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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.