- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) - A Livingston County Sheriff’s Department detective is following his passion for music by turning 100-year-old reclaimed wood from deconstructed Detroit homes into hand-carved guitars.

Curt Novara, owner and operator of Woodward Guitar Co., combs through piles of wood at Reclaim Detroit, a nonprofit organization founded in 2011, which is diverting from landfills as much material taken from Detroit’s 78,000 vacant structures as possible. He is looking for the perfect piece of Douglas fir that has rings so tight it emits a warm sound when it becomes a guitar.

“I always wanted to be a police officer, but guitars always made me happy,” he told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus ( https://bit.ly/1zoxeJt ). “I didn’t think I could do both together.

“This wood,” Novara explained as he strummed a custom-made Woodward guitar, “grew in forest that was over 100 years old, and the trees grew close together because it was virgin land, and the canopy was so thick the trees grew slower. You’d get tighter growth rings. You get a much better quality of wood and much better sound.”

Mike Grass, owner of The Music Man, oftentimes has people in his store wanting to sell their homemade guitars. He wasn’t sure what to expect when Novara approached him, but he picked up and played a Woodward guitar and was “pleasantly surprised.”

“I can’t quite put it into words how one guitar is better than another,” Grass said. “You can look and say the workmanship is flawless, which (Novara’s) is. … It’s really a wonderful instrument that looks, feels and sounds great.”

Novara, a graduate of Northville High School, began playing guitar in eighth grade. At age 16, he was given the opportunity to apprentice with a local luthier, who is someone who makes or repairs string instruments.

That experience enhanced his interest in music and taught him the importance of a guitar’s tone.

He set aside his love of music and building guitars, however, to pursue a career in police work.

Following high school, Novara attended Wayne State University to study criminal justice and then attended and graduated from the Wayne County Regional Police Academy.

He found employment with the Livingston County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy in 1998 and was promoted to detective about five years ago.

Throughout the years, Novara has continued to enjoy music and when the opportunity to purchase reclaimed wood from Detroit - a city he has loved throughout his life - he decided to build the best guitar he could.

“The soul of the guitar comes from the hands that craft it,” he said.

Novara set out to find a partner who could create the guitar he envisioned for Woodward Guitar Co. - named after the avenue in Detroit.

He found luthier George Gorodnitski, owner of Master Guitars in Los Angeles.

Gorodnitski, who has built guitars for 25 years, said he jumped at the opportunity to build a guitar for Novara because he was using reclaimed wood, which is something no other guitar maker is doing, and because Novara allowed him to design the shape, something he loves to do.

Gorodnitski was cautious, however, because he knew older wood could have cosmetic flaws and cracks that could affect the quality of the guitar’s sound.

Novara selects the wood and planes it before shipping it to Gordonitski, who then cuts and shapes the wood, and then builds the guitar.

“I carved the first one and I when I put it in my hand I knew it would sing,” said Gorodnitski, a native of Latvia, a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. “I was surprised at how acoustically resonating it is. It’s very old wood. …

“The acoustic property of this wood is just amazing. I never heard any other wood that has such a beautiful tone. I connected it to an amplifier and it started to sing; it was wow,” he said, clearly excited. “I built three (guitar) bodies in two days.”

Once the guitar is built, Gorodnitski applies multiple layers of nitrocellulose lacquer, which he says “allows the guitar to breathe.” It takes days for the lacquer to dry and when it does, Gorodnitski then sands and polishes it before applying the guitar’s hardware, including tuners and pickups.

Each guitar is custom-built, Gorodnitski and Novara agreed.

The semihollow body - which is called “book-matched” because of the left and right side mirror each other - of the guitar is reclaimed Detroit, old-growth Douglas fir, while the neck is reclaimed maple.

The duo uses Indian rosewood on the fretboard and Novara said that is only piece that is not reclaimed wood because it is not native to this area.

The pickups are hand wound using aged Alnico 5 magnets and precise Wilkinson tuners.

The finish is sunburst and gives the impression the guitar is on fire.

“These guitars seem to have a spirit and musical presence that quite simply must be heard and felt to actually believe,” Novara said.

___

Information from: Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, https://www.livingstondaily.com


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