Home | Visitor's Guide | Login Reminder | Contact Us | Subscriptions | Help Wanted
La Conner Weekly News | La Conner, WA

home : news : news July 27, 2017

5/17/2017 8:49:00 AM
La Conner strikes a chord with artisan guitar crafters
GUITAR BUILDER – La Conner's Brent McElroy, a well-known luthier, and his wife Shirley Makela were the organizers behind the well-attended La Conner Guitar Festival held over the weekend. – Photo by Don Coyote
+ click to enlarge

GUITAR BUILDER – La Conner's Brent McElroy, a well-known luthier, and his wife Shirley Makela were the organizers behind the well-attended La Conner Guitar Festival held over the weekend. – Photo by Don Coyote

ARTISAN – Maegan Wells of Forestville, California shows a guitar she built. Wells was one of about 50 luthiers in town over the weekend for the La Conner Guitar Festival.                                                                                                       – Photo by Nicole Jennings
+ click to enlarge
ARTISAN – Maegan Wells of Forestville, California shows a guitar she built. Wells was one of about 50 luthiers in town over the weekend for the La Conner Guitar Festival.                                                                                                       – Photo by Nicole Jennings
Nicole Jennings


Which of the following is the correct definition of the word “luthier?”
a) A member of a religious movement from the Reforma-tion?
b) A person who lends money?
c) One who makes stringed instruments, such as guitars?
If you guessed “c,” congratu-lations. You already knew the meaning of the new vocab word that the entire town of La Conner learned this past weekend, when the town played host to the first, and soon-to-be-annual, La Conner Guitar Festival.
The festival, which ran from Friday to Sunday, saw world-renowned luthiers from across both the United States and Canada gather in La Conner to display their one-of-a-kind, handcrafted wares, give workshops, and perform concerts at different locations throughout town, including Maple Hall, the Waterfront Café, and the Civic Garden Club.
Most of the luthiers came from out of Washington and had never visited La Conner before, but all agreed that the art-filled waterfront town made an ideal location for a gathering of craftsmen and craftswomen.
“It’s really a cool location – it seems like a very art-oriented town,” said Joe Dragony, proprietor of Joe Dragony Guitars in Carmichael, California.
La Conner residents Shirley Makela and her husband Brent McElroy, also a well-known luthier, organized the event after going to a lutherie show in a less-than-scenic business park of a large city that Makela said did not do justice to the artistic spirit of the event.
“The new shows were not speaking to the art that is lutherie,” Makela said.
Makela realized that her own town, with its tradition of original artistry, would make a fantastic and apropos location for an exhibit of guitars.
“This is an art form that should be sold in a special place,” she said. She compared it to buying an original Picasso painting in a picturesque French village instead of in a shopping mall.
“It’s really well-organized and well-run with attention to the little things,” said Michael Kennedy of Indian Hill Guitars in Montreal, Quebec.
John Decker, who traveled from Maui, Hawaii, where he owns guitarmasterworks, called the La Conner show “by far the best-run guitar show I’ve ever been involved in.”
And the show was a big hit, attracting large crowds of serious guitar players and fascinated spectators from across the nation. There was barely room to carve a walkway through the luthiers’ exhibition at Maple Hall Saturday after-noon.
Makela and McElroy intend to make the La Conner Guitar Festival an annual event. The luthiers said that guitar shows are dying out in North America.
Crafting guitars by hand is an extremely time-consuming and precise art that rarely pays its artisans what they are worth. As a result, there are only about 100 professional luthiers left in the U.S. and Canada; nearly half of them were in La Conner last weekend.
“I was a software engineer, but I got fed up with that life,” Dragony said. A lifelong musician, Dragony started making guitars for fun “as a defense mechanism to work” five years before quitting his tech industry job. Making guitars is certainly not a $100 per hour gig, he said – each guitar has 120 to 150 hours of work, and there is no way he can sell them for $150,000.
“Quality of life is more important than money,” he said. “At the end of the day I’ve got something more tangible than lines of code ... It’s less predictable than a paycheck from a company, but it’s more rewarding.”
And the luthiers take great pride in their work. Factory-made guitars may seem like they all look alike, but walking around Maple Hall’s exhibition for more than a few minutes made it clear that handcrafted guitars are each extremely unique.
Jeremy Jenkins of Lame Horse Instruments in Austin, Texas, showed guitars that fell out of the range of what the word “guitar” would usually bring to mind. His instruments on display included a cross between a guitar and a banjo, known in Texas as a “guitjo,” and a guitar with a colorful 3-D, polyester design. Jenkins said that no two Lame Horse guitars are alike.
“We’re pushing ourselves to do something more artistic, more out of the norm,” Jenkins said.
With the community of luthiers being such a small one, it might seem as though the competition would be extremely cutthroat – especially when everyone is in the same room together. However, the artists said that this is not at all the case.
“When you go to a show like this, everyone is a friend,” said Fred Tellier of FE Tellier Guitars in Windsor, Ontario.
Jenkins compared the show to “summer camp” for the tight-knit group of luthiers, since they all look forward to seeing one another at shows. In the North American luthier scene, he said, there is no competition – instead, if someone comes up with an idea, he or she wants to share it with the other artisans.
Maegan Wells of Maegan Wells Guitars in Forestville, California, who got into the business 10 years ago at age 17, learned her skills from Bryan Galloup at his guitar building school in Big Rapids, Michigan. At last weekend’s festival, Wells and Galloup sold their wares side-by-side.
Steve Kauffman of Klein/Kauffman Guitars in Vineburg, California and Eugene, Oregon summed it up when he said, “We’re all here because of each other.”







Article Comment Submission Form
Please feel free to submit your comments.

Article comments are not posted immediately to the Web site. Each submission must be approved by the Web site editor, who may edit content for appropriateness. There may be a delay of 24-48 hours for any submission while the web site editor reviews and approves it.

Note: All information on this form is required. Your telephone number is for our use only, and will not be attached to your comment.
Submit an Article Comment
First Name:
Required
Last Name:
Required
Telephone:
Required
Email:
Required
Comment:
Required
Passcode:
Anti-SPAM Passcode Click here to see a new mix of characters.
This is an anti-SPAM device. It is not case sensitive.
   


Advanced Search


Subscription Login
LOGIN | SUBSCRIBE

Columnists



Home | Visitor's Guide | Login Reminder | Contact Us | Subscriptions

Published every Wednesday in La Conner Washington
Located at 119 North Third Street in La Conner. Mail: P.O Box 1465, La Conner WA, 98257. Phone: 360-466-3315

Site Design and Content Copyright 2017 La Conner Weekly News

Software © 1998-2017 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved