We had the honor of interviewing veteran luthier Dan Bresnan of Bresnan Guitars on topics including his craft, voicing, building style, and more. Please find following our full interview with Dan. Enjoy!
LW: After some time away from the bench, you’re back in action. Can you fill us in on your life journey from the intervening years? What took you away from building, and what brought you back?
DB: Beginning in 2015, I went through a series of very unsuccessful major surgeries. During the final of those surgeries, a surgical accident occurred which left me with a very serious spinal cord injury. As a result of that injury, I was unable to walk, play guitar, or perform many normal daily tasks. The rehab has been extensive, and continues to this day. It wasn’t until 2018 that I had sufficient motor recovery to confidently work safely in the shop again. Also at that time, My son, Sean, a Berklee College of Music grad, and a great luthier in his own right, joined me in my shop which took some of the pressure off on the more physically demanding steps. So, since 2018, Sean and I have been back at it, and having a lot of fun with it!
LW: Please describe your goals in voicing an instrument. How did you first find your voice, and how do you continue to experiment?
DB: I have been an active performer for several decades and Sean for almost 15 years. Our approach to voicing is rooted in what we ourselves look for in the instruments that we play. We voice our guitars for a deep, rich tone with even response across all the strings, as well as up and down the fretboard. In many types of fingerstyle playing, the bass strings drive the momentum of the piece, and a deep articulate bass is very important, particularly so when not using a thumbpick. When I first started building guitars, I experimented with many different elements. I always like to think of the guitar as a physics problem; how to build with as much stiffness as possible, with as little mass as possible. That approach to design led me to develop several techniques in bracing and structure that, as far as I know, are unique to Bresnan Guitars. The resulting voice has been the basis of our “sound” for quite some time. We do continue to evolve our design with new ideas and are always striving to make our instruments even better.
LW: Where do you think your building style will take you in the next five years?
DB: Currently, we offer four models; OO, OOO, OM, and GS. Over the next five years, I see us adding to our model lineup. We’ve explored a number of ideas including some neat hybrid designs.
LW: Working with your son must be a unique experience. What is your working dynamic in the shop?
DB: Working with Sean has been awesome. Sean is a really talented luthier, with a great eye, and hand, for perfection. He challenges me on design and process issues and we have very lively debates at times! In addition to spending a lot of time in the shop together, we also spend a lot of social time together, hiking with the dogs, going to a concert, or taking in a movie and such. He’s my best buddy, so it’s very cool to be able to spend time with him at work in the shop as well.
LW: What do you enjoy doing outside of building instruments?
DB: I am a regularly performing guitarist and vocalist. So, most of my time outside the shop is consumed by practice. I am also a big hiker. We have four dogs, and we love hitting the trail with our furry buddies!
LW: If you had not become a guitar maker, where do you think life would have led you?
DB: Making music has always been the driving force of my life, whether through songwriting, singing, playing guitar, or working as an engineer in recording studios. I entered guitar building as an expression of my lifelong love for music in general, and for the guitar in particular. If I were not building guitars, I would be more deeply involved in these other avenues of musical expression, and most likely with a greater emphasis on performance. But, I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing right now.
LW: What music are you listening to right now?
DB: For the past couple years, I’ve been really getting into soul music. Soul and R&B music dominated the AM radio in my hometown when I was growing up. So, I already knew most of the tunes. However, at that point in my life, I had fallen in love with the acoustic guitar, and was heading more toward the Folk/Americana direction, so I don’t think I was able to really appreciate how amazing so much of it is.
LW: If you could choose only one tool to work on guitars, what tool would that be?
DB: A hand chisel. I love a direct connection with the wood, and that feels the closest, to me.