Meeting with Bucky Pizzarelli at the 2013 Woodstock International Luthier Showcase.
Photo: Anne-Marie Amyot
Here is a a more in depth and personal view on - why ? - I first got involved into guitar making.
Not too long ago I was simply asked this question by Michael Watts (for possible inclusion as part of a guitar forum thread). I took his question seriously! Here is my short, ...And more extended answer for him.
This will be mainly text. - Michael is a fabulous guitarist - journalist and guitar blogger, and I encourage you to experience his refreshing take on the hand-made guitar world. -
'Would you let me know more about your history as a luthier and your influences, not just from the guitar
world but from the point of view of music, art and sculpture and anything else you'd care to add. --
Hi Michael !
I'd be tempted to answer your question in two ways.
A short answer to the -why?- of doing guitar making as a daily practice, has been summarized in such a beautiful way by the master José Romanillos, in this classic short film (part 1 & 2) made by the Bournemouth & Poole College of arts, back in the 80's :
Romanillos talks about his fundamental motivations about guitar making. He says things that I can fondly relate to in this documentary, in a better way that I can, really!
His whole practice's expression and vision, at the end, sums up in one affirmation, saying:
'There is a divine right for people to be independent'.
That sort of -grabs it all- for me, as for the fundamentals of what guitar making is truly bringing me, or what I am aiming at achieving with it in time. He just tells it so simply, that I go back to this this short film whenever in doubt! Its just that powerful to me !
The longer answer would explain the previous, a will to keep at -play- an fully-engaged in adult life, in terms of work:
Ever since I was a kid, I have always built -things-, which involved some mechanical, functional aspects. I wasn't into drawing or arts, but motivated by projects, weekly -inventions-, emerging from newfound objects and materials. Summertimes (as there was no school to attend ) would yield a high production time for me. I learned that with a few tools, one could make -things- that worked, rolled, or could fly (well, not really) ! I would -work- as long as I could each day, listening to the music on a tiny radio, with a motivation that was very simple.
1986 - Maple Grove Qc
Later this mechanical interest was transposed into more acceptable and socially -cool- activities, such as riding skateboards and BMX bikes. I was building ramps for the neighbourhood to ride on, and fixing my friend's bikes, around the 6th grade.
In high school, this DIY/entrepreneur mindset wasn't that promoted. Now there where rules, concepts, and -theory- classes, along with a fixed schedule. I was devastated to be in there, and was seeking a way out. Luckily there was sport, in which I could apply my youthful energy.
In the same way as before, I found that practice and -work- would yield results. As a more timid person, expressing myself into -activities- like judo,
football and broom ball (yes! ) led me to be able to achieve goals, within these somewhat -fixed- frame sets.
When time came to chose a career, there was not really anything I could foresee as -in line- with my background, and I really didn't understand why we had to choose one item on the list. This is when I became nervous, and really took the music with me to go through this period :
- A friend of mine had just bought the new 'And justice for All...' album from Metallica, and he was so excited for me to hear it! He came to my house... I was completely hooked on those power chords, harmonic sounding, distorted guitar tones, that I could not stop thinking about it. I related to the lyrics, the power, everything in this music was a salvation in this adolescent time.
A few months later(1989), I went to see Metallica on tour in Montreal, and that was it. Feeling this vibration live, through my body, was life-changing. The next day I made a ten dollar deposit on an all-black, left-handed guitar at Steve's music store, and came back a few days later to finally have it. Along with my Peavey Rage solid-state amp, I was on my way to a new dimension in my life !
The guitar got into my life at that time. I practiced quite a lot, and somehow all my friends where getting better at it way faster. I would try more, for a few years, but just could admit that some where gifted for it, and that I wasn't all that much. I could identify tone, a musical piece by a fraction of the first note....but wasn't a natural player I would say.
Then came this gigantic revelation, that the guitar I had bought at the store, was actually assembled by humans, and not produced by this hidden, higher power:
-When I understood that I could learn how to make one, that I could create sound, from my own hands, from my former toolbox...I cried. In that second I understood. Now I had a career possible. I felt it was the beginning of independence for me.
I enrolled in at Bruand guitarmaking school three weeks later, and learned the first steps to my craft from Andre Brunet. I stayed there for 5 years, discovering lots of music along the way, from the Stochelo-Rosenberg trio in concert, to Bach, to Frank Zappa to...Paco, etc. I was imbedded with the guitar big-time.
Before I was out, I was doing repair work, had my first local commissions, and the school was getting uptight for me. I rented a small commercial space in 1998, bought one plane, a vice and a jointer, had brought in my old toolbox which contained a few chisels, and that was it. I decided I was going to do this.
In 2004, upon receiving a grant from Quebec's Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec, I could go to study in California with Fred Carlson for three months. By that time, I deeply admired Fred's work, as seen in luthier magazines.
This time felt like a reality-check for me. I expected to see high-tech machinery at Fred's studio, some secret tools, and other stuff that would explain the high-level of his art. Well, there was Fred, and partner (and today painter) Suzy Norris, a rusty bandsaw in a corner, Julius the cat, and hand-tools. That was it.
I realized then that I had been formed by my perceptions of him and of his work, of what the guitar making craft was about in my head. Since I had not many tools, I had figured I would be better off with more. He brought me back to the basics, to -felling- the design, seeing the power in a pencil line, and in accepting the wood you have in front of you, to be independent from pre-conceived ideas that guitar 101 will teach you.
In some way I found in Santa Cruz that I had already in me everything needed to do my art. Fred taught me that I didn't need so much -knowledge-, as much as I needed to -connect- with myself more, be more open, and open to possible failures I would say: -This competitive mindset I was then driven by, to become -good- at my craft, should now be about conquering my own self, finding my own way. These where the first times I heard the words -detachment-, -letting go-, and so forth.
It took me a decade to fully understand what he was teaching-me about. To this day, I am grateful to him for showing me his own way, for pointing-out things that I had to work on.
One thing that I remember, being close to him in the workshop, is that it was OK to draw an instrument for days, if not weeks. There was nothing strange for him in -planning- a complex build, in every aspect, on paper. This sort of mental -complexity- state, that is visualizing a build before it happens, is something that I truly enjoy and share with him.
On the anecdotal side, while studying with Fred, we received one day a Demo CD from one of his clients, Killick Hinds, who had just recorded an -acoustic- version of Slayer's album ' Reign in Blood ' on one of Fred's instrument. It felt surreal to see Fred enjoy such experimental music.
Now, fast forward to 2018, and Killick came all the way to meet me in Quebec city, to envision his future instrument: 21 strings, and two years later, a lot of emailing back & forth, I'll be making a dedicated harp-guitar for him, titled 'Firmie'. ( picture attached ) This instrument is relatively complex, and so bold in appearance, that I decided to draw a very classic body shape for it, to -temper- its whole design.
From this 'Firmie' drawing, is taken the outline to the current 'Clara Archtop', along with its F-hole shape.
The Clara Archtop was destined to be presented at the next Holy Grail guitar show in May, which (as of today) will hopefully be postponed to a later date. Since I had asked Michael Watts to play it in a Demo concert in Berlin, we engaged into a discussion about the guitar, that made me re-think some aspects according to his insights and player's input.
I decided to make the guitar with a shorter scale length, and more finger-style oriented I would say. I am still figuring-out the build as it goes, and hopefully will come-up with a balanced, logical unit once completed.
Thierry A. April 2nd 2020