Byers, Greg Learn More +
Like many members of the post-war baby boom, I grew up believing there were no limits to the direction my life might take, and no compelling reason to constrain my path early on. I tried different things. I began college at UC Berkeley as an architecture major, but soon quit school, returned my draft card and joined the Vietnam war resistance movement (narrowly avoiding prison on a technicality after refusing induction into the army), hitch-hiked through Europe, went to pottery school and spent several years as a stoneware potter. After returning to college to study biology, I eventually found myself in graduate school where I earned a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona. I saw graduate school as a chance to learn how to confront the natural world not just on a spiritual level, which I felt deeply, but also from a place of rational inquisitiveness. With help from a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship I was able to pursue my dissertation on the evolution of sex in plants.
In 1979 I took a break and spent half a year in Puerto Rico working on hummingbird-flower community ecology. It was there that I fell for the nylon string guitar. I met an ancient luthier whose hillside house was perched on stilts over an open-air workshop. He was backed up two years with orders for guitars and cuatros at $200 apiece, so I bought a cheap factory guitar that he had acquired in a trade, and left with the conviction that I would make one myself one day.
A little more than a year later, with my dissertation work completed but for the final written form, I engaged in the ultimate displacement activity and built that guitar. I showed it to Tom Patterson, the new teacher in the guitar department at the U. of A., and he encouraged me to do more. This was early April in 1981, and a poster on Tom’s door advertised the Guitar 81 festival in Toronto, where José Romanillos would be giving a week long workshop at the end of June. Having read an article about him and another by him, I knew I had to go. This was sufficient incentive for me to write and defend my dissertation during the intervening six weeks prior to the Toronto workshop.
Romanillos is a wonderful and deeply spiritual man. He showed me that lutherie is more than just gluing sticks together. Inspired by the greatness of both his artistry and spirit, I found my calling as a luthier. He gave me reason to think my life’s work could touch the creative, the mystical, and the rational in equal measure. This is what I had been looking for. In the intervening years my view hasn’t faltered or changed, though it has been a struggle at times. I developed my woodworking skills by building furniture during the first years, and took time out from guitar making to design and build the house I live in with my family. These days I continue to try to make every guitar the very best I can. The pursuit of perfection is demanding, yet has been a guiding force in the workshop and continues to kindle the creative spark that lights the way for me. What really sustains me, though, is my customers, for and at whose pleasure I joyfully do my work. You have shown me time and again that this work has a place of value in the world.