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William "Grit" Laskin decided he wanted to be a guitar maker at age 17 when he saw a Jean Larrivee instrument at the now defunct Toronto Folklore Center. "It hadn't occurred to me before then that guitars were made by hand," he recalls. "I remember holding one of Jean's guitars and wondering how you could glue two pieces of wood together and not have a visible glue line." He met Larrivee at a folk festival soon after and was taken on as an apprentice in 1971. During his two-year apprenticeship, Laskin helped Larrivee complete more than 100 instruments, and his own reputation began to spread. By the time he struck out on his own, he already had all the orders he could handle.Today Laskin works alone in a spacious climate-controlled shop in the west end of Toronto. He builds between 12 and 14 guitars per year, roughly two-thirds steel-string and a third classicals and flamencos, and sells them to players in England, Germany France and Japan, as well as Canada and the U.S. His output is impressive considering how much time he spends creating intricate fingerboard inlays. Larry Robinson, author of The Art Of Inlay, extols Laskin as "the most astonishing inlay artist in North America." Laskin's philosophy is that inlays are not simply visual appointments but artistic statements. "The peghead and fingerboard are my canvas," he says. He painstakingly researches his subjects the same way a painter might, using live models, books and photographs. Before creating his inlay of a hand releasing a dove, for example, Laskin studied the movement and shape of the human hand releasing a small object as well as the way birds begin flight after their wings have been folded. "I also love breaking the nut barrier," Laskin says in reference to inlays that spill over onto the first few frets. "But a guitar has to function as a musical tool first and foremost, otherwise the instrument is a failure."Laskin has received accolades from prominent guitar makers such as Bob Taylor, Bill Collings, Bob Benedetto, Mark Campellone and Roger Sadowsky, as well as players as diverse as Paco Pena and Rik Emmett. The Museum Of Civilization, Canada's equivalent to the Smithsonian, has four Laskin guitars in its permanent collection, and in 1997 Laskin received Canada's prestigious national award, the Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence In The Crafts.Laskin's most notable contributions to the evolution of acoustic guitars are his body beveling techniques, which help reduce players' stress and soreness. The idea for the Armrestâ„¢ came from a classical player who asked Laskin to round off the purfling where his right arm rested against the guitar because he found the sharp edge uncomfortable. Laskin later developed the Ribrestâ„¢, a bevel on the upper back edge of the guitar, which makes it feel more comfortable against the player's body.The distinct sound of Laskin guitar is a result of myriad factors, but Laskin emphasizes the importance of the 90-degree X-brace and symmetrical bracing [in conjunction with varying top-thicknesses]. "I think that because the market didn't require Canadian guitar makers to duplicate Martin or Gibson, we were able to be a little more exploratory," he says. "Therefore a sound that isn't Martin or Gibson has evolved." Laskin says his sonic goal is "clarity, sweetness of tone, and a full, round musicality".After 30 years of building guitars, Laskin still gets a high from a clean chisel stroke, from designing an inlay that reflects the person destined to play that guitar, or when seeing the delighted reaction of a customer who plays his new musical partner for the first time. "I want to build guitars until I drop," says Laskin.And while his guitar-building mission continues, Laskin also finds the time to record and perform his own music (he has four albums to his credit), run folk music label Borealis Records along with another partner, help coordinate a summer music camp, and contribute regularly to several trade magazines. He has also written and published a novel, as well as a non-fiction book called The World Of Musical Instrument makers: A guided Tour (Mosaic Press). It's hard to imagine a busier or more talented Renaissance man in the world of acoustic guitar.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Paco Pena, Rik Emmett
Steel String, Classical, Flamenco,