I am a fan of history. I believe that when working within a tradition of design one is able to build upon many centuries of research. Countless refinements have already been made by the greatest minds working at the greatest moments in the history of Luthiery. Alternatively, countless mistakes have also been made by the most ill informed, working in historically dark times when profit was put before process. As modern Luthiers working in a golden age of instrument making we are in a unique position to draw from or reject all that has gone before. I am a devoted student of western luthiery traditions, from the 18th century bowed Violin family instruments of the Italian greats, to the work of great 19th & 20th century American visionaries like C.F. Martin and Orville Gibson. Living and working in Hawaii has inspired me to create historically informed innovative instruments that I hope will inspire and encourage young and old to enjoy the magic of music.
Choosing which tonewoods to build with creates the character and foundation every note will be built upon. We might consider it similar to selecting the fabric to make a sail for a fine sailboat. We could use the finest silk, or the roughest canvas, both would have their characteristic strengths and weaknesses. Density and weight determine how the air will resonate and move in, through and around the sail, or in this case the soundboard, back, sides and neck of the instrument.
Luthiers today have an unprecedented variety of tonewoods to choose from. The time honored choices of Mahogany, Maple, Rosewood, Spruce and Cedar have been used extensively and one could say they create the standards we all use in judging an instruments tone and voice. Engaging in a dialogue between builder and player is perhaps the single most important part of the process in commissioning a custom instrument. Designing the color and character of an instruments voice, made specifically to match the players imagination is the magic of the luthiers work.
All works of art, like all living creatures in order to survive the ravages of our earths climate must have a protective membrane that embraces and protects our form, in the animal world we call it skin, in luthiery we call it “Varnish”, or “Finish”. It is indeed the “Finishing touch” the “Icing on the cake”, the final step. I still practice the traditional methods of finish making and application refined in the 18th and 19th centuries in the centers of European Luthiery. Historically varnish makers used a variety of botanical resins derived from various saps in a medium of oil or alcohol to make the finishes used in the preservation of paintings, and stringed instruments. I have always found a certain beauty in the continuity of this method in which it is the blood of the tree itself that ultimately coats and protects the woods of the instrument. In modern times and specifically in the fretted instrument world the preference has moved towards durability and glossiness, qualities that most turn to modern industrial lacquers to achieve. I prefer to suit the finish to the desires of the person playing the instrument, and aim through dialogue to arrive at a finish choice to accentuate the natural beauty of the woods, maintain maximum resonance and protect the instrument for many years to come.