Otis B. Rodeo. I took Richard up to the Overholtzers’ house in Chico to introduce him to my grand master. They liked each other instantly. Art was pleased to see Richard’s first guitar and he found comfort that I was passing on the tradition of training an apprentice in quality guitarmaking.

Richard was single, and in a position to devote his full time to instrument building. I had two girls at the time, and it was necessary for me to have a full-time job in addition to guitar building to support my family. In 1975 Richard Hoover and I parted company and he began the Santa Cruz Guitar Company.

Santa Cruz has been extremely successful and their guitars are some of the finest in the world. Richard has had interviews in numerous publications over the years and it burdens me that Art Overholtzer is often left out of the chronology. It was his precision, knowledge of wood, method of wood selection, and theory of building a guitar with no stress that was passed through me to Richard and his employees.

Editor’s note: Richard Hoover comments that he “owes an undying debt of gratitude to both Bruce McGuire and Art Overholtzer,” who he calls “the grandfather of my lineage.” Richard agrees with Bruce McGuire that it is unfortunate that nonlutherie publications generally edit out his mention of Overholtzer’s strong influence on a generation of guitarmakers.

My guitarmaking has been somewhat sporadic lately. I have three more children and a rich family life. I also have a new apprentice by the name of Steve Clifford who is the youth pastor of Santa Cruz Bible Church. We just glued the back on his first rosewood classical guitar.

Steve's guitar will sound incredible because I let him use my finest rosewood and spruce from the '60s. Art and I purchased rosewood in Berkeley when it cost $1.50 per pound and I still have enough to last the rest of my life. All of Art’s hardwood was passed on to me. Some of it has been drying for fifty years. His Sitka spruce came from Alaska thirty years ago and I also have a lifelong supply of it.

I need no recognition from Steve. Instead, the recognition will be to our Lord who was very close to Art Overholtzer and myself. Steve leads worship services with guitar and he has a great impact in his music ministry. Art will be smiling down from heaven when he realizes that his tradition of unconditional faith, uncompromising quality, and integrity have been passed on in a profound way. A thousand people will sing each week along with an instrument built by his apprentice’s apprentice.

Art Overholtzer needs to be given credit for being a fine human being who made an enormous contribution to guitar building through his unfailing generosity and through sharing his knowledge of guitar building with anyone who asked.

— Bruce McGuire