When I was in high school back in the 70s, I set up my Strat
with the tremolo down on the body to keep it from going out of tune
so much (this is done all the time these days). This threw the
intonation off, and not knowing how to fix it myself, I took my
guitar to the local music shop to have that done. I explained
to the repairman what I wanted, but he was not happy with my
tremolo adjustment. He set the tremolo back up off the body and
tweaked the intonation. When I picked up the guitar he told me,
"that's not the way you set up the tremolo". I was a little
frustrated to find he didn't do what I asked. I took the guitar
and walked out without paying, vowing never to let another person
work on my guitar again.
That's how it all started. I did my own research and learned
how to set up my guitar. Things just progressed from there. I
was always interested in working on guitars and how they were
constructed. At the same time, I was never satisfied with any
acoustic guitar I saw in a music store. Even though I wanted
to have a good wooden acoustic guitar, what I saw was so abysmal
(at least to me) I wound up getting an Ovation to tide me over
until I could find an acoustic guitar that I liked. I never did.
In 1992 I decided to pursue a full-time career in guitarbuilding.
Not having any real training, I enrolled in David Freeman's
guitarbuilding course at Timeless Instruments. That's where I
built my first acoustic guitar.
Shortly after the course I rented a space in a cabinetmaker's
shop and built three more acoustic guitars. It became clear to me
that Timeless Instruments was a good place to learn the basics.
Now I needed to find out how people that made guitars for a living
really did it if I was to continue.
Luckily, there are some great guitarmakers in Toronto. The first
person I sought out was Grit Laskin and next, Linda Manzer. I was
very fortunate to have guidance from two of the world's most talented
hand-builders in my early days.
My next shop was in the basement of my house. I was there for
four or five years before having to get a bigger space. In my
basement shop, I really started to refine my skills. After
taking Grit Laskin's inlay seminar, my inlays really improved
too. I was always a good artist, and took art all through high
school and painted in my spare time, but I could not for the life
of me figure out how to do the engraving until shown by Grit.
Once shown, it came very easily to me because of my drawing ability.
In 1995, at the A.S.I.A. Convention in Easton PA, I met Kent
Everett. I was really blown away to learn he made 50 of those
finely crafted and great sounding guitars a year. Kent invited
me to spend a weekend with him at his shop in Atlanta, which I
did. He let me take photos and showed me all kinds of new ways
of doing things. He also gave me some great information about
tuning the soundboards and boxes. At the time, many of the
construction methods I saw were too advanced for my little
basement shop, but I kept the photos and the knowledge. I'm
still implementing some of the things that I saw that weekend.
That year I began going to the vintage guitar show in Michigan
on a regular basis to show my guitars. It was the height of the
vintage guitar boom and the show was always jammed with people.
Many times I was the only builder there. Other times it was local
Michigan builder, Gary Zimnicki and me surrounded by Strats,
Teles and Les Pauls. With the huge crowds, business was good and
I built quite a following in Michigan through that show.
Now my basement shop was getting a little too small. A friend
of mine was renting an industrial unit but only needed half. I sublet
the front part where the offices were. I had three rooms plus a
spray room. When I first moved in, my jam-packed basement shop
barely fit into one room! Eventually it all got filled up with
wood, machines, jigs and fixtures.
At the 1997 A.S.I.A. Convention in Vermont, I saw Jim Olson give
a slide show of his shop, with all his jigs and fixtures. That was
a real eye-opener for me. I was amazed that one person could do so
much. Later, when I talked to Jim at his booth, he explained quite
a few things in detail for me and showed me his photo album of his
A few years later, I got to spend most of a Saturday with Jim in
his shop, thanks to one of my (and Jim's) customers.
I continued making and refining my guitars and my guitar building
process. I used the information that I got from the different guitar
builders in ways that suited how I wanted to build guitars. I
never copied an idea or used it exactly how it was shown to me. I
always tried to improve upon it, or at least adapt it to what I
wanted it to do.
I also began learning more and more about guitar building from my
customers. It seems like the fingerstyle players have really driven
the refining of my guitars lately. I've been really fortunate to have
some very finicky players with extremely high standards of what they
expect a guitar to do. More than anything else, this has made me a
better guitarbuilder. This also helped to make my once-too-big shop
seem much too small.
In April of 2002, I moved into my new shop. This is an 1800 sq.
ft. building, built specifically for guitar making. I hired an
engineer to do the architectural drawings to my specs. Its very
well insulated and provides an extremely stable climate for guitar building.
I have north facing windows, which I have found to be the best light
to work in and a clean room with a finishing area. I've got a lot of space... at least for now.