Having a custom instrument built is a serious undertaking, and one that is based on trust both by the builder and the buyer. I like to know the person for whom I'm building, and I'd like you to know me. One of the best ways to understand a person is to understand his or her philosophy about life. Here's mine:
I'm neither an obsessive perfectionist nor a revolutionary artist, but rather an experienced craftsman who takes pride in my work.
I’m a one-man band: my instruments are built by me, by hand. No CNC routers or production machines are found in my shop, and no assistants or apprentices free me from the mundane tasks of sanding and binding. My instruments aren’t sent out for finishing, and I don’t purchase machined parts to save time. My fingers feel for a hand tool as often as they do a power switch, and my eye often serves my sensibilities better than a ruler.
I reverence tradition, but it’s not my god. I expend no time or effort in reinventing the wheel; the forward-thinking craftsmen employed by the Martin and Gibson families created many decades ago instruments with impressive sound and durability, and that design has evolved under the refining touch of many excellent luthiers. I like the look of traditional instruments: the proportions, the shape, the colors, the size and placement of sound holes, and the materials. When I’m convinced that something better has come along, I’ll try it. I don’t own a bow saw, because my bandsaw does such a nice job. In applications where Titebond is superior to hot hide glue, I reach for Titebond, and where epoxy does a better job than Titebond, I start mixing. But my shop still stinks of hides and hooves, and you’ll still hear me curse when the hot liquid slops onto my arm. And if the instrument you’re dreaming of isn’t shaped like anything that’s crossed my mind, or if it’s green and pink with an unusual number of strings, we’ll talk. If I think it will work, and if the project interests me, let’s do it.
Lutherie is what I do, and I do it with dedication and with perseverance. But it’s not my life. My family is more important, as is my peace of mind. When building instruments ceases to be fun, I do something else. When the urge to go fishing becomes larger than my need to pay the bills, I break out the boat. My grandchild’s birthday party is a far more pressing matter than the completion of your instrument ever will be. I also write novels and nonfiction articles, and when the words build to where I can’t contain them any longer, my keyboard will see more action than my chisels will. That said, I set realistic goals and keep to them, and don’t make promises I can’t keep. I’ll do my best to give you a credible estimate of when your instrument will be ready, and to honor it. I make every effort to keep my instrument backlog to months, not years. If it grows beyond my comfort zone, I’ll take your order later.
I’ve not chosen lutherie as a path to riches—I quit a job with security and benefits, and one that paid far, far more than lutherie ever could — but because it’s satisfying: both to create with my hands something that will endure when I’m gone, and to observe the pleasure my instruments have brought to others’ lives. I hope I can build one for you.