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Steve Kauffman: Winnin’ and a-Grinnin’

Steve Kauffman: Winnin’ and a-Grinnin’

by Ted Davis

Originally published in American Lutherie #6, 1986



Mention guitar flat-pickers and names like Dan Crary, Tony Rice and Mark O’Connor burst into our minds. To the growing number who know Steve Kauffman, his name flows just as easily and quickly into our thoughts.

Steve has many things in common with these “biggies”. For instance only three men have ever won the flat picking championship at Winfield Kansas twice. Mark O’Connor and Steve Kauffman are two of the three. Dan Crary had the following to say about his first meeting with Steve: “One night in the summer of 1977 I had a chance to sit down and join with some fine guitar players in Knoxville, Tennessee. One of the things I remember about that gathering is the looks of respect and awe several of the pickers gave Steve Kauffman when he came over and sat down. I soon found out why: Steve is one of the best young flatpickers in the country. And along with his flair for the hot and flashy, he has some additional ammunition like power, clarity and musical taste. All those things make him an out-of-the-ordinary guitar man. The music is up beat, hot and melodic. When it’s over you feel like you’ve heard the tune and you’ve learned a couple of things about guitar and mandolin playing and you’ve enjoyed yourself besides.” (From the cover of Steve’s first album “Footloose”.)

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Osage Orange: American Gold

Osage Orange: American Gold

by Ted Davis

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 12 #4, 1984 and Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1998



The greatest classical guitars are made from Brazilian rosewood and European spruce, true or false? I am sad to say, the usual answer is “true.” Did you ever wonder why? Does Brazilian rosewood possess some magic component which causes it to respond to musical excitation? Is the same true of European spruce? Or is it perhaps that circumstances during the 18th and 19th centuries caused the old masters to use wood that was available? If Torres had been an American, would the classical guitar have been developed using some American wood for back and sides? If the old masters had had access to some of the rosewoods that today’s luthier does, would we today still be led to feel that Brazilian rosewood possesses some mystic element? Would we still look down our noses at a classical guitar if its back and sides happen to be yellow instead of brown?

In my search for native American wood suitable for great classical guitar back and sides, I stumbled upon Osage orange or bodark, as it is sometimes called. This wood grows in my area of East Tennessee, not abundantly, but it is available if I do my own felling, bucking, and milling. It has most of the desirable qualities of Brazilian rosewood and is in fact vastly superior to rosewood in one important quality: Osage orange is almost unaffected by changes in humidity. How many old Brazilian rosewood guitars have you seen that weren’t cracked? Think too of the impact this could have for violin and lute pegs.

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Drafting Instrument Plans

Drafting Instrument Plans

by Ted Davis

from his 1984 GAL Convention lecture

Originally published in American Lutherie #4, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



I feel that for every 1% I put into the Guild, I get back about 120%. And I’m very high on the plan series. It’s an opportunity for repairmen and builders to preserve information about some instruments that would otherwise be lost. By making these plans available to more people, even if they don’t build them, they will see what they look like and what they are. Of course, you will also have the opportunity to build replicas of these fine old instruments. Many of them have historical value, and many of them have monetary value.

I’m sure there are a lot of “neophyte” luthiers in the audience today that would like to contribute to the Guild’s publications but just don’t feel they have the experience. Well, here’s something you can do. I’m sure you know someone that has a fine old instrument that’s a collector’s item, or perhaps you have one yourself, or perhaps the repairman will have one come into his shop. Take a few hours, take the dimensions of it, sketch it, and you can draw it at your leisure.

Drawing an instrument plan is not all that difficult, but it is time consuming. You’ll spend ten, twelve, maybe fifteen hours or more on your first one.

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The Red (Spruce) Scare

The Red (Spruce) Scare

by Ted Davis

Originally published in American Lutherie #2, 1985 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume One, 2000



Did you ever feel that Murphy (you know, the one who wrote Murphy’s laws) lived close by and visited your work area every time you opened the door? He seems to be a permanent fixture in my shop. Anytime two things can go wrong, the worst one always does! But that rascal must have taken a vacation recently. Let me relate the events of the last few months and see if you don’t agree.

One Sunday while visiting a friend, I picked up the Sunday paper, a luxury I long ago gave up for financial reasons. An article on acid rain in the Great Smoky National Park struck my eye. As I read, I learned that a young PhD candidate was studying the effects of acid rain on the red spruce (Picea rubens) in the park. I reflected on how often I had coveted these magnificent spruces. A single log would give me a lifetime of tonewood. I had even visited park headquarters and inquired about obtaining a piece of a fallen tree. The answer was not “no,” but emphatically “no!” All trees must stay in the park and be left to decay naturally.

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North American Softwoods

North American Softwoods

from their 1990 GAL Convention panel discussion

by Ted Davis, Bruce Harvie, Steve McMinn, Byron Will, and Dave Wilson

moderated by Joseph Johnson

Previously published in American Lutherie #31, 1992 and The Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Three, 2004



Why don’t each of you tell us who you are, where you’re from, and a little bit of what you’ve done.

Ted: My name is Ted Davis and I live in Tennessee near the Smokey Mountains. The Smokeys have red spruce in them and when I found out this wood was useful, I started pursuing it. In the last two years, after a ten-year search, I have managed to find and cut a small amount of red spruce. It was the wood that was used by Martin and Gibson around the turn of the century, up into the 1940s.

Bruce: My name is Bruce Harvie and I have a company called Orcas Island Tonewoods in the San Juan Islands of Washington. I have spread myself very thin cutting all the Northwest species — western red cedar, Port Orford cedar, Sitka spruce, Engelmann spruce — and I’ve just returned from cutting some red spruce.

Byron: I’m Byron Will and my interest is more from an instrument maker’s point of view. I started building harpsichords in 1975 when I moved to the Pacific Northwest from Wisconsin. I wasn’t very satisfied with the woods I had been using. After seeing these gorgeous Northwest trees I started wondering about their physical and acoustical properties and how useful they’d be in my work. I decided to try some of the local softwoods and learned quite a bit through the years.

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