My path to guitarbuilding could be considered circuitous.
I grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in a family of doctors who strongly emphasized academics and education above all else. In middle school I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my paternal grandfather and become an astrophysicist. In high school I spent a great deal of time honing my debate skills and discovering the joys of philosophy. By the time I got to college at the University of Chicago – a place famous for its focus on theory over practice, if nothing else – I had taken an interest in Russian literature. That, in turn, led to critical theory and political philosophy. My Slavic Literature degree in hand, I left America for Russia to perfect my language skills and dive into the depths of Russian culture and cinema. Eventually I moved to Berlin to study German and then got a Master’s degree in ethnomusicology. Well, at least now we’ve gotten to something musical.
But the story can be told another way, too.
I also come from a family that has always been intimately involved with their hands. My maternal grandfather – the “Fison” in Smith & Fison – was an eye surgeon who developed a number of tools and procedures for the field. As if those crafts – surgery and toolmaking – weren’t enough, he was also a skilled woodworker, building furniture and even a boat. My paternal grandfather – the astrophysicist – was highly skilled in practical optics working on systems for the government, for industry, and for scholarship. He was also, unsurprisingly, a skilled photographer and print maker. His wife, my grandmother, was a ballet dancer and teacher. While my maternal grandma was very skilled in a number of crafts: gardening, needlepoint, cooking, to name just a few.
My parents continued this theme with eye surgery, car repair, knitting, leather work, detailed train modelling, etc. In other words, I come from a family background that is a curious mixture of academia and handicrafts.
Where I differed from the rest of my family was in my love of music. I began playing the cello at a young age, and later added guitar, jazz drums, and more recently old-time fiddle.
But it was while I was studying ethnomusicology that I simply had the thought, “It’d be awesome to build my own guitar!” And so I did.
Following in the tradition of many great American luthiers – Orville Gibson, Robert Benedetto, and Ervin Somogyi, to name three – I am largely self-taught. In 2010 I gathered together tools from my grandfather, the necessary woods, and books by great luthiers and simply began. In 2011 I moved my workshop back from the United States to Berlin, Germany. Since then I have been learning, building, and refining what it means to craft these special objects and send them into the world.