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In Memoriam: Dennis Stevens

In Memoriam: Dennis Stevens

1944 – 2009

by Harry Fleishman

Originally published in American Lutherie #99, 2009

My good friend Denny died today. He had engaged a brief battle with ALS, and it didn’t beat him; he walked away from the battlefield on his own terms. He was heroic.

Everyone who knew Denny respected him. When there was nothing but Sloane, Denny started building. His work was steady, exceptional, occasionally truly innovative, and always genuine and BS-free. He was a good guy to have as an influence.

Denny was supportive and argumentative and couldn’t figure out why I did some of the things I was trying to do, because he was so good at doing it the right way that he didn’t feel a need to reinvent it. He was open-minded and open-hearted and generous, even if he did avoid most people most of the time. He had no problem holding contradictory ideas in his head, and didn’t hold onto old ideas if they were supplanted by better ones.

Denny’s guitars were always flawless, which is no mean feat, so it was a surprise when he told me that he had encountered a real serious problem on one of his semihollow electrics. He had been experimenting with vinyl purfling, with which he could put together really sharp contrasts, and the lacquer didn’t stick to it leaving a tiny bubble where it should have been adhered. I don’t know what you’d have done, but I doubt you would have taken a fresh #11 X-acto and cut the offending strip, all forty thousandths of it, and carefully removed it. After cleaning the slot left by that, he superglued the original piece of lacquer back in place, sanded and buffed it, and it was invisible and, of course, perfect. Yeah, I know. Me neither.

Photo by Harry Fleishman.

Denny grew up outside of Boulder in a modest house to which he continually added, putting in their septic tank with his brother when he was a teenager. He lived there from age nine or ten until he moved to Salem, Oregon with Karen at about age fifty. Along the way he added on rooms and a shop as he grew up and married. I helped him load up the truck to drive out west to Salem, and I didn’t understand his difficulty in moving until he told me his history. You might say he was stable.

It was Denny who introduced me to the Guild of American Luthiers, even though we are both non-joiners; it was Denny to whom I turned with questions or to show off. We bounced ideas off each other and came up with a great lutherie tool together, one iteration at a time. His first one is still the best one.

Denny never advertised, always had lots of work, was revered in the jazz guitar community, made fabulous steel strings, some good classicals, and a truly hilarious electric, his first guitar, made in 1958. Great guy, Denny.

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Product Reviews: Acoustech Dynamic Field Pickup

Product Reviews: Acoustech Dynamic Field Pickup

by Harry Fleishman

Originally published in American Lutherie #29, 1992 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Acoustech Dynamic Field Pickup
Acoustech
Orangeburg, NY

My first attempt at guitar amplification was an early ’60s DeArmond pickup on my f-hole Gibson acoustic. It attached with little difficulty or damage and sounded great to me at the time. That was 1962 and my expectations were not terribly high. I plugged straight into a portable Wollensak tape recorder and used it as an amp until I got a used Gibson Falcon as a Christmas gift. A few years later, I installed a roundhole DeArmond in my Gibson J-45. Again, it sounded pretty good, all things considered. But all the things I considered didn’t amount to much. What choices did I really have, after all?

Those little contact mikes, which stuck on the face of a guitar, weren’t very good; I learned that soon enough. And the good-sounding microphones were expensive, unwieldy, and restricting. Like many guitarists, I wanted the freedom of movement that a pickup could give. When the first piezo transducer came out, I stuck one on and boogied. By that time, however, I was more sophisticated, more discerning, more caught up in the folk boom, and wanting a pickup that sounded like an acoustic guitar, only louder. The first I tried was the Barcus-Berry. Not too bad if you didn’t mind sounding like you were inside a bucket. The similar piezos weren’t much better. The Hot Dot sounded great to me when it came out. Like many technological improvements, its refinements masked its shortcomings for a while. I probably installed a hundred of them while continuing my search for a better sounding, easier installing pickup for myself and the customers I was attracting to my repair and building business.

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Review: Fine Woodworking Design Book Five

Review: Fine Woodworking Design Book Five by Scott Landis

Reviewed by Harry Fleishman

Originally published in American Lutherie #26, 1991 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



Fine Woodworking Design Book Five
Essay by Scott Landis: Northwest Woodworkers
Taunton Press, 1990
ISBN 0-942391-28-4

The first thing I noticed when I received my copy of Fine Woodworking’s Design Book Five was the handsome coffee-table quality of the photographs. This volume is both the largest so far, with 259 photos, all color, and the best looking, with many full-page pictures and a uniformly high standard of reproduction. The second thing I noticed was that none of my instruments were represented. Oh well, I like it anyway.

Will it appeal to luthiers in general? Probably. I think there are good ideas to be found looking at all sorts of good woodworking, and there are a lot of truly beautiful items here. Is it the great American guitar book? Absolutely not.

Become A Member to Continue Reading This Article

This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

If you are already a member, login for access or contact us to setup your account.