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Allen Guitars online newsletter Volume 1 Issue 4 Winter 96'  

Luthier's ~ Old And New

It has been said that the acoustic guitar is experiencing a “golden era”. I believe that some of the best guitars that have ever been built in the history of the world are being made right now. Some of the best work that has ever been seen is being produced in small shops, by individual guitarmakers. 

left: Allen mandolin  

abalone trim and sunburst finish 

right: Allen S-J guitar 

abalone trim and tinted top

 

However what I really wanted to focus on in this article is the question, “what is it that makes something collectable?” Two things came to mind immediately. Scarcity and exceptional quality. When you stop for a moment to consider the numbers, it is a bit overwhelming. There is some debate over what is a “handmade” guitar. One of the larger US factories that enjoys a “handmade” reputation will produce 100 guitars today. At 500 guitars per week this ads up to 26,000 guitars per year. Another well known factory producing “handmade” guitars will produce over 76 guitars today. This week they will build 380 guitars totaling 19,760 for the year.  

These numbers are a bit staggering when compared to an individual builder who will typically produce between 8 to 24 instruments per year. I am currently producing about 20 custom instruments per year. This equals 1.6 guitars per month and 0.38 guitars per week and well we might as well not even calculate how many guitars per day this is. There are many guitar companies that will produce more guitars in the next two weeks than I will produce in my entire lifetime.  

When you consider these numbers from a collectors point of view, some interesting things come into focus. What makes a Stradivari Violin so expensive? First of all they were very high quality handmade instruments. Second they are so rare. His finest instruments were made between 1700 and 1725 when he was between 56 and 81 years old. Even though he built instruments until relatively late in his life, the sheer number of instruments an individual builder can make is very small. Only several hundred of his instruments survive. This pretty much rules out the violin that we all have in our attic. Of course most of us would prefer owning a Strad. ( one sold for $604,555 last year at Sotheby’s) rather than one of the typical imports $150.  

So what does Antonio Stradivari have that I don’t have, besides $604,555 per instrument and a very nice tombstone? Well one might say “they had higher quality materials in those days”. This is not necessarily so. The 1667 Stradivari violin mentioned above is described by Sotheby’s as having a one piece back with a knot in the upper treble corner. If he were alive today and was getting paid $604,555 to build that violin; that piece of material would have probably found its way into the fireplace to keep his shop warm.  

Andrea Guarneri (1626-98) and Antonio Sradivari (1644-1737) both of these men learned their craft in the shop of Nicolo Amati (1596-1684). I would venture to say that all three of these men would be very envious to look inside the luthiers shop today. For example if they opened the door to my shop they would find things like power tools of all descriptions. Temperature and humidity control and a pile of woods from all over the world. Various types of spruces, cedars,(over 350 guitar sets), rosewoods, ebonies. Exotic inlay material from all over the world, thanks to my friend Chuck Erikson “The Duke of Pearl”, supplier of shell inlay material.  

The material I have on hand should be enough for a lifetime except that I have several personal problems. First I love wood, almost as much as guitars. I also can’t seem to pass up a good deal; so fortunately or unfortunately, at times I wind up with empty pockets and my shelves full of wood. The only trouble with this is at dinner time. These materials make wonderful instruments but terrible sandwiches. So little of the wood cut in the world is instrument grade quality. For instance we live in the Sierra Foothills of California. This is a heavily treed area, pine, fir, oak and aromatic cedar. Millions of board feet of lumber growing all around me, none of which is suitable for building any part of my instruments. It reminds me of that old saying, ”water water everywhere and not a drop to drink”.  

As it was in the days of these great luthiers; the music of today is really pushing the envelope. These are very exciting times for the acoustic guitar and I’m grateful to have a part in it. High quality and rarity are two items that are always found in collectors items. And that is why I believe we are “building tomorrow's collectable instruments today”.

  Just For Laughs...  

THEY ASKED THE LUTHIER WHAT HE WOULD DO WITH THE MILLION DOLLARS HE HAD JUST WON ? THE LUTHIER REPLIED...  “I don’t know"he said, "I guess I’ll just keep making guitars until the money is all gone”. 

 

Donny Catron ~ On The Road 

Prior to his work with Doyle Lawson & Quiksilver Donny Catron was with a band called Neshoba. I got a chance to talk with Donny recently to see how his new guitar was working out. It is sure nice to have an endorser that is truly excited about playing a handmade instrument. I would like to send out a word of personal thanks to Donny; for taking the time to show this guitar to all the folks that he has. Donny mentioned he has been making plans to rejoin his previous band Neshoba.  

 Last week I received a copy of Neshoba’s most recent C.D. Riding This Dream. I have really been enjoying this CD. Of course there are very few people that can match Donny’s tenor vocals. There are some interesting tunes on this CD. The title Song was written by Donny Catron and is a very moving bluegrass song. There are a few songs you wouldn’t expect to se here like Eric Clapton’s - You Look Wonderful Tonight, Or I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash, or a song by Jim Croce, I’ll Have To Say I Love You In A Song. There is also a nice arrangement of Wayfaring Stranger that has a nice jazz and blues feel to it.  

Doyle Catron sings baritone vocals, Fred Duggin is on rhythm guitar, Ricky Reece sings low tenor and plays mandolin and bass. With Special guests: Mike Schrimpf, strings and. Wynn Osborne, banjo. Randy Howard, fiddle. Johnny Bellar, Resophonic Guitar. Ricky Reece has to be one of the most incredible mandolin players I have ever heard. His lightening fast and clean playing is unsurpassed. Sometimes it's not how many notes you play but where you put them that makes all the difference. Ricky Reece excels at doing both. You really have to hear him play on I Can See Clearly Now for yourself, you won’t believe it. Being a closet mandolin player myself, I appreciate how impossible it is to play some of those lines. 

Randy Howard plays fiddle on this project and does an excellent job. Another stand out is Johnny Bellar Who is astonishing on the Resophonic Guitar. You can’t believe this guy. I feel like I’ve been living under a rock somewhere. I have not heard of Johnny Bellar before, yet I am not exaggerating when I say that he is probably one of the finest resophonic players in the world today. If there are any bluegrass purists reading this, I should tell you there are drums used in a few songs on this project; yet they are not over powering in any sense.   For more information or to order a copy of this CD contact:  Mid Knight Records  PO Box 20506 Greensboro, NC 27420 Phone & Fax 910-379-7202  For Booking Information Call 901-785-3314 

 

 

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