A luthier was originally a maker of lutes. While the term has come to mean someone who makes or repairs any stringed instrument, there are guitar makers who don’t like to use the word, says Baker Rorick, organizer of the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. “They consider it pretentious, and many people associate luthery with bowed instruments. Stradivarius was a luthier. But it also denotes a higher level of craftsmanship.”
Besides, his good friend Rennie Cantine had already taken the name Woodstock Guitar Festival, so Rorick has applied the word “luthiers” to his event. The level of craftsmanship promises to be over the top for the fourth annual showcase, to be held in Woodstock from October 26 to October 28.
Guitar builders from around the country — including Woodstock — will be bringing their meticulously crafted acoustic instruments, teaching guitar-making clinics, and offering products for sale. Concerts by Cindy Cashdollar and Steve James, Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, Julian Lage, and other virtuosos will highlight the complex tones of high-end guitars, whose makers will be on hand. Al Petteway and Kinloch Nelson are among the musicians who will lead workshops on playing techniques.
The emphasis, says Rorick, will be on steel-string guitars, both archtop jazz and flat top folk styles, with some flamenco guitars and the occasional banjo, mandolin, lute, or oud, the Moorish fretless instrument that all modern stringed instruments are derived from.
“There’s a generosity of spirit to the gathering, everyone helping each other, showing their techniques, in the service of art, craft, and music,” observes Rorick. “These luthiers are virtually living legends in the small community of guitar-making.”
Ken Parker, for instance, combined classical violin-making techniques and modern materials such as graphite-epoxy compounds, creating a guitar that weighs 3.5 pounds, with tonal complexity that works for all different styles of music. “It sounds different in every player’s hands,” says Rorick.
Parker will be there at the showcase, and so will Linda Manzer, who makes all of Pat Metheny’s acoustic guitars. “The most famous one she made,” says Rorick, “was when he asked her for a harp guitar — how many strings can we get on an instrument?” The result was the Pikasso, with 42 strings, three necks at different angles, and subsonic bass strings — also known as the Swiss army guitar.
“When these guys get together, they don’t talk about guitars,” Rorick says. “They talk about tools and wood. Ervin Somogyi is coming from Berkeley. I’ve got four of his former apprentices exhibiting, and they’re pushing the envelope, doing new things.”
Somogyi is a classical guitar builder who turned to steel string instruments. He published a two-volume set of books on his craft, entitled Making The Responsive Guitar. “Chapter One is about the solar system, gravity, the moon, the tides, rotation of earth, and the effects on growth patterns of grains of wood,” says Rorick. “He writes about deep mathematics of plate tectonics and vibrations — you cannot believe the depth and complexity.”
Also new this year will be the fine Resonator guitar maker Paul Beard, from Hagerstown, Md.
Local guitar-makers, including Joe Veilette, Bruce Ackerman and Martin Keith, will be on hand, as well as Hudson Valley performers such as David Temple and Elly Wininger.
The showcase will open Friday, October 26, with free admission to the Tonewood Festival, also available Saturday and Sunday to paid showcase attendees. At Utopia Soundstage, Tom Thiel and Northwind Timber will be among the wood dealers exhibiting and selling top sets, backs and sides, neck blanks, fingerboards, exotic woods and figured beauty, tools, jigs and fixtures.
“Each kind of wood has its own tonal character,” explains Rorick. “You use hardwood for the neck, like maple or mahogany. The body can be maple, mahogany, rosewood. Tops are usually spruce, and there are different varieties of spruce with different characteristics. There’s also sinker wood, which has been sitting on the bottom of a lake for hundreds of years. It ages the wood in a way that makes a sound people love.”
Saturday and Sunday, there will be continuous live music at the Bearsville Theater, with international recording artists and music educators demonstrating instruments and performing on behalf of specific luthiers. Diverse musical styles will be represented, including folk, flamenco, fingerstyle blues, celtic, jazz, bluegrass, Middle Eastern, African, Latin American, and classical.
The list of performers is highly esteemed, with jazz guitar legend Eddie Diehl performing with Lou Pappas at noon on Saturday, October 27. John Abercrombie and Vic Juris will demonstrate Ric McCurdy’s guitars at 1:10 p.m. on Saturday; Peter Head will perform on his homemade gas can or lunchbox guitars at 2 p.m. Sunday, and Cashdollar, aside from her concert Saturday night, will demonstrate prowess on Beard’s slide resonators at 3:40 p.m. Sunday.
Rorick’s production partner, Sharon Klein, is a musician who lives in Israel half the year. In her program called “Music Without Walls,” Jewish, Palestinian, Arab, and Bedouin women gather to play music together. “She introduced me to the wider world,” says Rorick, “bringing in classical and flamenco guitars, oud players. That diversity sets this show apart from other major shows, which are primarily finger-style folk and jazz guitar.” This year, Klein has invited oud, clarinet, and percussion players who will perform Middle Eastern beat fusion jazz.
The showcase is patterned after California’s biennial Healdsburg Guitar Festival, which began, like Rorick’s event, as “a small gathering of builders who got together for a little show and tell and music. They started inviting the public for a meet-and-greet and maybe to do some sales. They have 130 exhibitors; my show has 50.”
Rorick himself is not a luthier but a bassist and guitar salesman who sold solid-body rock guitars until 1980, when, he says, “Someone took me out to an evening of acoustic music, and I fell in love with the steel string guitar. One man with two hands and six strings can do complex arrangements, music played with incredible emotion. After years of loud rock ‘n roll, it changed my life.” Since then, he has worked with instrument manufacturers and written for guitar magazines, and he brings many of his contacts together to create the showcase.
A new addition to this year’s festival will be a presentation by Martin Guitar Company’s creative director Dick Boak, who will bring guitars once owned by Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Boak will offer a historical overview of the development of the acoustic guitar in America. “Martin is the oldest and largest acoustic guitar manufacturer in the world,” says Rorick. “We’ll have notable musicians demonstrating and playing period vignettes on instruments like Jimmie Rodgers’ Blue Yodel guitar.” Boak will speak at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, free and open to the public, in a tent at the Bearsville Theater complex.
See ulsterpub.staging.wpengineinvitational.com for schedules, presenters, performers, and ticket info.