The process of creativity necessarily includes many steps. Visualization, concept, design, construction and finish all play roles in the ultimate sense of satisfaction for the artist/craftsman and the sense of appreciation by everyone else. Beyond that, however, is another critical element that I, as a luthier, always have in the background of my mind – approachability. Will the guitar I’m building end up as an objet d’art to be admired or as an instrument to be played? The answer can, and should be both.
It is my privilege to know an expanding circle of accomplished luthiers who create guitars selling for mega-thousands of dollars. I’ve asked each of them the same question: what is your market and who is buying these fabulous instruments? Usually the response is that they end up in the hands of collectors or folks who just like to put them on display. I have friends who own such guitars. They rarely play them, afraid that they might get scratched or harmed in some way. I understand that, and actually wish I had the means to acquire such beauties. But it stirs in me a fundamental problem. When does a guitar cross the line of form preventing function?
My guitar teacher, Ryan Neitznick, and I spend more time talking about the philosophy of guitar playing than actually playing. Some might say that this is an incredible waste of my money and his time. But this has been invaluable to me as it has made me a better player and, more importantly, a better luthier. Understanding the dynamics and possibilities of six strings resonating in a box translates into better craftsmanship and technique. I want the guitars I build to be approachable and inviting. When a player sees one of my guitars I want his first thought to be, “Wow, I want to pick that up, see how how it plays, and hear how it sounds.” And the second thought should follow closely behind, “and it sure is beautiful.”
Hardly anything is more satisfying to me than watching and hearing an accomplished player make music with one of my instruments. At that moment I know that I have created a living thing, something that will facilitate creative flow for many years to come, not just an end unto itself. I harbor no illusions that somebody like Tommy Emmanuel, one of the greatest acoustic guitar players alive today, will call me anytime soon and ask me to build him a guitar. But somebody named Joe Yacabucci, who plays at the local fire hall on bingo night, just might. In either case, I want the guitar I put into his hands to be a vehicle of passionate creativity.
Guitars communicate. Mine say, “play me.”