Our Experiences and Take-Aways from 2016’s Santa Barbara Acoustic Instruments Celebration & Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase
People often ask us how we find all the splendid guitars that we offer. Of course we have numerous methods for finding these fine instruments, but one of our most exciting avenues is attending guitar shows. Each year there are a few great shows that feature custom guitars by independent luthiers, often working in one-man workshops and with an unparalleled attention to detail. Dream Guitars owner Paul Heumiller recently came back from two such shows, the 2016 Santa Barbara Acoustic Instruments Celebration and the 2016 Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. Heumiller: “At these shows many of the top luthiers in the world display several of their most recent developments, which gives us the rare opportunity to play a few different models of each maker. Being able to play more than one at a time is key for us at Dream Guitars, because it gives us a chance to honestly evaluate newer makers and evaluate their builds for consistency and quality of tone. It’s also important to meet up with established makers that we already work with in order to pick out our new favorite instruments to bring back for our clients.”
These shows invite between 80 and 120 guitar makers and are open to the public, which is another reason that we like to attend. Heumiller again: “It’s a joy to finally meet clients that I’ve been working with on the phone and over email for years. The shows are a great opportunity to see the faces and shake the hands of clients with whom I’ve worked for the past 20 years. It’s a part of the business I truly love, since guitar people are all great folks and we all have so much in common. I’ve made several dear friends while running between the shows over the years.”
As we mentioned earlier, the shows are one of the key ways that we discover new talent. This year was an exceptionally rich one for identifying younger makers that had something worthy of the Dream Guitars name. At most shows we expect to perhaps find one new builder that impresses us, maybe two, but this year we found no fewer than six! Heumiller again: “I think the fact that there are so many stellar young builders has a lot to do with the sharing of information these days. Young makers have so much access to good information that if they have talent they can much more quickly reach a high level of quality both in terms of construction and tone.”
At the Santa Barbara show we invited Hollywood, California-based luthier Isaac Jang to join us. “I’ve been watching been him for some time now, and at Santa Barbara his OM just blew me away; the timing was right to start a relationship. Jang’s work has impressed me for years, and during that time I gave him advice and my honest opinion of his work. This year he did something about it, so we decided to purchase the Brazilian Rosewood-and-German-Spruce OM that he’d brought.”–Heumiller. We were also delighted to learn more about Jang’s past, namely that at age 17 he asked Kathy Wingert for an apprenticeship. Kathy wisely told him that he had to graduate from a lutherie school, get a job working in guitar repair, and then come see her. Isaac did all of that by age 19 and returned to Kathy’s door. He apprenticed with Kathy for a number of years, and it shows. Isaac is now a teacher at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood.
While we were there we also made good on our long-standing respect for Michel Pellerin of Canada by offering to represent his work–and we brought back a beautiful Sunburst Jumbo he had recently finished. In addition, we met the truly inspiring creations of Benoît Lavoie. None other than Pierre Bensusan bought Lavoie’s guitar which we planned to get after the show! We are delighted at Benoît’s success; just goes to show we have good taste if Bensusan beat us to the chase, and we’ll wait until the next one is finished.
We also got to see the new work of Noemi Schembri from Italy. The tone of her guitars mesmerized us at Santa Barbara, and by the time we saw her again in Woodstock we simply could not resist any longer: we brought back an Madagascar Rosewood SJ and a Koa Baritone.
In Woodstock we were introduced to the inspirational work of Canadian builder Loïc Bortot (of Bouchereau Guitars fame). After playing a few of his instruments, it was clear why he graduated first in his class at Quebec City’s National Lutherie School, and is now a teacher there. From that week we brought back his wonderful slotted head Mistral model. Speaking of teachers, we were also able to connect with Sam Guidry, a teacher alongside Bryan Galloup at the American School of Lutherie, and get one of his Maple OMs for the shop. Paul: “Bryan told me I had to look at Sam’s guitars, and I’m really glad I did. I’ve long respected Bryan, so when he tells me about someone new, I listen. At Woodstock I got to spend a lot of time with Sam after events; he’s a great fellow to be around, and he’s incredibly passionate about his craft. As soon as I played this Maple guitar I fell in love. It’s voiced for a big, round attack with superb clarity across the registers–which is why I’m stoked to get in the shop!”
Paul: “The other aspect of the shows that is pure joy for me is seeing my old friends that I’ve known for many, many years. Many of them I met as young upstart builders when I first opened Dream Guitars’ doors, and they’re still building guitars today. The many dinners and glasses of wine from bygone years allow us to really get to know each other as human beings that share a common passion in the art of the guitar.” This time around it was wonderful to make a new friend in Richard Hoover, the founder of Santa Cruz Guitars, and Joe Glaser a repairman beyond compare. Paul: “I was delighted when Richard Hoover asked me to introduce him to a few talented young makers. He was beaming over the fine work of Isaac Jang and Leo Buendia like a high schooler opening his guitar case for the first time. Clearly the passion is still inside of Richard, and he so gracefully complimented his younger peers on their fine work. He told me later that ‘just when he thought we’d gotten this guitar making thing down these new guys come along and make it harder again with their new ideas!'”
The one common thread that binds these young makers together and excites us so much is their open mind, open heart approach to the craft. They don’t just want to build good copies of guitars, they want to push the envelope in all the right ways and create innovative musical tools to inspire musicians in ways not yet known to us. Paul: “This is something you can’t just feel by just looking at their guitars necessarily, but trust me: as I dined with these folks and taste tested dozens of their guitars I could feel the boundaries they were pushing and hear the voices they were pioneering.” These new builders are seekers chasing down their crazy dreams–while they fulfill the dreams of players the world over. We are beyond excited to consider what will become of the guitar world in the years to come. This is the golden age of guitars, and it’s not stopping any time soon. Let’s hang on and enjoy the ride!
Players Say: "Never visit Dream Guitars if you are in a hurry. I was there just once and I had a really hard time to leave because of the overwhelming quality and beauty of every single instrument."
What I appreciate the most is the strong personality and knowledge that Paul Heumiller expresses in his choices, not only choosing the highest makers in the field, and a fantastic selection of vintage instruments, but also giving space to new incredible builders who need to be discovered.
I’ll come back with plenty of time, you should do the same if you like to visit the best collection of independent makers and vintage guitars on the planet.