While at my brother's wedding to a fabulous woman a few weeks ago, I renewed an aquaintance with Mick's Best Man, Terry Johnson. Seems Terry's all grown up now and a bit of an artist as well, although in wood and strings rather than paint. Owner and luthier at Timbercreek Guitars, Terry creates incredibly beautiful handmade acoustic guitars. While I'm at a workshop this weekend (which I'll share with you next week) I'll share this email conversation we shared over the past week.
P: It's been ages since we've seen each other, how long have you been making guitars?
T: I have been building guitars for about 8 years now. I don't build very many each year, which makes each guitar a one of a kind instrument. Right now it is just a sideline, I guess my dream would be to build full time and support myself building guitars as a real job.
P: How did you come to build guitars?
T: Actually I made log furniture for a while, but I have always enjoyed the guitar and found someone who taught me how to build them. It is really satisfying about sitting down and playing something that you made yourself.
P: These guitars not only sound lovely, but they're beautiful to look at. Do you see yourself as an artist?
T: Yes. I think that anyone who takes a simple object and creates something different out of that object is an artist. I try to put my own signature on each instrument in some way,whether it is in the inlay, materials used, or the body style.
P: Is there room for inspiration when designing a guitar?
T: There is always room for inspiration, although I find it hard to find inspiration when I am feeling uninspired. My biggest inspiration is trying to be different than everyone else.
Actually I go to alot of builders shows and look at other luthiers works. I get alot of ideas on design that way. I pick a design that I really like and change it to add my personality to it and make it different. I love different things that nobody else has, so I try to make each one of my instruments that way.
P: How do you get motivated to create?
T: Sometimes I don't touch a piece of wood for a guitar for months. I have to be in the zone when I am building, if I am not I end up making too many mistakes. That can be very expensive at times. When building a guitar you work with such small numbers that it doesn't take much to make a mistake. For instance, when you bend the sides of a guitar you start out with a piece of wood that's 1/4 inch thick. Before you bend it you have to thin the wood down to .080, so 1/1000 of an inch could be a mistake.
P: How do you know when you've created a good one?
T: Sometimes you don't. There are so many factors that make a good guitar, and everyone looks for something different. The first thing I look for in a guitar is the sound. Sometimes I'll get a guitar all together and be disappointed in the way it sounds,and usually end up starting over.
P: What aspect gives you the most satisfaction?
T: The final product,after stringing it up, and knowing that it has the sound and playability that you were after. I enjoy being different than everyone else. That's why I always try to put a different touch on each instrument that makes it stand out. When you see a guitar on stage that someone is playing there are certain things about the guitar that tells you who made it. Taylor guitars' bridge design, headstock design, and their pick guard are all registered trade marks for their guitars. When you see one of my guitars on stage I made my logo and also my bridge design to stand out for that purpose.
P: Describe your perfect customer.
T: I don't know that there is such a thing. But it makes me very happy to know that a guitar that I made for someone inspires them to write more or different music just because of the instrument. Guitars are like that. Each guitar has it's own sound. Sometimes you're drawn to an instrument and just can't play it enough. Like I said before everyone looks for something different. If you and I were told to go in to the music store and get the best guitar in the store,we would each come out with a different one. I think that's cool.
P: Sounds like guitar making and painting are quite alot alike. I have the same feeling about making a connection with a patron who is inspired by my work. You're right, it's cool. Very cool.