A Short History of Contemporary Guitar Lutherie

A compilation from interviews filmed in April 2016 with lutherie icons

Fred Carlson, Harry Fleishman, Charles Fox, Richard Hoover, Steve Klein, Michi Matsuda, Tom Ribbecke, Todd Taggart and Rick Turner.

Music is unparalleled in its cultural significance and impact across civilization. It is infinite and keeps evolving across time, place, religion and culture.  It is the door into our souls, the balm for our spirit, an inspiration to feel deeply, our common language, and the soul of community.

The building of musical instruments from wood by hand – lutherie – is a singularly complex achievement of human culture. It is an alchemy of history, tradition & innovation; craft & sculpture; acoustics, physics & engineering; labor, passion & countless years of experience.  The first note of an instrument is an unforgettable, enriching and fulfilling experience for the maker.

Music is created in an intimate and symbiotic relationship between the player and the instrument. Each separate, but acting in harmony with each other, reaching out and expressing unknown boundaries of emotion and energy. The perfect instrument is a joy to see, hold, play and hear. Its creation is the beginning of an ever-growing journey which begins when the first note is struck. It is a living extension of each luthier and player, reaching out and connecting all of us through music.

The roots of modern lutherie took hold a half century ago with the masters of the era including D’Aquisto, Fox, Gurian, Larrivee and Schneider, who based their work on the classic instrument designs but began to explore new design innovations and construction techniques. A young group of now legendary woodworkers, largely focused on steel string and archtop guitars as part of contemporary music, soon followed under their guidance and in turn spearheaded today’s renaissance of instrument making.  The quality of craft and sound from today’s steel string and nylon guitars, mandolins, classical and harp guitars, ukuleles and other stringed instruments is unmatched, inspiring legions of dedicated luthiers and musicians to further their art.

The modern “guitar festival” in which the public could meet directly with a number of celebrated luthiers was created two decades ago by Charles Fox, Tom Ribbecke, and Todd Taggart in Healdsburg and brought to fruition by Chris Herrod and LMII. The Santa Barbara Acoustic Instrument Celebration is indebted to their vision and continues the tradition of presenting the state of the craft and the art of the music in an informal setting.