I started making instruments when I graduated from college in 1973. I was working at a bicycle shop doing repairs and I had a lot of free time on weekends and in the evenings. I was learning to play guitar and I had a nice flamenco that I had purchased from a friend. I didn't really need another guitar but I wanted to see if I could make one.
In junior high school I had taken woodshop classes and learned the beginnings of cabinetry. I loved the techniques, the tools, the different woods and the smell of the place. I was able to make a nice walnut cabinet to hold my mom's piano music. That gave me the confidence later in life to make wooden things and do some carpentry. (Thank you, Mr. Goodell.) So why not a guitar?
I went to the university library thinking that they probably didn’t have any how-to books but to my surprise they had a copy of Irving Sloane's Classical Guitar Construction. I didn't have any power tools or access to a shop so I was happy to find out that I could make all the special tools I needed from the directions in the book. With it I made my first guitar. It wasn’t great. I made a lot of mistakes but it worked well enough to keep me building for a while.
I made some dulcimers and a couple more guitars that sounded and looked better. I thought I might want to make it a career. Even wrote to Martin Guitar Co. to see if I could get a job there. They were nice enough to write back and tell me that I probably wouldn’t be interested in doing the same task every day. They were probably right. So I moved on. I had my guitar that suited my abilities just fine. I’m really more of a singer than a player. Besides, I really didn’t have much of a bent for marketing. Still don’t.
And I found other interests throughout the years. I worked at a local community college as a lab tech in the ceramics department. I mixed clay and glazes, fired the kilns and kept the place in order. I also taught a course in raku and primitive ceramics. I built a roaring gas fired kiln at home and found that while I wasn’t able to sell a guitar I could sell pottery. I also became interested in local theater working on sets and doing some acting. My wife Susie and I sang in local choral groups. There ere lots of ways to channel my creative juices over the years.
We started a family and it became apparent that our part time jobs might not cover our costs. So I used my college education to get various elementary teaching positions. It was great, I could spend part of almost every day singing with the students. After a couple of decades I was looking toward retirement and remembering back to how much fun it was to make instruments.
A lot had changed since 1973. It took me awhile to catch up to those changes in techniques and equipment. While I still do a lot of hand work I found that some power tools could improve my fit and finish. I developed to the point that over the years my work was accepted in major shows like the Healdsburg Guitar Festival, the Montreal Guitar Festival and the Santa Barbara Acoustic Instrument Celebration.
I got a bandsaw capable of resawing local woods for use in my instruments. While I appreciate exotic woods I am drawn more now to what is available nearby. I’m always experimenting with new ideas and techniques. Each instrument should be better than the last one and that has often been the case.
I had begun my second foray into guitar construction in 2003 and by 2005 I was building guitars for sale in earnest, mostly through word of mouth but some through my first website and the shows. Ukuleles came later. My mother had bought a ukulele while on a family vacation from Ohio to California in the ‘30s. After she passed away my nephew wanted to play it but the ukulele was hopelessly in need of “attention” as my father used to say. The tuners wouldn’t hold pitch and intonation was off by the whole width of the saddle. No big deal. Once I was done it played in tune but there was nothing I could do about the infinitely small neck with a triangular profile.
After I gave it back I decided to make a ukulele for myself that would fit my hand better. Of course I overcorrected and my first ukulele looked a little odd especially since it was a soprano. But it sounded fine and I found out that really enjoyed playing it. All of a sudden music theory made more sense to me and chords that were often difficult for me on a guitar were much easier on the ukulele.
So I started making more ukuleles. I was aware that guitar builders often overbuild their ukuleles and I wanted to avoid that. Surprisingly it didn’t take that long to become comfortable building smaller scaled instruments. They still mostly look like small guitars but I try not to stray too far from the happy little instruments ukuleles are. I make the occasional guitar now but most of my new instruments are ukuleles.