We’ve all heard the phrase “The Golden Age,” which is defined as “the period when a specified art, skill, or activity is at its peak.”[i] Lately the term has been used to describe this epoch in the history of guitar-building (lutherie). From the unique vantage point at Dream Guitars (www.dreamguitars.com), they couldn’t agree more: today we are definitely in the middle of the Golden Age of Lutherie, and Dream Guitars stands at the center of this renaissance.
“I have had the chance to play spectacular examples of instruments from the late 1800s and the first half of the 20th century. Many consider these early guitars to represent the “Holy Grail” of guitars, but I truly feel that the explosion of the independent guitar-maker has challenged this conception. There’s no doubt that some of the pre-war guitars are among the best instruments on the planet today, but now there are dozens of contemporary makers whose instruments rival, and sometimes even surpass, these ‘Holy Grail’ guitars–and their talents continue to improve on the best ideas of yesterday.” – Paul Heumiller, Dream Guitars owner
“We are very proud of our role in these great days of the guitar. From the very beginning, it was a sincere goal of mine to help luthiers market their craft. In the early days as I visited shops and got to know these great people, their passion and artistry captivated me and I wanted to be a part of their success.”- Paul
Dream Guitars has built a platform for luthiers to successfully market their work, which is backed by Dream Guitars’ reputation for expertise and honesty–allowing a maker’s instruments to be seen and heard by people all over the world. “We have been able to help many luthiers to not only find homes for their instruments, but also to increase their prices to provide fair compensation for the years invested in their craft.” -Paul
Like everything in the modern world, easy access to information, including books, videos, symposiums, guitar shows, and training courses has expedited the growth of talent in the guitar-making world. But there’s something more than simply the proliferation of information at play here: something special has happened in the acoustic guitar world in particular. Paul: “Many of the older guitar builders talk of a time not so long ago when everyone guarded their secrets, but they all agree that somewhere along the line everything shifted. In the last 25 years or so, guitar-makers have opened up to each other–and that sharing is, in my opinion, the impetus for our current Golden Age.”
Paul continues, “I get to spend a lot of time with guitar makers at the various showcases around the world, as well as visiting them in their shops. Time and time again, I hear stories of how one builder has advised or inspired another. They speak of each other in reverent tones, each one wanting to raise the bar, but do so with the utmost respect for their contemporaries. They all want to see the craft itself improve, and that’s what’s truly special about what’s going on now in 21st-century guitar building.”
Another obvious trend is this year a number of new guitar-makers are on the scene. There are now hundreds of independent guitar-makers hanging their shingles outside of shops which range from the corner of a basement to 5000 ft.² master shops. As a result, some say the market is flooded with too many new makers. At Dream Guitars, they see both sides. Dream Guitars is constantly approached by new makers wishing to promote their instruments with them. Most of the time, Dream Guitars demos and critiques their instruments and advises possible improvements where they simply haven’t mastered the craft yet. Occasionally a builder shows tremendous promise and Dream Guitars offers to work with them and continue to offer valuable insights along the way so they can blossom. Paul: “One thing I see a lot are makers whose first few guitars look beautiful, but they haven’t yet found their voice. By that I mean they’re building a guitar that is perfectly beautiful and functional but sounds no better than an inexpensive guitar off the rack at any big-box store. They’re missing what I call the ‘White Magic:’ that builder’s unique voice which makes a guitar inspirational. Master Luthier Ervin Somogyi once told me, “The first fifty guitars you’re just gluing wood together.” There’s something to be said for that: it’s the years of experimentation and feedback from great players that keep a builder striving and searching for that intangible something that makes one guitar better than the others.”
This is evinced by the handful of makers whose order books are strained by ten plus year waiting lists, or whose guitars finally fetch a price that’s commensurate with the years of work they’ve put into their craft. These are the instruments that collectors covet and professional players are inspired by. These are the ones that define the Golden Age of Lutherie–the guitars that they will be talking about for the next hundred years.
Dream Guitars was perhaps the first website on the Internet to record every instrument that they offered online. They have now amassed a library of over 5,000 recordings of the finest hand-built instruments in the world. They have also created a Listening Studio which allows anyone to search their library of recordings by a myriad of guitar specifications, and use the recording to educate themselves about various makers, woods and general guitar differences. Dream Guitars has also created video interviews of many of today’s makers, either in their shops or at trade shows. All of this footage is available for free on their website.
Dream Guitars owner Paul Heumiller is one of the premier experts on acoustic instruments. While not an active luthier, Paul has studied guitar-making with Kent Everett of Atlanta, Georgia, and has performed shop repairs at Dream Guitars since the beginning of the company over 18 years ago. Heumiller has also been the only shop owner to be on the board of A.S.I.A., the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans. Paul is also a professional musician who has spent many years performing and teaching Fingerstyle guitar. He has been quoted in numerous publications and books. Recently, in 2015, Acoustic Guitar Magazine printed a two-page article, “Dream Weavers,” on Heumiller.
Players Say: "What a staggering collection."
I just witnessed Dream Guitars in Asheville NC. What a staggering collection. Vintage instruments I’d always wanted to try – guitars by contemporary luthiers we read about – exotic masterpieces – they had the lot. I soon realised that manager, Paul Heumiller knew every detail of every guitar right down to the bridge pins, he is an authority on historical instruments and he plays himself. All presented in a friendly atmosphere, and after about 5 cups of tea, I was forced to leave the showroom thanks to Asheville airport. I may have to change my flight details next time!