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In Memoriam: Steve Newberry

In Memoriam: Steve Newberry

January 2, 1928 – August 8, 2014

by Ervin Somogyi

Originally published in American Lutherie #119, 2014

Steve Newberry, GAL member and longtime friend of the guitar, passed away on August 8 from complications of multiple strokes. He is survived by his wife Virginia and children, who reside in Los Altos, California.

Steve Newberry was an interesting man, full of wisdom and contradictions, with an active mind and the multiple concerns of living life. At various points he was a mathematician, a computer scientist, a husband and father, a widower (in his first marriage), a reader, a staunch Democrat, a Daoist, a Catholic, a freethinker, a physicist, a philosopher, a teacher, a traveler, a marksman, a collector, a Jew, a fervent Republican, a luthier, and a guitar player. He could be difficult to get along with from time to time. But which of us isn’t? And not least of all, my God, but he loved the guitar!

Steve was a witness to the birth of American lutherie from the 1940s on, when the first seeds of what would become the American lutherie boom were sown by Spanish luthiers who transplanted themselves into the U.S., and their very first young American admirers and groupies. Steve was certainly one of these. He seems to have begun his love affair with the guitar while in his teens. He wrote of his formative experiences in an article in AL#66 (Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Six), about his youthful observations about and in the shop of Vicente Tatay, one of the first Spanish guitar makers to have settled in New York. It’s one of the best human interest articles I’ve ever read.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Newberry.

Steve was also an articulate man who could speak to, and about, any of the above things, and more. And he was generous with his knowledge to anyone who would listen to his very involved and sophisticated explanations. And he was certainly knowledgeable about the bibliography of the guitar and the scientific literature that was published about it, and areas of acoustics and physics associated with it, in the form of academic articles. I am grateful to Steve for having put into words, for me, things that put a great many inchoate hands-on experiences at the workbench into usable perspective. There is no doubt that he influenced my thinking and my choices of words and phrasing in the books that I’ve written, and if anyone has gotten benefit from my writings, Steve should get some of the credit for that. There is no doubt that he has influenced others as well.

A part of the history of this work has gone with him, impoverishing all of us. I will miss him.