After musical presentations by Dave Powell and Pete Bradshaw, historical presentation by myself, and an in-house lunch hour (complete with free entertainment by volunteer harp guitarists, naturally), we reconvened for two hours of luthier presentations (which goes by quick, believe me). This popular segment is open to builders who have made a new harp guitar (or two) in the last year, notified us that they are planning to come, and discussed participation in the panel with the Gathering’s Luthier Host for that year (the ever-reliable Mike Doolin again this year [above). We encourage participation (Michael Schreiner, this means you!)
Year after year (eleven, now!), we have never failed to get a few new faces along with a few familiar (but increasingly creative) ones. I’ve already teased Eric Elias about his first attempt in a previous blog and embarrassed Michael above so he’ll consider joining the panel he so deserves. So, time for this year’s lineup; roughly in order of appearance:
Newcomer to the Gathering, but already old hat at harp guitars, is Tony Karol from Ontario, Canada, who shared secrets of building his latest instrument in his slide show. He had two instruments present – a brand new one (below right) and his first HG owned by Randall Sprinkle, also in attendance (at left, in Randall’s hands). Side by side, you could easily see the evolution of his cutaway and bass extension. I was also intrigued by the unusual wood he comes up with for the back and sides (names now escape me). The latest one is for sale; next up he tells me is a full bells-and-whistles harp guitar for himself (he’s a player, also).
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Benoit Meulle-Stef has never missed a Gathering, and as far as I can recall, has never not had a new just-finished instrument (or slide show of the latest). Many are commissions, many are simply born out of boundless creativity, and no two are alike. He reminds me of the mountain climber (“Why? Because it’s there)…why build a crazy new harp guitar? “Because I must!” His latest (below – built for Nancy Conescu, who unfortunately had to postpone her trip at the last minute) may be his most attractive and aesthetically interesting one yet (and by BMS standards, downright dainty).
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Another Canadian builder also attended his first Gathering! Michel Pellerin came to deliver his second harp guitar to the owner of his first, Claude Laflamme, who, within minutes, was playing it as if he’d owned it all along. Yet it was far from a duplicate, as the photos below illustrate. The new one has an extra sub-bass, different super-treble placement and complexity, and most noticeably, fan frets. I didn’t have the opportunity to compare the two tonally, but believe they were similar (as I said in a previous blog, Claude’s new CD shows the first to great advantage. In fact, that, plus displaying it at the Gathering, got Michel a new HG commission, I just heard…).
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Scott Holloway (formerly Burwell) has been to a couple Gatherings now, and for those he missed, he sent new instruments in the hands of Don Alder and others. For this trip, he showed up with his latest vintage Dyer (his best one, he says – below right) as a model of the sound he is after, and two new copies. One was a new hand-built Style 4 from China (center), the other his own hand-crafted (touched only by himself) koa wood Style 8 from his Pasadena, CA shop, completed just in time to deliver to its Connecticut customer, Alex Anderson.
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Jim Worland continues to experiment, often at the request of his customers. One repeat customer is Ed Dowling, who was heard playing some nice bottleneck on this new custom Worland electro-acoustic 13-string. As with all these instruments and builders, it was fascinating to see the “making of” slide show by Jim.
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Dave Powell talked more about the Tonedevil shop he runs with brother Tone, and specifically about the fancy new redwood topped instrument (apparently Dave’s personal instrument). Local inlay artist Liz Sedler gave them a few options for the neck inlay, and they chose this. I recall that this one sounded very good plugged in (Dazzo pickups installed) and really suits Dave’s playing style. I just heard that a Gathering attendee (one of our regulars) placed a new order for a Tonedevil.
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From old-school to high tech: All were anxious to hear how Alistair Hay created the first-ever carbon fiber harp guitar (“Synergy”) for his Emerald guitar line. Though I was unable to fully comprehend his explanations (everything I asked was “proprietary”!), he did convince me that after many long years now, he has learned to work with this material just like other expert luthiers have learned to work with wood. Apparently, carbon fiber can even act like wood (it seems vibration is vibration; who knew?). There’s definitely a trick (or many) to it, but Alistair seems to have figured it out. I probably heard (and engaged in) more discussion about this creation than anything else all weekend, but Alistair ignored all my intelligent analysis and is using for his promotion my initial gut-reaction response after first playing it (“It actually works.” [Classic, invaluable sound bites provided at no charge]). He had a basic model there (in the hands of proud owner Michael Belotto, who as you may recall was the final instigator for getting this project off the ground) and the more expensive version with “wood-impregnated top” (my term). Very interesting harp guitar variant…
This marked the end of the formal presentations, but there were a couple more instruments, plus demos…coming next.
This year was great, and I’m happy to have met some new makers 🙂
I can truly say it was a real pleasure to get up and discuss the making of a harp guitar with all the folks who came, and be amongst all the other builders. Thanks for hosting, Stephen and John, it was a real highlight of my year to be able to make it out and enjoy the music, the new friends I made, and openess to share. It makes for a wonderful event. Cant wait until I get to attend again (unfortunately next year I cant, but we will see where it ends uphte year after !!)
As usual, this was a great couple of hours. Thanks to all the luthiers who participated! Gregg, your description of Mike Doolin as “ever reliable” was spot on. Thanks Mike for once again taking the helm of this year’s panel!