Clearly, luthiery requires a diverse set of finely honed skills, but it also requires a deep aesthetic understanding. Do you consider yourself more of an artist or a craftsman?
I definitely consider myself a craftsman with a very strong artistic sense. I had always been fond of arts of all kinds — decorative, interpretive, pre-modern, impressionist, surrealistic. I am fond of many types of art. But I’m also very fond of many types of crafts, pottery, jewelry and knife making, and furniture. This is the world of my imagination.
When you’re starting to build a guitar and you’re trying to picture it in your visual mind, many artistic considerations come into play that go beyond crafting a fine sounding guitar. Different colors of wood, different colored shells, colored purflings, bindings and shapes, all become a pallet that is available to you to compose a beautiful looking instrument.
One must also realize ultimately you’re making a tool for a musician. No matter how beautiful or arty a guitar looks, if it doesn’t play well and sound great I don’t care how arty it is. I would much rather have a guitarist tell me, “I love the sound of the guitar”, rather than “the sound is OK but the inlays are great”. It’s really totally about the sound and playability.
Recently, flying back from a guitar festival I noticed one of the editors of a guitar magazine on the plane who had been at the show. We started talking, and he mentioned that he had played a lot of very expensive heavily inlaid guitars that didn’t play or sound very good. He said exactly what I was thinking from my own experiments at the festival. A lot of the guitars at the show were designed to be eye catching, but a lot of effort had not been put into making them play well. So the artistic side of guitar making is a field that one should embrace carefully, making sure the instrument sounds and plays well first. After that, as far as I’m concerned, anything goes.