Sometimes I worry that the folks in the guitar world won't be too quick to accept me without my dad behind me showing me the way. Lately I have been taking more steps on my own to find out. When Nick and I visited Nashville earlier this summer, I met with George Gruhn, one of the most knowledgeable folks around when it comes to guitars. After everything I had heard; good from my dad, somewhat mixed to downright scary from most everyone else, I had no idea how I would be received walking in to his shop all by my lonesome, with only a big fiberglass guitar case to shield me from whatever I happened to encounter.
Walking in to the large white building, I was a little bit nervous, but the two employees helping patrons on the first floor were incredibly friendly and quickly buzzed up to George's office that I was waiting for him. I had called George a few days prior to ask if he had time to check out a couple of my guitars and he was very friendly and seemed excited to visit with me even though my dad wouldn't be joining me.
I brought my #18, a 12-fret Brazilian Rosewood Dreadnought, because as I was working on it, my dad said as I glued the top together, "This is the one you need to show George. He loves 12-fret D guitars and I have a feeling this one is going to sound really good." I also brought my #19 curly maple 000 because it is more what I like to do, so I could talk to him about marketing local wood, smaller body guitars as well.
In George's office, located on the second floor of his shop, I sat in an antique, hand-carved chair wedged between several terrariums that housed large, wary looking snakes that could probably constrict the life out of me were they so inclined. I watched as George lifted my guitar from its case. "Very nice, I love 12-fret dreadnoughts. Don't worry about the snakes, they are all very docile," he assured me. After plucking out a few tunes he told me that the only problem he could find with my #18 was that it wasn't his. I decided to take that as a compliment. He and one of his guitar buyers played each guitar in turn and seemed to enjoy them both. After a while George asked if I wanted to go to lunch. I said sure.
"Good, because Freddie needs some lunch too," George declared as I raced to follow him stalking out of the room. Freddie, a bearded dragon, lives in another terrarium in George's office situated front and center so you can't miss it as you walk through the door. As I mentioned in a prevous post, I have met Freddie before, and remembered George plopping him in my lap and promptly leaving the room for what I could guess was almost forever. I wasn't sure what to do with him sitting there, he isn't really a creature to be petted, and after a while my dad commented that he was smiling despite my stiff unwelcoming posture. I couldn't decide whether Freddie was enjoying our visit or if he was preparing to eat me.
George drove me to a greek diner across the street from his shop, the sign out front boasting that it has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. As we sat down, George asked the waitress to bring him some left-over greens, "not a salad, no dressing!", but just some veggies in a to-go box for his bearded dragon. Upon seeing the girl's confused look, he pulled his phone from his pocket and proceeded to swipe through photos of Freddie, as a proud grandfather might when presenting his grandchildren to an appeasing stranger. I wasn't quite sure what to do, so I studied the menu items furiously. The waitress returned soon after with a styrofoam box filled with greens. "Oh excellent! Freddie can eat for a week on this!" George exclaimed happily.
After our food arrived it was back to guitar talk, and I appreciate very much all of the kind words and advice George offered. One of my favorite things he said about my instruments is that my instruments have a soul within them. I see that my dad is able to do that with his instruments, and if I have learned to do that from him, I am exceptionally proud. To me, each of my instruments is a living breathing thing, and if you consider external elements such as humidity expanding and contracting the wood, it is essentially doing just that. To have someone who has seen and played many amazing guitars be able to find a soul within my guitars was a big deal for me.
All in all, I enjoyed my visit, making another small tentative step into this world of guitars that seems so daunting to me. I think the main reason for that is because I care so much more about the construction, the journey of each instrument, and what I get from doing that work than I do from actually having the finished product in front of me. Each time I finish a guitar I am very proud to see it and have it and share it with people, but there is always a sadness to knowing that the journey is finished. I guess if I look at my job as a whole, the journey will never be finished and it is comforting to know that my guitars are enjoyed and that the love I put into each will continue even when the work is finished.
- I began this blog in order to share my experiences learning instrument building from my dad, but along with those stories I look forward to sharing my memories of growing up with two busy, musically inclined parents as well as my current experiences stepping out on my own as a female luthier promoting environmental sustainability in her instruments while working to alter gender stereotypes in a male dominated field. If you'd like to use quotes from this blog for interviews or in your own work, please contact me first! (email is firstname.lastname@example.org)