Friday, 13 April 2012


I recently decided to learn how to play the guitar with my daughter, the Bean.  Long before that, though, I was interested in the art and craft of the luthier, defined loosely as a maker of stringed instruments.  In much the same way a master chef can assemble and prepare a set of ingredients for a sublime dining experience, a master luthier can assemble and prepare a collection of material and produce an instrument that grips the player and the listener with its sound. 

The quality of the sound is, of course, the primary concern of the luthier - selecting and shaping tonewoods, building a a resonant sustaining soundboard, bracing the instrument so the tension of the strings doesn't rip the instrument apart.  However, the skilled luthier also has plenty of opportunities to adorn their instruments with scrolls, inlays, bindings and purfling (to name but a few), elevating their instruments from sonic masterpieces into jewels of visual art.

To feed my interest in lutherie, I have over the years purchased a number of books on the subject:
The Violin Maker by John Marchese, 2007:  A book about Brooklyn, New York violin maker Sam Zygmuntowicz, who has made violins for luminaries such as Isaac Stern and Eugene Emerson.  An interesting element of the book describes Zygmuntowicz's evolution from focussing on the traditional aspects of the craft to a greater interest in the science and use of technology in building violins.

Clapton's Guitar by Allen St. John, 2005:  Chronicles the work of Virginia luthier Wayne Henderson as he accepts and works on a commission for guitar playing legend Eric "Slow Hands" Clapton.

Opus:  The Making of Musical Instruments in Canada by Carmel Bégin, 1992:  A selective survey of Canadian instrument makers including luthiers specializing in a wide range of forms:  psalters, violes, hurdy-gurdies, violins and guitars.  Nicely illustrated with black and white photography.

Acoustic Guitars:  The Illustrated Encyclopedia by Dave Hunter, 2003:  As the title promises, this book is both encyclopedic in covering significant guitar makers, and richly illustrated.  For the guitar enthusiast, this more than any other book, is a must have.  It has a sister publication devoted to electric guitars, which I bought for my nephew as a graduation present but which I don't have myself, so please if anyone wants to buy me a gift...
 A comprehensive
With Strings Attached:  The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars by Jonathan Kellerman, 2008:  This is guitar nirvana.  The book features the author's collection of vintage - mostly acoustic - guitars.  His prose makes clear that he loves his guitar.  The book is lavishly illustrated with colour photographs.

Guitar Making:  Tradition and Technology by William Cumpiano and Jonathan Naterson, 1987:  A comprehensive and well-illustrated manual for would-be luthiers, detailing everything you need to know to build a steel-string or classical guitar from scratch.

Happy reading!


  1. If you read fiction, Charles de Lint (...of Ottawa I believe) wrote a lovely novel about a Luthier called "Trader" - it's mainly about two men who wake up in each other's bodies, but the lutherie was pretty interesting too.

  2. My wife was once aq devotee of Charles de Lint who indeed hails from Ottawa. I'm not much of a fantasy fan, but this may prove irresistable. Thanks for the tip.