DRIVING HOME FROM A WINTER visit in Tempe Arizona takes me tantalizingly close to a famed luthier’s workshop. A few phone calls later, favors cashed, promises promised, I’m invited. The Holy Grail of both amateur and professional luthiers across the globe, an unscripted view of life in the shop of one of America’s greatest guitar builders.
When I drop in, Wayne is staining the neck of his latest acoustic, a little later, the body. This particular customer had plenty of time to find beautiful walnut sides and back Wayne would eventually build into a guitar. Typical wait time is ten years.
The visit was memorable. Organized clutter. Not a tape measure to be seen (I was assured they were occasionally consulted). A 23/1000″ saw blade just for cutting fingerboard fret slots. Many tools and jigs have one purpose only. Except the pocket knife. Wayne is a hand’s-on builder, and that blade is used for just about anything. Poking, prying, cutting, slicing, whittling, trimming.
You never know who will stop into the shop. This afternoon brought EmiSunshine, fresh off the Grand Ole Opry stage. She had us aflutter with her skills, the pictured ukulele built by Jayne Henderson. Jayne could not have a better teacher.
Wayne has had an interesting career. Retired after thirty-two years with USPS. Plus the year of accumulated sick time. An easy postal route that left him with plenty of time to build guitars, which he has been building his whole life. After the first one was sold at about 16 years of age, he’s had a continuous backlog. Don’t even ask how long. Methuselah himself is pressing his luck.
He covered all the bases, sticking with USPS and a performance career even though he could easily have gone over to full time guitar building years ago. And he covers all the bases in every guitar he builds, known for their volume, tone, and resonance. A strong, balanced sound is nothing you can fake.
What is Wayne holding up? He admires a sandstone sample I brought back from Anasazi Stone, comparing it’s layers to the pictured walnut end piece on the guitar he just built. Ahh, nature repeating itself.