Video Interview with Catherine R. Currier

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:03 - Getting Starting as a Luthier

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Subjects: California; Eastern Kentucky University; Frankfort, KY; John Hamlet; Long Island, NY; Mandolin; Taylor Guitars; technical college; West Virginia; Wood Technology; wood working

5:16 - Wood Shop / Education

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Keywords: band instruments; Elks Lodge; Frankfort, KY; Iowa; Melvin Penn; metal shop; repairs

9:10 - Process / Aesthetic Choices / Customer Requests

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Keywords: clamping call; Martin D28; Martin Guitar; pick guard

16:41 - Collectors

19:43 - Musicians / Customers

22:51 - Set-Ups / Educating Customers

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Keywords: band instruments

Subjects: humidifiers; Martin Authorized Repair Center; strings

35:47 - Building From Scratch vs. Repairs / Evolution of Custom Instruments

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Subjects: Gibson S5; John Hamlet; John Monteleone; Long Island, NY; Stelling Banjo Works; Taylor Guitars; ukulele; Viginia

42:00 - Tradition vs. Innovation

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Keywords: Fleas; Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York; Rudy's Music; Soho

47:24 - Customer Requests / Tricks for Repairs

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Keywords: Art Mize; Donna Lamb

Subjects: 1950s K; Bluegrass; Homer Ledford

52:24 - Communicating With Other Luthiers

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Subjects: Doug Nasalroad; Frank Ford;; John Hamlet


BG: Tell us a little bit about how you got started in this business, as a

luthier and a repairperson.

CC: My parents started a business, a music store business, when I was twelve,

and I was always drawn to woodworking. When I was about, I guess I was seventeen

or eighteen, I was a senior in high school, seventeen, I got pretty mad because,

I did repair work in the store, but they wouldn't let me take shop.

BG: Your parents wouldn't let you take shop?

CC: No, the school wouldn't let girls take shop. I think the year I graduated

they allowed girls to take shop.

BG: Ok.

CC: And I just, I just liked doing instrument repair and stringing guitars so

that's what I did. I went away to a technical college when I graduated from high

school to learn how to repair band instruments. I came back and studied with

another luthier out of Frankfort and my education started then basically. I did

a lot of little stuff when I was 1:00younger, fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen, but I

didn't have any formal education other than what my dad showed me, or what some

of our guitar instructors showed me. But I didn't really want to be just a clerk

in the music store. I really liked fixing stuff, and repairing things, so I did.

I just continued to get an education. Majored in Business and Wood Technology at

Eastern Kentucky University. Then I went away to California and worked as an

apprentice at Taylor Guitars for one summer. Then I came back for a couple of

years and took off again for another summer and went and studied mandolin

building on Long Island in New York. I think that apprenticeship taught me that

I didn't want to be a full-time builder because I really liked being around

people. I liked the retail business too. I like doing repair work, and being a

builder, you can ask my boyfriend, it's a very solitary life and he's very much

a hermit. He's perfect for building instruments.

I like doing repair work. I like being a problem 2:00 solver.

BG: Who is your boyfriend?

CC: John Hamlett.

BG: Who is that? (Difficult to hear/transcribe question)

CC: From Virginia. He's from Lovingston, Virginia. He's moving here.

BG: And he is an instrument maker?

CC: That's all he does. Well he does repair work too, but yeah, he's really, really--

BG: So you have to be pretty solitary to--

CC: Well, let me put it this way. It's impossible for me to go downstairs and

get focused and do much building and then have to come up here and wait on a

customer, or do a repair for a customer. So most of the building, I started this

a year ago, of course I'm moving also, I'm moving my home, so this ukulele that

I'm building started about a year ago and we still aren't done with it because

of time, you know, and when you have a business it's more than a forty hour a

week job. That's all there is to it.

BG: But you started out not thinking so much about the business part, wanting to

be a luthier or maker.

CC: Mhm. Yeah, I mean, I've always been in the business. The business was here

first, and then, you know, I can remember for years and years my mommy said,

"Well you can't make any money doing 3:00repair work. You can't do that." And I just

kept plugging along and learning a little bit more and a little bit more and

pretty soon it seems like fifty percent of our business is repair, a lot of it.

You can't sell instruments, I don't think, and have a lot of repeat customers,

without really doing repair work on them, and be efficient. You have to set-up

every guitar that comes through the front door; even if it's brand new you have

to do some set-up work on it. So, if you have a repair shop in a music store,

you are going to be a lot more successful I believe, and most small businesses

find that out, most small music stores are finding that out. Two things that

help sustain a music store and business: a repair shop and teachers, musical

instruction. So we've always had that in our store. Now it's a bigger part of it

than ever because there are very few luthiers. It's a dying breed I guess.

Although, when I go to my conferences-- We have a conference every other year,

the 4:00Association of Stringed Instruments Artisans, there are a lot of young kids

all the time, so it's heartening to think-- and I have young people that come in

here too that ask about apprenticing and wanting to learn and I say, "Well I

don't want to hand spoon-feed you, so you go out and if you can come in and ask

the right questions then yeah you can come in and hangout with me, I don't

mind." But you know, you have to be a self-motivator and want to learn, I'm not

going to say, "Here, you have to read this and you have to do that." That's not

the kind of person I want to hangout with.

BG: I saw some pictures when I was here a little earlier with some kids, younger

people, looking like they were working on instruments for a brochure or an

advertisement. Do you have other people working here?

CC: No, I have one other guy that helps me out occasionally and my boyfriend,

but you, I also give repair clinics. I teach people how to do it, like a basic

set-up on a guitar, and how to make nut in a saddle, the pieces at the top and

the bottom of a guitar. I do give repair 5:00clinics. And actually, when John moves

here from Virginia, we hope to maybe do some mandolin building clinics from kits

basically, but that's how you start usually. You don't start out by building all

of your own equipment for an instrument, you usually start out with pieces that

are semi-manufactured and then go from there.

BG: I saw you have a whole shop downstairs with woodworking--

CC: Mhm, complete--

BG: You have wood storage in one area. I saw in Homer Ledford's place even more.

CC: Right.

CC: You have to have a woodworking shop to do workworking, and I don't want it

up here on the main floor of the store because it is too dirty.

BG: I guess I was wondering, when your dad first bought this place, and you said

it was rented from the Moose Lodge, right?

CC: Elks.

BG: The Elks, Elks, ok, that's an elk and not a moose out there.

CC: Yes, yes it is.

BG: On the building you have a big elk.

CC: Right.

BG: 6:00So, was that there in the beginning? Did you have a woodshop down there?

CC: Mhm.

BG: Ok. Who worked that?

CC: OK, well, let me see. We've been in this location thirty-seven years. We had

two previous locations before this. So I was in my, I was twenty-five when we

moved into this location. Twenty-five, forty-five, yeah, that's, I'm not going

to tell you have old I am, but yeah, we've always had one form or another. Maybe

it wasn't quite as big as that one is right now, where my shop is in front of

the windows, but it's been there the last twenty, twenty-five years.

BG: Ok.

CC: We've always had a woodshop.

BG: I guess I was wondering. You said that for a business like this to work you

had to be able to do repair and do lessons, right?

CC: Mhm.

BG: So, that was always a part of your business even--

CC: Maybe not as big of an extent right now, but it is. Now I do a lot of repair work.

BG: Was your dad doing repair work before?

CC: Hmm, minor, you know, neck adjustments and restrings, but not a whole lot.

BG: So you're the 7:00one who did it here.

CC: I'm the one who did it.

BG: Nobody else that you worked with or learned from?

CC: I've learned from other people, but not here. Not in this location.

BG: It sounds like a lot of your learning came when you went away, am I right?

CC: Absolutely. I had one guy in Frankfort that, Melvin Penn, he approached me

one summer and said, "I want to learn how to repair band instruments because I'm

frustrated when people come in and want me to replace a pad in a clarinet or fix

a spring," and I said, "Well that's neat." I said, "I'd like to learn more," he

was a really good stringed instrument repairperson, so he and I would trade our

trades. I would go up there once a month, or thereabouts whenever we would

organized it and spend a day with him and help him with all of his repairs that

he had, and then he'd come down here once a month or so and help me with some

repairs I had here. So that's another way I learned some of my trade.

BG: So when he was visiting you he was learning stringed instruments, and when

you were up there he was learning how to do band instruments. And you said you

went away for a year to learn band instruments.

CC: I went to Western Iowa Technical College.

BG: 8:00So what did they teach you? What did you have to know about band instruments?

CC: Overhauling. You take every instrument completely apart and refurbish every

piece on it. I learned how to do re-lacquering of brass instruments. So complete

overhauls and re-lacquering and dent work, basically.

BG: And does that get into how to get the best sounds out of those instruments too?

CC: Absolutely. You can't get a good sound unless they work perfectly. It's just

like a guitar. If it's not set-up perfectly it's impossible to get the best

sound out of it.

BG: So you had a little woodwork before that in school, but then you went there

to learn brass instruments?

CC: And actually, I took my first structured woodworking class when I was in

Iowa, and built a Cedar chest. And I took metal shop and learned-- I made a lot

of my tools for my band instrument repair, like big metal mandrills to rub out

the dents in horns, in brass horns. So we were 9:00taught to make a lot of our tools

and we still do. Jigs and fixtures are, you know, it's just something you have

to be able to build and do and design when you are doing instrument repair and

instrument building.

BG: So how do you do that? I mean, you look at instruments and say, "I need this

tool for this."

CC: Can I get up?

BG and SA: Yeah.

CC: I have a whole draws full of cauls and things, and that's where the

woodworking comes in handy, that I make to work on things, there is a wooden

caul or clamp for every instrument you work on.

BG: What's a caul?

CC: These are little things like this.

BG: C-a-u-l?

CC: C-a-u-l, caul that you work with. I had to make special tools for gluing

that fingerboard on that upright bass over there, you know, its just part of it.

You can't buy every little tool that you need, or fixture that you need when you

are working on an instrument because a lot of them they aren't standardized,

they are different sizes, so you just go ahead and make them.

BG: Ok.

CC: It's like a pattern maker, like people who do designs for like airplanes.

When you start building a new product, you have somebody who 10:00does a prototype,

and they build patterns, and that's what a lot of what we do here.

BG: Patterns, ok.

CC: You do a lot of that.

BG: You call that a caul, and what was the other thing?

CC: This is a clamping caul.

BG: A clamping caul?

CC: This is a clamping caul, and this is just a glue backing caul for when I am

making different types of pick guards, and all the pick guards that came off of

Martin guitars I have to replicate them, so I have to make one of these for

different sized pick guards.

BG: Ok.

CC: So you can't buy these, you have to make them, so that's why I have the

woodworking shop, and you always have all these little pieces of wood laying

around. It never ends.

BG: I don't see any markings on there. How do you know what it's for?

CC: Well, a lot of times I do. There is on that one [holds up block].

BG: Ok.

CC: This is a brand new one I just made.

BG: Oh I see.

CC: I forgot to mark it. This is the current D-28.

BG: Current--?

CC: D-28 guitar.

BG: That means the ones they are making right now?

CC: Yeah.

BG: Martin D-28s.

CC: Yes.

BG: Ok.

CC: And that's the size I use.

BG: And that's the pick guard for that?

CC: Yes, that's the pick guard.

BG: So you don't send it to the factory for a pick guard, you make your own?

CC: Well I do, for some, but the new ones, they aren't always a perfect shape--

They've changed them 11:00over the years. And what the deal is, the new ones aren't

as pretty as the ones I make. They'll send me a pick guard and the edges are

real rough and they are pointy, they aren't rounded. I like them rounded. So I

put the pick guard on here and I round the edges and I sand it and then I go

downstairs and use this big buffer where I buff them, so I make them even better

than the ones that come from the factory.

BG: Ok.

CC: There's good, better, and best, and I try to be one of the best.

BG: Well, I was looking at the interview that was done with you before and you

made a remark about, a strong statement that you were a perfectionist

CC: I am. It's a blessing and a curse. I work on a lot of instruments that don't

warrant being a perfectionist, you know, because they aren't real high-end

instruments, but you still try to do the best work you can on somebody's one

hundred dollar guitar, if I have to do a set-up or a repair on it. If they want

to pay for the repair, I should do the best work I possibly can. It's like I

told the guy on the upright bass I'm working on, this is a seven or eight

hundred 12:00dollar repair, and I said, "That bass isn't worth it," and he said,

"It's my wife's; it's worth it. Fix it. I don't care what it costs." So I said

ok. It will be a beautiful little job when I'm done with it.

BG: From your perspective, you say worth it because it's not that expensive of--

CC: Right. But a lot of instruments have sentimental value.

BG: Right.

CC: Sentimental value means a lot to people. I think next to people's children,

their musical instruments are some of their most prized possessions, and it's a

point of honor to try to take care of them when they are in my shop and do the

best work I can, and to try to understand exactly what the customer wants.

Builders, whether I'm building something or whether I'm repairing something,

what the customer wants, what their budget is, and you know, what their

expectations are for that instrument. If they just want it to be functional

that's one thing, if they want it to be beautiful, as in this one, this thing

has scratches and dents all over it, but to replace the edges he wants it to

look nice, 13:00but it can't be too nice because we don't want it to look brand new,

we want it to still look old. So, that's what he wants, he told me exactly what

he wanted and that's what I'll try to do.

BG: Sounds like it would be hard to repair something and still make it look old.

CC: Nah.

BG: No?

CC: No, you just don't do as good of a repair. I mean, you don't get quite as

involved in making it real shinny and getting every little scratch out of it

because that's full of scratches and dents.

BG: When you are adding the edges we were talking about, you are trying to make

those look like new aren't you?

CC: Well, look like it was not busted off of there basically, but not

necessarily brand new looking. I'll still try to keep it rough looking, a little.

BG: So you are making choices all the time--

CC: All the time--

BG: --about the degree, and how much of that was customer input?

CC: A lot of it is. The customer has the final say because it depends on how

much they want to spend. That can be a seven or eight hundred dollars repair, or

that can a thousand or fifteen hundred dollars repair. He might say, "I want you

to go over this and try to minimize 14:00all the scratches and make it look really

good," and I might have to get the hand buffer out and do buffing on it and I

would probably try to talk him out of that type of repair on that instrument,

but then you have to reach a compromise too, what you're willing to do. I don't

say no very often to my customers, but I have said no occasionally.

BG: No to what?

CC: No to the kind of repair they want on the piece that they brought in.

BG: Too much work?

CC: Yeah.

BG: I just bought a heating system from a salesman that I thought was pushing

towards the high-end and I let him know and he didn't quite care, he thought I

could get a loan and pay for it. So, you've got that choice though, you try to

fit what you think, how do you figure that out with a customer?

CC: Well, I think you have to be honest. Most of the time I think, when you are

honest with your customers, yeah, I say I'm sorry, this is a, it may be a 19, 50k 15:00arch top guitar, and you may want to put a two thousand dollar repair into it,

but it's never going to play good, it's never going to look good, it just

doesn't have the craftsmanship to begin with to do that. So you have to be

honest. Most of the time they are going to go, oh, ok maybe I'll just hang it on

the wall. It's amazing, if you are really just blunt, just as blunt and honest

as you can be, say you know, this is a neat old guitar but it didn't have the

craftsmanship to warrant what you want to do with it. And you try to get them to

come around to your side. If they don't want to, then you say I'm sorry, that

isn't the type of repair that I want to do, and I won't do that. Take it to

somebody else down the road. I don't very often do that. I really try to talk

sense into my customers. I mean, I've got a couple hanging over there on the

wall right now that are three or four hundred dollar repairs and I might get my

cost out of that repair, but I have to sell those instruments if they don't come

back for them. See, that's what you try not to do, you try not to get more of a

repair into an instrument than it's worth because, let's say they decide they

don't want that instrument now. Ok, 16:00that four hundred dollar repair is done. Is

that instrument worth four hundred dollars? Now, if I say I don't want to do it

and they say, "Here's the money. I want you to do it." Well, ok.

BG: I see the risk there.

CC: You see the risk? I can get stuck with instruments that I can't even get my labor--

BG: Yeah, I saw that instrument over there; it didn't look very high quality.

CC: Sentimental.

BG: Yeah, sentimental.

CC: Yeah, sentimental, and you know, it's their instrument. It might have been

their first instrument, and if it was the first instrument that their

grandfather gave them, I mean, it's got a lot of memories. That's what musical

instruments are all about.

BG: Yeah, you know, I've been watching these crazy shows on TV about these

collectors and how prices are whatever the collectors will pay for them, and

collecting seems to be a whole different thing, doesn't it, from a musician?

CC: Yeah it is. I have one customer who taught guitar here for about twenty

years, just a great guy, and he is a collector. I just have to laugh. I just

sold him this little banjo back here that I'm working 17:00on, and I bought it for my

boyfriend and my boyfriend said, "Nah, it's not good enough, I don't want it, so

Owen came in and he looked at it and he said, "I'd really like to have that,"

and I said, "It's yours." So I sold it to him, and he's just got it. He's just

like one of those guys at the pickers. He goes to pawn shops every week and he

goes yard selling--

CC continues: -- and I don't get it because I was around instruments my whole life.

CC continues: Collecting is a whole other realm of instrument acquisition in

repair, there is a lot of repair work into people's collections that we have to

do. I have one guy that collects, he wants one of everything before he dies I

think, and he's my age. He's getting close, I don't know how many instruments he

has, but he likes a little bit of everything. Doesn't have to be really high

quality. He just likes to have one of 18:00everything and so that's great. I don't

understand it because I don't have enough room in my house. I don't want to

collect a lot of stuff. I have a nice little collection of instruments, but

there are people out there that want one of everything.

BG: Yeah, I've seen that before.

CC: And my dad had a, probably had a collection of about a hundred instruments

over the years and we just started to disperse that collection because he is in

his eighties now and I don't see much sense in keeping a bunch of instruments

that no one is going to play, so I'd like, I'd like people to get them out into

the hands of people who are players. He's got some really nice instruments.

BG: Why did your dad collect instruments?

CC: Well because he had salesmen who would come and, back when he was in

business, ten, twenty, thirty years ago he always had salesmen who would call on

you and one way a lot of them, to make extra money on the side, is to buy

something at somebody's store pretty inexpensive and then they'd bring it to

another store and go, "Hey, are you interested in looking at some of the stuff I

bought?" Vintage instruments for very little 19:00money. He would make maybe a

hundred bucks on them or something. Once they found out that my dad was

interested in collecting they would bring him a lot of stuff and he has really

neat stuff over the years that he has collected. He's collected for the last

forty-five years, well forty, I don't think he's collected much over the last

five or six years.

BG: Is your dad still here?

CC: He is.

BG: Oh ok.

CC: Yeah, he still stays at home and does all the book keeping. He doesn't come

into the store much anymore.

BG: So your mom works over there huh?

CC: My mother, they are both eighty. Mom comes in so I can have a day off and so

my other co-worker can have a day off. See, basically, if you don't get a day

off you get pretty burnt out, you know.

BG: Do you take a day off every seven days? Do you work six days?

CC: No I work five days a week. Yeah.

BG: Well I'm kind of interested. We did this exhibit about luthiers, "Made to Be

Played," and one of the themes that was in there was how the luthier or

instrument repair person, which I guess is the same thing sometimes, right?

CC: Mhm.

BG: -- Has a community of people that they service. To me it seems like, just 20:00listening to you, it seems like you have a community of professional instrument

players and band people. Then you have people who are just not. Is there a

difference between those two people when you deal with them?

CC: No, not really. A customer is a customer. Anybody who comes in here with an

instrument for me to repair, you know, we just, we work on it together, but they

are all pretty much the same as far as I'm concerned. Now you know, one

exclusion, the players. I have professional people who are players and those

guys come in and go, and I don't care if it's somebody who is playing in church

next week, or somebody who is going to the winery and playing, doesn't matter,

if they come in and say to me, "I need my horn, or, I need my instrument, and I

need it in like three days, can you do this?" I go, yeah, I'm going to try if

it's possible for me to do it, I really try to get the players instruments back

in their hands really quick. Last night a kid came in here at ten minutes till

six and said, "I need my band, my clarinet doesn't work," and it just needed a 21:00screw. Well you know, ok, fine. Let me sit down and find a screw for it and fix

it for him. I have a lot of walk in customers that know that I'll stop what I'm

doing and repair something if I can while they wait or I'll try to get it back

to them in two or three days. When it comes to players, when you cater to the

people who are professionals, they don't necessarily always have the most money,

but they're going to tell a lot of people. If you took care of their instrument,

they are going to tell a whole lot of people about you, and that's more

customers that are going to come in.

BG: You said often times they were concerned about getting the thing ready to

play again. How about the sound? Are they more interested in that too than the

other people?

CC: Well you have to remember, a horn that you have, or a stringed instrument

that you have, has its own inherent sound. I can only do so much to change that.

It is amazing that people can go for a year and not change guitar strings, or

not ever set-up their guitar and go-- There's a guy out of Lexington that I

service all his instruments, and he's hard on his instruments, so he came in

with 22:00this beautiful little baby Clairvay. He said, "It sounds awful. It doesn't

play in tune. I hate the way it feels. And, I'm going to sell it, so just put

new strings on it." And I said, "Oh Chris, this is a beautiful guitar. Let's fix

it up. I think you'll, I know he wanted a little guitar anyway, let me fix this

guitar right." And I did, and he came and picked it up a week later and he was

sitting right there. He played it for about an hour and he said, "I'm not going

to sell this guitar now." I said, "I told you, it was a good guitar. You just

never took the time to let somebody get it right. To set it up, to put new

strings on it, to get the action the way it should be. Make it perfect. Make it

better than it was when he got it."

BG: Why don't you go through the steps of what you did to that particular guitar

to make it better?

CC: Let me go grab a guitar. I'll be right back.

BG: This one here?

CC: Not that guitar. Let me grab one a different guitar.

BG: Oh, ok.

CC: So let's talk about--

BG: Setting up?

CC: A set-up.

BG: A set-up, ok, and that's what a 23:00 repairperson--

CC: That's one of the biggest jobs that I have is to set-up; whether it's a band

instrument or a stringed instrument, to set it up so it will play perfectly.

We're going to talk about stringed instruments right now.

A set-up is what you do to make a guitar play perfectly in tune and play

perfectly easy. Musical instruments are not hard to play, and people always so,

"Oh my fingers hurt." Your fingers should never hurt. I mean, maybe if you play

for two hours your fingers might hurt for a little bit, but the problem with

stringed instruments is, when they are made over seas, or when they are made

almost anywhere, they're going to move a lot after when they are built, within

six months or a year old. They haven't gotten their "broken in" period yet. Kind

of like a new car, you break it in. On an instrument, it has to get this thing

called a belly, and it settles down after it's built. When it's brand new, in

six months it's going to be a totally different instrument.

When you first build an 24:00 instrument--

BG: Wait a minute. A "belly," you mean--

CC: This little guy is going to rise up a little bit. The top--

BG: It's going to rise up.

CC: It's going to rise up. It's going to get its belly. It's going to get

settled in with the bracing that it has, it's got to get broken in and it

actually rises up here a little bit.

So usually the action, the action is the height of the string to the

fingerboard, fret board. It's going to rise up a little bit. What happens with

stringed instruments is, when they are made they are always set-up, usually a

little bit high. Why are they set-up a little bit high? Because you can come

down very easy with the nut and with the saddle. I can take a little bit off

with the belt sander, and I can use my nut files and file that grove a little

bit deeper, but if I have to make a new piece, and make a higher action because

it is buzzing, I have to replace the part and that's a hundred dollars worth of

parts and labor. So to come down is easy, to go back up is harder. If a guitar

comes 25:00in here and it's buzzing already because the action is too low, most music

stores would send that back to the manufacturer. They wouldn't try to fix it,

because it is a lot more work. So every guitar that comes in the front door, I

have to do a set-up on.

The set-up is what makes it play easy.

BG: Are you saying that the instrument maker sees that ahead of time; that he

makes it high so you can do a better set-up?

CC: Well you have to remember that most of the guitars I work on are made in

factories, so they are not made by individuals.

BG: Ok.

CC: So even the Martin factory and the Taylor factory, chances are, if it is a

brand new guitar, six months later down the road somebody is going to go, "Well

my action is a little high." I go, "Well that's not a problem, we'll set it up

for you and lower it." Now what happens when you have high action is, the

instrument also tends to want to play sharp. So it doesn't sound good. It

doesn't play in tune properly. So a good set-up is one of the hardest and one of

the most important things you have to do to a stringed instrument guitar 26:00and I

do it every day, all the time. You know, changing the strings is one thing, but

making sure the neck is straight, the nut is adjusted properly, and that the

saddle is adjusted properly, those three things work in tandem together. You

don't do one repair, one adjustment, without doing all three of them usually,

and that's what makes a guitar perfect.

Now when I sell a Martin guitar, I'm a Martin authorized repair center, I tell

my customers, "I want to see you in six months because you have one free

set-up." And that's why I want them to come back and understand that I want to

check out the guitar, particularly for two reasons: I want to see what the

guitar is doing as it's getting broken in, but I also want to see how the

customer is treating it, and you know, if I have to give them some direction

about humidifying it, or keeping it in the case. Let's put a pick guard on it if

there is not a pick guard. Let's try to modify your pick playing because they

are putting scratches all over it, you know, whatever, and they do that, they

bring them back in and 27:00almost all of my customers do. They let me check them

out, and I try to tell my customers, "If you like your guitar, if it's a really

good guitar, I need to see it once a year. At least once a year."

BG: What do shops in Lexington that don't have a luthier working for them do?

CC: Send them to me.

BG: Oh, do they?

CC: Or do without.

BG: Because no one that has ever sold me a guitar as told me that I should bring

it back in.

CC: I spend a lot of time educating my customers. I would really like to do a

documentary on instrument maintenance, because you know, I'd like to push that

button and go, oh, just push that button and listen to why you should humidify

your instrument, and I make my own little humidifiers and I give them to my

customers. They are soap dishes, a portable soap dish, a travel soap dish with

holes drilled in it with a sponge in it so people will keep their instruments

humidified in the winter time. If you don't humidify your Martin guitar in the

wintertime you have voided the warranty on it.

Now I tell all my customers when they have a wooden guitar, "You need to

humidify it in the wintertime."

BG: What 28:00if your house has a humidifier in it?

CC: I don't care. It still can get cracks. You can't keep your house at forty

five to fifty percent humidity. It's almost impossible.

BG: Oh, so that's what it needs to be, forty-five to fifty?

CC: So keep it in the case. If you keep a humidifier in there you have less

chance. I don't care what you do with it in the summer time, hang it on the

wall, whatever you want because in Kentucky as humid as it is, even with the AC

on we usually always have a relative humidity around forty to forty-five percent

in here. You can't get it too dry in the summer. It's heat that pulls all of the

moisture out of the air. So, you want to always humidify. You suffer, your hair,

your skin, your furniture, your breathing at night, everything suffers, so you

should humidify your house, not just your guitar case, but those little

humidifiers that you put in the guitar case are just a little insurance policy,

that's all they are.

BG: So hanging it up on the wall is not good.

CC: Not in the wintertime--

BG: Not in the wintertime?

CC: Not in the wintertime, not unless it's an all plywood guitar, but then the

neck is solid wood. It's still going to move.

BG: 29:00Ok. Well I guess I better start bringing my stuff in, huh? Because they've been hanging in the house.

CC: Do you play them?

BG: A little bit.

CC: A little bit? Well, the more you play them, the more you are going to know

that they are not right.

BG: Yeah.

CC: You know. Some guitars never ever move.

BG: So every instrument you sell, you have to know how to set-up, right?

CC: I do. Custom set-up on everything. Yep.

BG: Ok.

CC: I don't care if it's a hundred dollar guitar, or a ten thousand dollar

guitar; I want it to play easy.

BG: So there are three things together that make a set-up: the bridge height--

CC: The neck height.

BG: The cut--

CC: The neck adjustment. Straightness of the neck.

BG: Do you start with one over the other?

CC: I usually start with the straightness of the neck.

BG: Ok.

CC: Yeah, because I want a straight neck before I do anything else. And new

strings, I will not do a set-up with old strings either. I want new strings all

the time.

BG: Ok.

CC: Because I mean, if they are a week old, that's ok, but if they are six

months old, they're not going to give me the same reading on that instrument as

a newer set of strings. 30:00I like to have new strings. I like to tell my customers,

"If you like your hands and you like your instrument, you really ought to change

your strings every couple of months." You know, professionals change their

strings once a week.

BG: Wow.

CC: They just do.

BG: Don't those strings stretch?

CC: Yeah, I do more dog-gone set-ups on instruments--


CC: Yeah, tuneage can be loose. Yeah they can.

BG: Ok.

CC: But that's usually not the case. A lot of time people will come in here and

say, "My guitar is not staying in tune," and most of the time it is just a good

set-up and strings. Now how long has it been since you've put new strings on

your guitar? A year?

BG: Yeah.

CC: Yeah, well there you go.

BG: Eddie Pennington was getting some strings from this guy who was trying them

out and he gave me a set and I took them home.

CC: You know, even if you don't play it, every time you get up and try to strum

on them a little, but you can tune it, and they just get dead after a while.

BG: All right.

CC: They do, they just go dead.

BG: What do you-- do you charge different amounts for different instruments for setting-up?

CC: No. A basic set-up is fifty-five dollars 31:00plus the strings. And then, if I do

anything more, you add on top of that, but I don't charge-- If somebody brings

in a ten thousand dollar guitar or Martin and needs a basic set-up I'm going to

charge the same thing. I'm just as cautious. If I worked on only, if I worked

anywhere else besides Richmond, Kentucky, and worked on only high-end

instruments, a lot of people, you know, are a hundred, hundred and fifty dollars

to do a basic set-up, but they are known for just working on really high-end

instruments. I couldn't get away with that and make a living in Richmond, Kentucky.

BG: Yeah.

CC: I'm pretty reasonably priced.

BG: It depends on the client I guess.

CC: Right.

BG: If it's a place that has a lot of guitars. Ok. So setting-up is one main

thing that you have to do. You seem to enjoy it, right?

CC: I do. I enjoy it a lot. It beats a real job. I never get bored. There's

always, I mean, like right now I'm actually a little caught up, but right now

I'm working on a violin an 32:00upright bass, I call it a Frankenstein handmade

electric guitar back there, a four-stringed banjo, I'm working on so many

different things every day. I never work on the same thing every day. I never

know what the day is going to bring, which is fun.

BG: How do you plan out your day when you've got those four instruments?

CC: I've always got back up. I've always got stuff--

BG: No, I mean, do you say I'm going to spend this much time on this; I'm going

to do this--?

CC: Yes, I have a numbering system. I try to number instruments. Long-term

stuff, big jobs, get numbered, and I try to give the people you know, two weeks,

three weeks, give them an idea of how long it's going to take. Basic set-ups and

re-strings I usually do the same day because I can do them in, I can do a

fifty-five dollar set-up in fifteen minutes.

BG: That's good pay.

CC: Yeah. I mean, if it doesn't need anything else besides a re-stringing, I can

get it out of here really quick if I don't have to make new pieces and parts for

it. I'm pretty quick at what I do so I can get it in and out of here. And I have

some help. I can say, "You clean 33:00it and put strings on it, and then I'll do the

set-up." I look at it before we take the strings off of it and I know exactly

what I'm going to have to do to it when the strings are put on there. So that

helps me a lot.

BG: When you say numbering system, you mean the number of how many days?

CC: No, I number-- I've got one of these instruments over there-- There is one

through twenty and I work one through twenty.

BG: Do you write it down on a piece of paper?

CC: No, I put a number on the case.

BG: Ok, but how do you know, do you look at the calendar in the morning and say,

"I've got a ten"?

CC: No, I come in and look at what's on the bench and I'll look at the numbers

that are there and I kind of try to assess-- Sometimes it's who is screaming at me.

BG: Oh ok.

CC: Sometimes I'll do to a customer, they'll go, "I need that by Friday," and I

go, "Ok, you're going to call me on Thursday and let's make sure it's on the

bench," because I get overwhelmed with repair work a lot of times.

BG: You can talk some people into taking it a little bit longer.

CC: Yes. Hey, the worst thing you can say to me is, "I'm not in a hurry,"

because I'll have it for six months. Sometimes I'm six months behind on repair

work. I'm not right now. I'm getting caught up. 34:00So when I do get a little caught

up, what I try to do is work in some of my store instruments that I have to get

ready for the band instrument season next year, or, you know, my mom has a

ukulele that has been here for a year that I have to do a neck set on. It's at

the bottom of the pile, but I'm going to try to work that in now. Its stuff that

I'm not going to make any money on, but you still have to get it out there and

work on it.

BG: So it's kind of the squeaky wheel that gets the--

CC: Absolutely.

BG: I heard your mom say that.

CC: That's why my ukulele is a year in the making and still doesn't have the

neck on it, because too many things going on.

BG: So that's kind of how you organize your day is, I'm going to do this, and

I'm going to do that, kind of thing, right?

CC: Yep.

BG: And--

CC: I try to do the easy stuff, the stuff I know I can get done in and out of

here really quick, that gets done first, and then, the people who are screaming

that they need it. So those are the two things that really take priority. The

really easy stuff that's cash flow, we call it cash flow because it's in and out

of here and we make a little money every day, and then the stuff that I know I

have to get done that 35:00has a time schedule. He [points off camera] needed that by

June. Well this is the end of April, but I knew I had to get started on that and

two weeks ago I got started on that. I knew I had to get started on it, because

I knew that that was possibly a two or three month job if it didn't go as

smoothly as I knew it would, and it did, so I'm going to be done three or four

weeks early which is great. He's happy. I'm happy; I'm going to get paid early.

But on big jobs like that, that fingerboard came off easy, the neck went

together easy, it just as easily could have been put together with epoxy and

have been a really hard repair.

You never know when you are doing really old instruments what another

repairperson has done that is going to cause you some grief. So, I always try to

give myself an out and go a month, but if I give myself two weeks I'm real happy.

BG: So the, what makes you feel good about your day then, at the end of the day?

CC: Oh, not getting as much done as I can, but getting some really good repair

work done, 36:00or when my customer comes in and I did something that was really easy

but they go, "Oh, you're a genius." I go, "Thank you very much."

BG: Ok. It lights the fire in you.

CC: Well, when you've really made somebody happy because there is nobody else

that can fix that instrument for them, their band director can't, their

instructor can't, when somebody comes in and discovers what I do here, that

makes me happy.

BG: Well you are somebody who has made instruments from scratch, and knows what

the pleasure of that is, and you're somebody who does repairs, and has taken

instruments and made them almost new, or sounding new, right?

CC: Mhm.

BG: Are their different feelings for--?

CC: Absolutely there is a big difference. I thought when I was younger that I

did want to be a builder. That's what I studied at Taylor, and that's what I

went and studied with John Monteleone [] at Long

Island, and I don't think I have the temperament to be a repairperson, I don't

think I'm a good 37:00enough artist.

BG: -- The satisfaction that you get from making instruments versus repairing instruments.

CC: Right. I don't think I'm a good enough artist to be a builder. I don't--

There are builders, and there are builders. A lot of people out there they are

builders and they just copy what's already been made.

CC: There are builders, and there are builders. My partner, who is a high-end

builder, is also a fabulous artist. He takes the design, the Lloyd Loar, or the

Gibson F-5 mandolin and tweaks it, and sometimes he'll put a drawing on the

kitchen wall and look at it for weeks. Then I'll come in and I'll go, "What did

you do to that? It looks different." He said, "I 38:00moved that line a 32nd of an

inch," and it made the whole thing look different. It's just amazing what you

can do to tweak existing designs that are out there, because I don't think some

of the best designs out there are not evolved completely. The guitar is not a

complete instrument. The violin is. I don't think anybody can hardly perfect the

violin anymore. I mean, look how little this is. It's so loud, so fabulous

sounding. It is just an incredible instrument. The guitar is still evolving.

BG: So you are saying that they are still evolving, so little tweaks that people

are making to it--

CC: There are so many wonderful things that people are doing to guitars right

now. They are putting holes in them. They are calling them "ports." Well I'm

going to put ports in my next ukulele. My next ukulele is going to have a port

here, and a port here, and they call them monitor holes, or port holes, and it's

amazing because the last 39:00builders conference I went, we did a test and we closed

the ports and then we played and we opened the ports and it made it louder. Now

you wouldn't think that it would make it louder, because some of the sound is

coming out of the sides. It's just amazing what people are doing with

instruments right now. A lot of people are cutting this part of the instrument

off right here and making a contoured area for your arm. Some of us older

people, when we play our arms go numb because of that sharp edge. A lot of

people are contouring the bottom of the instrument so when you set it on your

lap it feels a little bit nicer. Custom builders are just doing amazing things.

I think we are living in the age of the builder. The bar is set very high. You

have to be really good to make it as a small shop builder right now. There's

just so much good stuff out there right now. It's amazing. And, you know,

there's a lot of mediocre stuff out there right now too that sounds ok, but when

people want to pay the big bucks, it has to look perfect, and it has to play

perfect, and it has to sound fabulous. 40:00That's what my partner, John Hamlett, his

instruments are just incredible. All of them! I don't think I've ever seen him

build a bad instrument. They are all just over the top beautiful.

BG: So he's moving here?

CC: He's moving here from Virginia.

BG: He's been a luthier in Virginia for a while?

CC: He's been a luthier for over twenty years. He learned his trade while

working for Stelling Banjo Works, Inc., which is a really high-end; they are

probably the most high-end banjo company in the country, in the world actually.

They are one. He worked for them and learned his trade and now he's on his own

and he's about a year or two back ordered with custom instruments that he's

making. So, I would like to be a builder, I would like to be a builder but I

don't really want to build full-time. I like doing repair work, I like the

retail, when I slow down in another ten or fifteen years I'd like to make

ukuleles. They are fun easy instruments to build. They are not hard. I mean they

aren't easy for somebody who is a beginner woodworker who has never done any,

but as far as building instruments they are not as hard as some and I'd like to 41:00build a few of them. I don't think I would want to do it for my only livelihood.

I like doing repair work. Repair work is so satisfying because you just, it's

instant satisfaction. I've repaired this instrument. I've made somebody happy.

I've made a little money. I don't have to manufacture anything. I'm not on an

assembly line. I'm my own boss. Nobody knows what I'm doing. My mother, she

can't say, "Well you need to get this and this done today." I'm the only one

that knows what I have to do today and what people expect out of me. What my

customers expect out of me for that week, or that day, or that month, and I have

to hold myself responsible. I'm the only one who is going to suffer if I don't

do good work, or if I don't do timely work.

BG: Ok. I want to get into that, instrument repair, a lot more, but I just want

to go back a little bit to the aesthetics of, it sounds like 42:00you don't consider

yourself an artist because you aren't innovative with an instrument, you said

everyone is being more innovative, but what's wrong with being traditional with

an instrument?

CC: Oh, it's boring. It's like reinventing the wheel. It's hard to do. To build

a copy, a Martin guitar copy, a lot of people just do that. They want to build

just Martin guitar copies and try to make them better and better. I'm not sure

you can make the Martin guitar a whole lot better. I think they've done that. So

I'd like to make something that not a lot of people are doing.

There are a lot more ukulele builders right now than there has been because the

ukulele is hotter than it has been since the '20s and I think it would be fun,

it's a fun, silly instrument, you can be just as silly and fun as you want to

be. I was just up in New York City for an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum--

CC continues: --that my mentor was part of and it was just so fabulous. But I

had an opportunity to visit a music store in Soho called 43:00"Rudy's Music" and all

they carry are high-end custom instruments, but they are Fender high-end

instruments, and Gibsons, and D'Angelicas, and D'Aquisto guitars, and ukuleles.

I just laughed because they had thirty or forty of these custom-made ukuleles

and there are some companies that make the low-end, average ukuleles, and then

they have their high-end custom stuff and they are called, "fleas," these one,

particular ukuleles, and they were hand carved and they were just as eccentric

as you can get. That's what I'd like to do, something fun and different.

BG: Ok, but you don't look down on other luthiers who just do--

CC: No, absolutely now, I would never look down on any luthier, I just don't

have the temperament or the time or the situation right now where I want to just

sit around and build guitars.

BG: So was there a moment in you life when you decided that you didn't want to

do that?

CC: After I built my first mandolin. I built a really nice mandolin and it was

the hardest eight weeks of my life. I worked really hard to make an exceptional 44:00instrument. It was very solitary. It was very focused. It was just very hard,

mentally and physically. It was just a really hard thing to do. Rarely was there

interaction with anyone else other than my mentor. That was it. I worked eight,

ten, fifteen hours a day, built a beautiful instrument and decided, I don't want

to do this the rest of my life. I don't want to just build. I am glad I built my

guitar, I am glad I built eight or ten instruments, but I don't want to do that

all the time. It's fun to mix it up. Even my partner, John, he says, "I love

building," he's mainly a builder, but you know, right now he's got maybe thirty

instruments in his shop that he's repairing because people come to him and he

prices himself over the top, "Ok, I'll do it, and this is what I get," and

they'll say, "I don't care, fix it." I mean, he's really, really one of the

best. All these people in Virginia are kind of freaking out because they think

he's leaving. It will be a year before he leaves Virginia because we are working

on this shop and the transition period, but they are all thinking, "Oh, I've got

to get my instrument repaired 45:00before he leaves because he is one of the best."

He's got the reputation there that I have here and I said, "Well you need to

tell them," we need to put a little blurb on his website that says, "I'm not

leaving permanently," because we still have family there. We'll be back there

once a month to pick up instruments if we have to.

BG: Can you see doing, people sending instruments to you?

CC: People do send me instruments.

BG: Sounds like you need to have that interaction with them.

CC: No, not necessarily. I have a lot of interaction with people in the store,

but you talk to people on the phone and figure out what they want. I don't have

a problem with people sending me their instruments.

BG: Ok.

CC: It happens.

BG: So building instruments is solitary and you don't feel like that's part of

what you want to do anymore, so you made a choice and you really like repairing instruments.

CC: I do. It's really hard to be, like I said, I think one of the main things

too, it's really hard to be a builder unless you are just exceptionally good.

It's hard to make a good 46:00living just being a builder. Getting your name out

there, it's like being a musician. You've got to take every gig; you've got to

build whatever somebody wants you to build. It's a hard thing to do, and it

takes years to get your name out there and to get your quality and to get known.

John Hamlett was lucky that he worked for another company that had a lot of

people coming and going. He got to see his stuff. So he got his name out there,

but it still took twenty years and now he's back ordered on instruments but it

takes a long time. I'll never be without a job if I want to repair instruments.

BG: Well, it sounds like the best of both worlds. You can make your ukulele and--

CC: Right. I can make anything I want if I want to go downstairs after I close

the shop and work for five or six hours.

BG: But you sound like you are a multi-tasker too.

CC: Yeah, I love to multi-task. You are absolutely right. I can do many things.

I can take care of four customers at one time.

BG: You know, I did the Folklife festival for years [Kentucky Folklife Festival]

and that's 47:00what I enjoyed was doing ten different things at one time.

CC: It's fun.

BG: I'm finding out now that it's not supposed to be good for you.

CC: Stressful.

BG: Well, they say, you don't remember anything because you are doing so many things.

CC: Right.

BG: And then I forgot where I was.

CC: You don't remember anything because you are multi-tasking.

BG: Well, I guess what I'd like to ask you more about is, do you have any

stories about instruments that you repaired that you looked at first for a while

and then you got a lot of pleasuring out of doing because it took so much work.

CC: Well, I mean, this one is one of them. I'm trying to think because my memory

is always--

BG: The bass that's over here.

CC: Yeah, the bass that I'm working on right now. It's a 1950s-K and they are

real desirable Bluegrass/Country Music folk instruments for people to play in

bands. They are workhorses. You can just, you can just haul them around and bang

them around, and this instrument belongs to this guy's wife, and she wants it

refurbished, 48:00and I tried to talk him out of doing a lot of what he wanted, and

he said, "No, I want this done." Of course, this did have repair work done by

Homer Ledford before I got ahold of it, twenty or thirty years ago, to have a

custom neck for this lady. He took the neck down really little.

BG: Oh, I noticed that. The neck looks--

CC: Really little, and Homer did that. So he customized it for this particular person.

BG: And it still sounded ok?

CC: Yeah. It broke. You have to be a little more careful when you take a neck

down really thin. That's what happened. It fell over and cracked. That's why I

had to put a piece of wood in it.

BG: Oh ok.

CC: It cracked.

BG: But it sounded ok being that short?

CC: It's not shorter, it's just thinner. It's thinner.

BG: Oh, I thought you meant--

CC: It's thinner back here.

BG: Oh, I thought you meant the neck was shorter.

CC: Nope, the neck is thinner right here.

BG: Thinner so she could put her hand around it.

CC: Exactly. So I tried to talk him out of having, he wanted all the edges

refurbished on this thing and I went, I've done little pieces on other

instruments, but I've never done to the extent that I've done on this one which

is 49:00about, it was about a fifty or sixty percent of the instrument, the sides

needed replacing. And I did it, and it's been a long job, it's been a big job,

and it looks good. Well, ok, this wasn't as bad as I thought it could be. I'll

do it again.

BG: Would you?

CC: Yeah, I mean, I'm not making a lot of money on the repair, I probably

underpriced it, but that's ok. It can be done and it can be made to look like

you can hardly tell that it was done.

BG: I saw you said that one other time that it's important to do a repair so

people don't know that you did a repair.

CC: Right.

BG: What does that mean?

CC: Sometimes you can't do that. To do a repair to look like the instrument

hasn't been damaged is a real art. There are some people out there that's all

they do. Like, if a Martin guitar neck gets broken, and they can glue it back

together, and then they can paint in the grain lines and they can do the finish

to look old, 50:00still old, but put the new finish on it and make it look old and

make it look like it's never been touched. Ok, I do a lot of pick guard

replacement and bridge replacement on Martin guitars. It's really important when

I take a bridge off the top of a Martin guitar that there are no tell-tale lines

anywhere, or no tell-tale sign that I actually took that bridge off there.

Whether it's cracked, or whether it's been replaced for some reason, I take a

lot of nicks out of Martin guitars to do neck sets. I'm supposed to do it so you

can't ever tell. That's really important.

BG: How do you do that?

CC: I use steam. I take this fret out right here and I inject steam into the

dovetail and I lift this off here with a heat lamp and then I go in and pull it

off and refit it and glue it, and it's about almost a four hundred dollar

repair, but I've done enough of them over the years -- I even did Donna Lamb's guitar.

BG: Oh yeah?

CC: Something that she wasn't comfortable with doing on her Martin. You 51:00 just,

you do enough of them and you get good. You have to keep these lines perfect.

You have to do it so you can't tell, and there are little tricks to the trade.

You pull that neck off of there and you touch the edges of it with a little bit

of super glue so it won't crack and it won't break as you are fitting it back on

there. There are lots of little tricks and that's why I belong to a couple of

different guilds so I can always learn new stuff and always keep up with the

newest, everyone is always coming out with a little newer way to do fix that

mousetrap. It's just amazing. Twenty years ago we never used super glue. We use

super glue with a lot of repairs these days. It's amazing. Its really good stuff.

BG: I know I've talked to Art Mize about some repairs; you want to make them reversible.

CC: Absolutely.

BG: So, super glue isn't reversible--

CC: If you have a crack and you fix a crack properly you don't want that

reversible, but if you don't do a good job you don't align it properly until the

line is perfect and you super glue, well then you've done a bad job and that's

not good 52:00because, I mean, super glue, it is reversible with, you can realize it

with acetone.

BG: Ok.

CC: Yeah, but you know, if you don't know how to do a good repair you should not

use super glue.

BG: So you communicate with other luthiers through the organization. Do they

have like a newsletter that comes out every month or, how often do you talk to

other people?

CC: It's quarterly. Oh gosh. Well, I talk to, the other two guys that I work

with on a daily basis just about. We collaborate and talk about repairs. What

would you do on this, and would you do that repair for me, you are so good at it.

BG: What two guys are you talking about?

CC: My boyfriend, my partner, John Hamlett, and then Doug Naselroad, who comes

and works for me. Doug works for me once a month. He'll come in and help me. He

helped me with this bass last weekend because I was getting behind and I was

getting kind of crazy and I said, "Oh, come in and let's work on this together."

Believe me, we did so much work in five hours on Saturday. I mean it would have

taken me a week to do it by myself and the two of us just flew into it and we 53:00downstairs and cut pieces and glued and clamped and got it done. We worked hard

together. It's amazing how you can get more motivated when you've got somebody

to throw ideas off of and help you with stuff. No man is an island. You just

can't do it by yourself. It's really nice-- I've forgotten more than I've

learned I think, and that's why there are websites like, there's a really

fabulous luthier, Euphenon Music in California [unable to locate website], Frank

Ford has a website called Well I tell any aspiring luthier, go to

that website. I even bought his CD to support him. He has one that I can take

home and put in my computer and sit around and play with and research and

refresh my knowledge on repairs, because I work on so many things, and I do some

many different repairs on so many different instruments, I might have forgotten

a technique for something, so I'll go and refresh my memory about it. How much

super glue should I mix with water, you know, just stuff like 54:00 that.

BG: Well how do you do that? Do you just look at the CD, or do you dial him up

and ask him?

CC: No, I actually go online. Everything he has ever done has been documented.

He is like the nerdiest nerd that ever was. He documents ever repair he has ever

done. Period. Ever. You name it and it's documented on his website. It's just amazing.

BG: Is it searchable?

CC: Oh yes, it's searchable. It's the most awesome website I've ever seen in my

whole life.

BG: Say there's a crack in this guitar and you couldn't figure out how to do it,

you would say, "Crack in guitar," in the search or something like that?

CC: "Crack repairs." Well, there is an index when you pull up

BG: Ok.

CC: So there's lots of, lots of networking you can do. My partner, John, he gets

on Mandolin Café and he collaborates with other, all of his friends in Virginia

that he worked with at Stelling Banjo Works, he talks to them at lot. I bet he

talks to those guys once a week. One of his neighbors is a luthier. I mean, you

know, a guy down the road he worked with. So we are always collaborating, we are

always working together. I had a guy that came out to my house on Monday who is 55:00from Somerset, I think he's from Somerset, he's new in the area, and he came

here to take care of his mom. His mom has Alzheimer's, but he just built his

first instrument and he's doing some repair work and he had a guitar that he

wasn't comfortable doing the repair work on. So he called me on Monday and he

was here and I was at home and he said, "Oh I really need to see you," and I

said, "Well come on out to the house." John and I are here, bring it out, and it

was 1928-K, but it was a really neat old guitar and it needed three or four

hundred dollars worth of work. So we walked him through a bunch of the stuff and

two hours later he was down the road and he was as happy and said, "Thank you

very much," and he sends me repair work so I try to help him because I know when

there is an authorized Martin repair that he doesn't want to do he sends it to

me. So we all work together. There are not enough of us to begin with. We are

always going to have enough repair work. So if we help each other, and support

each other, we will all 56:00make a good living.

BG: Well good.

CC: Yeah.

BG: You know, in some professions they say, in some marriages they say you

shouldn't date or be with somebody who is in the same business with you. Has

that been a problem with you?

CC: No. He's better than me and he knows it, and I know it.

BG: Really?

CC: Yeah. He is even more of a perfectionist than I am. There are some things

that he doesn't do. He doesn't work on electronic stuff at all as far as

electronics in acoustic guitars and I do. I put in pickups and I work on

electric guitars and he doesn't work on electric guitars. Like I said, when you

get to be in your fifties, he'll forget something and call me and ask me, and

I'll forget something and call him or discuss it with him, so hopefully

somebody's brain cells will always be working so you can have someone to help

you, but that's not been a problem with us and we've been doing this together

for-- we met in Burlington, Vermont, at a builders conference and we've been

together for thirteen years.

BG: Oh great.

CC: Yeah. It's 57:00fun. I told him, when the shop was done, I had to have a

workbench in the shop if he expected to have a bed in the house, and he said,

ok. So, hopefully I'll get to do more work at home to which will be nice.

BG: So you said something about your reputation earlier. You feel like you have

a good reputation?

CC: I do, I think I do. Keeping a good reputation is not hard, as long as you

know what your limits are. It's like this guy that came to my house on Monday.

He knows what his limits are. He has been doing instrument repair work for four,

five, or six years, something like that, and he knows what his limits are, and

you are still a fledgling apprentice, you are still learning six, seven, or ten

years into the trade, I mean we learn every day. If you ever think you've

learned it all then you've quit learning, you're done. You learn something new

hopefully every day, but he was smart enough to come to my house. He is trying

to 58:00keep his reputation in tact. He is building his reputation. He knows what he

isn't comfortable doing and that is where you stop. For the first ten or fifteen

years I didn't work on Martin guitars. I mean, very little, because I wasn't

comfortable enough working on really high-end stuff. You have to; you only do

what you know you can do good. If you don't think you can do it, hand it off to

somebody else or say no, I'm not comfortable doing that repair work because

that's how you damage your reputation. Any reputation, any trade you are in, you

build slowly. That's why the Europeans have the apprentice system. You

apprentice for seven years and you are still a rookie for at least seven years.

I can remember when I first learned that, when I went to school in Iowa for a

whole year and I went, "What? You mean I'm going to get out of school after a

whole year and not know everything?" You know, when you are in your twenties and

you think you're going to know everything in one or two years. Whew. Boy, that's

not the case.

BG: When you were at Taylor, you were kind of an apprentice weren't you?

CC: 59:00I was. I built my own guitar. I basically just went in and worked for free

forty hours a week. I started; I went through every section of the factory.

Started with buying the wood, and then I built bodies, then I'd built necks,

then I'd make fingerboards, then I'd assemble the bodies, then I'd do finish

work, and then I ended up in the assembly shop and assembling the guitar and

setting them up. I was there for, I guess about three or four months or

something like that. I built my own guitar form rejected pieces, but it turned

out to be a beautiful guitar. That was a great learning experience. And the deal

is, I thought it would give me more knowledge about building. I had built a few

instruments at that point, but not many. It's still a factory, and they offered

me a job but I wouldn't want to work in a factory.

BG: What makes it a factory?

CC: Well it's an assembly line and you do your job all day long, whether it's

cutting the braces and 60:00gluing them into the guitar, or bending the sides. There

are about fifteen to twenty different workbenches, stations, yeah, workstations,

and it was fun, I learned a lot, I built my own guitar, and people seemed to

have more respect for you if you've built some instruments. If I'd just done

repair work all my life and never built anything they go, "What have you built?"

It's another, it's totally different doing repair work than building. I actually

did a question and answer session for you guys in Frankfort and there was a guy

there that built arch top guitar, I'm sorry I can't remember his name--

BG: Oh, I think from Louisville--

CC: Yes, very nice guy.

BG: Frank, somebody-- Frank Lay.

CC: Frank Lay. He didn't like doing repair work. He built some beautiful

instruments, but he says, "Repair work is totally different from building," and

I said, "I know. It is." So, just because somebody is a really good repairperson

doesn't mean they are a great builder and vice versa. There are people who

refinish furniture all day long, but they don't 61:00build anything. I decided that I

had to do some building because I think my customers will have more faith in me

if I could show them, look, I built this guitar. I may never build another, and

I built a lot of guitars when I was at Taylor, I probably built a couple of

hundred guitars in the process of going through the shop, and it was all good

and fun, but nah, I don't want to work in a factory. There were only eighteen of

us in that shop at that time. They must have several hundred employees now, but

I learned a lot, I built my guitar and I came home, and I think it helped my

repair business a lot.