A teenage John Greven built his first instrument, a 5-string banjo, in 1962. Over the last fifty years, he has built over 2,000 instruments and become one of the world’s most in-demand luthiers. On this week’s podcast, we talk to Greven about his unique career trajectory, including his invaluable time working for George Gruhn in Nashville; how he's able to create so many instruments a year; and why so many of his guitars end up in Japan. Greven also talks about some of the magical moments he had with vintage Martin and Gibson guitars during his stint in Nashville. Greven now resides in Portland, Oregon. He is currently at work on his 2,200th instrument, a 000-sized guitar with Brazilian rosewood back and sides.
On this week's podcast, we talk to Stan Jay, founder of Staten Island’s Mandolin Brothers. Jay is considered one of the foremost experts on vintage instruments, but, as he tells us this week, it all started in 1971 with a bag of banjo parts he was able to flip for a tidy profit. As his now bustling store celebrates its fortieth anniversary, we ask him about buying trends in vintage instruments, the guitars he actually plays when he's gigging and the magic behind those legendary Mandolin Brothers instrument descriptions. Intro music from Bill Evans' album, In Good Company.
These days, Seattle guitarmaker Steve Andersen is known primarily for his stunning archtop guitars. That wasn't always the case, however. In part one of our interview with Andersen, we ask him about the early days of Roberto-Venn (he was one of the school's first students) and the Sand Point, Idaho lutherie scene of the '70s (including the store Guitar's Friend and fellow builders such as Franklin Guitars and Bob Givens). We also hear why Andersen will no longer make the F-style mandolins he was once known for.
Singer-songwriter Matt Munisteri is a fixture in New York’s jazz scene, but—as he explains on this week’s podcast—his first obsession was bluegrass. In this 30 minute interview, Munisteri talks about his love for the five-string banjo (including the lessons he took from Tony Trischka), the funk sounds that captivated him in college and the vintage guitar tones he now embraces. Munisteri also discusses his latest project, an album featuring the music of songsmith Willard Robison.
Producer and singer-songwriter Joe Henry is the consummate guitar enthusiast. In the Fretboard Journal #26, he walks us through his vintage acoustic guitar collection and his varied music career. As a follow-up to that lengthy interview, we talk to Henry about his relationship with Folkway Music of Canada; the 13-fret Gibson Nick Lucas that Dylan played (an instrument that Henry has seen firsthand); his forthcoming book project on Richard Pryor and more.
When it comes to repairing vintage Martin guitars, TJ Thompson is, quite simply, one of the best. He’s repaired famous instruments played by some of the biggest names in music and has brought seemingly basket case guitars back to life. He also builds his own Martin-style guitars, which command five digit prices.
In Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, Ben Verellen and his small team custom build some of the most beautiful (and loud) guitar amplifiers available today. On this FJ podcast, we talk to Verellen about his amp company, the recent Kickstarter campaign he launched and much more.
In 2002, musician Michael Andrews and singer Gary Jules performed a mesmerizing cover of Tears for Fears' “Mad World” for theDonnie Darko soundtrack.That unlikely cover not only found it's way to the top of the music charts, but opened doors for Andrews into the world of film composing. But, as the guitarist explains in this week's FJ podcast, composing film music is just one side of Andrews' career. Under the moniker Elgin Park, he's served as the guitarist for the Greyboy Allstars, the extremely popular soul jazz band based out of San Diego. He is a virtuoso at everything from George Benson-inspired funk to intricate fingerstyle playing.
Richard Smith is one of the most impressive fingerstyle guitarists alive today. For our 52nd podcast, Smith stops by the FJ offices to talk about his unique upbringing, meeting hero Chet Atkins for the first time and his career today. At the end of this podcast, you can hear Smith perform a beautiful version of "Cheek to Cheek" on his signature model Kirk Sand guitar.
In the 1930s, Nationals and Dobro-branded guitars often featured a “frosted duco” finish, the result of applying a unique lacquer would seemingly crystalize on the instrument. The guitar finish equivalent of tie-dye, no two of these frosted duco finishes looks alike, but nearly every surviving example is gorgeous. Around 1937, National stopped using the finish altogether and it was quickly relegated to guitar geek history.
Seattle-area guitar collector Rik Besser has spent years perfecting his own version of "frosted duco" and is now the go-to guy for these finishes. On this week's podcast, he explains his process and tells us about some of the new projects he's currently working on.
For over a decade, Portland, Oregon’s Nial McGaughey has made a name for himself creating audiophile-grade guitar cables with his company Solid Cables. He’s also been not-so-quietly hard at work making and repairing guitar amps. On today's podcast, we talk to Nial about his various projects, how he got started, his "recycled" amps and much more.
Over the course of his 39 years as a luthier, Tom Ribbecke has become one of the world's great archtop guitar builders and a tireless educator, promoter and spokesperson for the world of hand-built instruments. Sadly, Ribbecke may soon lose the legendary workshop, teaching facility and home that he occupies in Healdsburg, California.
On this week's podcast, we talk to Ribbecke about his vision for saving the property and transforming it into a center where luthiers can share their knowledge and elevate the craft of the guitarmaking even further. He describes a couple of ways guitarists can help him: by pre-ordering one of the Final 25 series of guitars that he will be building to a customer's specs or perhaps by joining him as a partner on the entire facility. Ribbecke only has about a month to secure the land and realizes that it's a long shot, but he's confident that someone may want to be involved in this unique endeavor.
Ribbecke likens the area around Healdsburg -- and all of the talented luthiers working nearby -- as the modern day Cremona of guitars. We here at the FJ hope his vision for world class center for lutherie comes to fruition.
For more information on Ribbecke, his guitar creations or the Halfling model he invented, check out his site here. Or watch some of the many YouTube clips from the reality show based around his instrument company, Guitar Planet. And look for a feature on Ribbecke in a future issue of The Fretboard Journal.
Update: There is currently a Kickstarter campaign to help create the Ribbecke Center for Stringed Instruments. As of March 5, 2012, over $25,000 has been raised but there are still many worthy rewards available in exchange for donating.
Background music is by Michael Chapman, from the newly reissued Rainmaker album.
For the last few years, Char and Gordon Mayer of Mya-Moe Ukuleles have combined creating stunning ukuleles with an interesting business model. They hope, quite simply, to be the Collings or Benedetto of high-end, American-built ukes. In this week's podcast, we talk to the couple about how they got started making ukuleles, the incredible growth their company has seen in just a few years and just how they get ukes into the hands of some of the music world's biggest artists. In addition to being used by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder (who will be appearing on the cover of Fretboard Journal #24), Mya-Moes have been embraced by Dave Matthews, Florence & the Machine, Ben Harper and Trey Anastasio (Phish), to name a few. It's an interesting half-hour talk with one of the ukulele world's newest makers.
From his home in Louisville, Kentucky, we talk to guitarist and music historian Nathan Salsburg. By our count, Salsburg has released two of the best instrumental acoustic guitar albums of 2011: Avos, a duet record with James Elkington, and a solo album entitled Affirmed. We chat with Salsburg about both records, the guitars he used on these projects and his unique day job, working for the Alan Lomax Archives. We also discuss some of his favorite guitar players, including Nic Jones (featured in the Fretboard Journal #21) and E.C. Ball (a huge influence on luthier/player Wayne Henderson). It's an interesting half-hour chat with one of the guitar world's rising stars.
"My days are very busy," pickup maker Seymour Duncan says with a laugh. It's no understatement. In addition to running one of the largest pickup companies in the musical instrument industry, Duncan is also serious about photography, the prehistoric art of flint knapping (he's on the board of the Stone Age Institute) and, of course, playing guitar. In addition, he still winds pickups for celebrities and average joes alike.
Duncan has just released his first album on iTunes, simply called Seymour. It's an homage to some of his favorite guitarists and musicians over the years. "Whipped Cream" is his take on the tones of Eric Clapton; "Rincon Point" is a surf track; "Ice Pickin'" is for Albert Collins; "Mood for Jeff" is dedicated to Jeff Beck... and so forth.
The album came about after Duncan purchased and began experimenting with a Pro Tools rig. When friends in the industry started to hear about his recordings, they sent Duncan additional gear and software. Eventually, with producer Doug Scott, he recorded around 30 tracks. Half of those made it on the 14-track album. "It just turned out really incredible," he says. "It's a very eclectic CD."
In this week's podcast, we hear more from Duncan about the album, his favorite artists over the years, those early days he spent at the Fender Sound House in London working alongside rock stars and more. It's a 45 minute talk with one of the guitar industry's living legends.
Portland, Oregon's Eric Skye may be too humble to consider himself a great guitarist, but anyone who has heard this wonderful improviser in action would beg to differ. On this week's podcast, we talk to Skye about his early years playing music (including the job he held cleaning fish tanks so that he could pay for guitar lessons) and the music that inspires him today. We also hear about his new Santa Cruz signature model 00-sized guitar, which features many subtle refinements over the classic Martin design. All-told, it's a great 30 minute interview with one of the Pacific Northwest's best acoustic talents.