The Guild of American Luthiers Meeting Tacoma, Washington, July 4-8, 2001

The GAL meeting this summer was held once again in Tacoma, Washington. The GAL headquarters is in Tacoma, so it makes sense. Tacoma is sort of a drab rundown city. It all looks as though everything was built 50 to 75 years ago, and nothing has been painted since. It’s easy to see how the grunge scene originated in the Seattle – Tacoma area. These cities are in contrast to the beautiful forests and mountains of the area. An island of natural beauty surrounded by Tacoma, is the picturesque campus of Pacific Lutheran College.

Lush greenery everywhere on the campus

The college has excellent facilities for meetings in its classrooms, student center, and very nice concert hall. The only drawback to this location is that all of the lodging is in various dorms on the campus, none of which is air conditioned. Some of the dorms are newer and nicer than others. However, they all can be hot enough to be uncomfortable at times in the month of July. The food is college cafeteria food, but, for the most part, it is not bad, and there is plenty of it. All in all, lodging, 3 square meals a day for four days, and many excellent seminars, for $325, is a real bargain. Both of the GAL meetings I have attended were very educational, and overall, a great experience.

Steve Klein's lecture, note the pipe organ above.I’m not sure why the GAL chose to start the meeting on the Fourth of July, but it did. By 3:00 PM on the fourth, demonstrations by Frank Ford, Dan Erlewine, Ervin Somogyi, Geza Burghardt were underway. Each day had a full and busy schedule.

The days started with a lecture at 8:30 AM in the beautiful Lagerquist Concert Hall. Lagerquist is a hall built for acoustic music. Its interior is completely finished in natural spruce and maple. It contains a huge intricately carved pipe organ, which cost over 2 million dollars. The morning lectures were titled: Steve Klein, Is Guitar Design an Oxymoron?; Bob Benedetto, Considerations in Archtop Guitar Making; Jeffery Elliott, 1869 Francisco Gonzales: A Restoration. All were worthwhile, but I particularly enjoyed Steve Klein’s challenge to the group to think outside the box and to try to improve the guitar.

 

A seminar on tone woods was one of the many informative sessions.

Harry Fleishman & Bob Benedetto share their thoughts on lutherie. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Elliott’s restoration of a 140 year old, extremely valuable classical guitar, amazed me because of the courage needed to tackle such a project. The quality of his work inspired me. Bob Benedettos’s lecture was really a question and answer period about guitar making in general.

10:30 until lunch each day was filled with concurrent presentations at a couple of locations. These included the guitar listening sessions; Thursday – classical; Friday – steel string; Saturday – electric. The classical listening session was a great experience. It was a chance to hear some of the world’s best classical guitars, all made by GAL members. The setting was the Lagerquist concert hall. GAL brought in two professional players. The result was 2.5 hours of pure pleasure. I can honestly say that all of the guitars were of a high and consistent quality. They sounded different, and some better than others, but all were very good. My hopes were high for the steel string listening session the next day. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed Friday morning.

Chris Jenkin's & John Timblin's guitars in the steel string listening session

The steel string listening session was not held in the concert hall, as was the classical listening session. Instead, it was held in a lecture room with questionable acoustics and not enough seating for all of those who wished to attend. There was very little planning or consideration given to the steel string listening session. The GAL did not bring in professional players as they did in the classical listening session. They were so unprepared as to ask for volunteers from the audience to play the guitars. This did not work out well. The result was a disorganized hodge-podge of instruments, being presented in no particular order, and sometimes not being played very well. I had to wonder how this could have happened. Most GAL members are steel string builders. I am certain that the GAL was not trying to openly disrespect steel string builders. Maybe the planning was just left to an individual who did not take the responsibility seriously enough. I plan to try to find out what happened. In any event, the steel string listening session was the low point of the GAL convention.

Afternoons offered way too many options for things to do. Three or four demonstrations went on every afternoon. Topics included fret work, waterborne finishing, marquetry, tooling, inlay, violin setup, and neck construction. My only complaint about these demos was that it was impossible to see all of them that I wanted to see. Another highlight of the convention was the exhibits. These exhibits were not all wood and tool vendors. Any GAL member could have free exhibit space to show his instruments. I had not planned to take advantage of this. However, at John Timblin’s urging, I borrowed some of his table space, set up my guitars, and had a great time. This is a wonderful way to meet other luthiers and share ideas. Since this was just an exhibition, and none of the GAL members expected to sell guitars to one another, the result was a pleasant afternoon of visiting with other luthiers. I would recommend exhibiting to anyone who attends a GAL meeting. It is a good experience. It also keeps one busy enough that there little time to spend money on tools and wood.

Fred Carlson playing one of his whimsical instrumentsThere were concerts in Lagerquist Hall on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night. They included lute music, classical guitar, and gypsy jazz. They were of good quality, but after each long day, I found it difficult to stay awake. Friday night I was in bed by 8 PM.

 

 

 

 

Steve's knives are cocobolo & ebony, with Pfiel "Swiss Made" blades.Saturday night a huge auction was held. Wood, tools, inlay materials, art work, and even finished guitars were all sold in large quantities. It would have been easy to blow the kid’s college fund, but I managed to show some self-restraint and only purchased a Fred Carlson wood block print. LINT member Steve Kinnaird donated the beautiful carving knives he had made on the right. They sold very well.

The action at the Saturday night auction

Plenty to buy at the vendor displays. Check out Jay's shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fun continued Sunday with a listening evaluation of different methods of acoustic guitar amplification, a lecture by R. E. Brune, and a GAL open house at the GAL office. I dragged myself to the plane Sunday afternoon and slept all the way back to Texas. I can’t wait for the next GAL convention.