EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Time spent in his garage carving and shaping wood reminds local guitar luthier Todd Hubbard of his father who died days before Christmas.
“My dad’s mainly responsible for me doing this,” said Hubbard as he stood in his west side garage surrounded by woodworking tools and partially completed guitars.
“He had a guitar that he used to always keep in the closet when I used to visit him - my parents were divorced,” he said. “About when I was 8, I started getting the guitar out of the closet and playing it.”
Since laying his hands on his father’s guitar nearly four decades ago, 47-year-old Hubbard now uses those hands to create guitars on his own.
“This is scrap now,” he said after pointing at a crack in what would be the side of an acoustic guitar body. Hubbard wets and uses a machine to bend and fashion the wood rather than purchasing pre-shaped wood.
Hubbard’s small, two-car garage is where he crafts his guitars.
A commissioned hand-built guitar he makes starts at $4,500 and costs as much as $10,000.
In January, Hubbard was putting the final touches on a guitar a customer commissioned him to build: The Astropoly.
The double-cutaway style guitar features dark-toned Honduran rosewood and maple, with ornate pearl inlays of celestial shapes and crop circle-like designs in the fretboard.
Nearly everything on the guitar was built and honed by hand, from the headstock, with a pearl sun inlaid at the top, to the convex shape of the guitar’s rare wood body.
Ed Sein, local musician and manager at Moore Music, had the chance Monday to play the Astropoly.
“The guitar was a truly unique instrument,” Sein said. “It has these features that are really innovative and unique. … It was beautiful. It was as much a work of art as a playable instrument.”
What also helped separate it from other guitars was the electronics system, he said.
The electronic pickups that turn the string vibrations into an electrical signal that gets pumped through an amplifier were hand-wound and built by Tony Dorris of Volition Amps.
Dorris is an Evansville musician who creates, builds and repairs music gear in his home.
Uniqueness is what separates a handmade instrument like Hubbard’s from a standard-issue manufactured product, Sein said.
“That is a one-of-a-kind guitar. All of these guitars that are manufactured or mass produced, they all started as somebody’s home garage project,” he said. “Guitar building is a great example of the DIY (do it yourself) culture that’s a big part of American dream. A guy in a garage that has a vision and sees that vision come to life, sees the fruits of his labor.”
Hubbard has built guitars off and on over the last 20 years, but now it is a full-time job.
“Each guitar is a neat little journey in and of itself,” he said, holding an unfinished single-cutaway design. “There’s always something different that happens along the way that makes each guitar different from the other. There’s no real perfect guitar,” he said.
His journey building guitars started in the 1990s.
Hubbard was attending Virginia Commonwealth University but wasn’t satisfied with the art program at the school.
So, 24-year-old Hubbard left to see the American West. He ended up in Arizona, where he learned about the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery.
As a guitarist, he always wanted to have more control over the instrument.
“I went and checked it out and my mind was blown,” he said. “I went in there midway through the class section to see what it was about. There was guitars mid-build and people that looked just like me building guitars. I said, ‘I can do this.’ “
When he told his parents he was going to attend guitar-making school, they thought he was throwing away his money.
“Then I came back with these instruments and blew them away. I remember the, ‘Oh my gosh. Wow.’ “
During the four-month course, students had to build one acoustic and one electric guitar. He graduated with three guitars built and two more halfway done.
Since then, he’s held several internships under master luthiers, including the late Paul Guedelsky, known to be one of the greatest archtop guitar builders, and served in the Army from 1998 to 2006. He came to Evansville in 2009.
People regularly ask Hubbard if he considers himself a master luthier.
“I tell people I’m a master apprentice who’s ready to learn anything and everything I can get my hands on.
“Obviously there’s a limit to what you can soak in, but you soak in and use the best parts of what you learn to make a better instrument,” he said.
Instead of calling himself a master luthier, he strives to master individual parts of the instrument.
Innovation and progress is slow coming in the luthier world where the basic design of the guitar hasn’t changed much in 60 years.
When it comes to his own designs, Hubbard’s been building on that skill steadily.
“Like my predecessors, you want to always try and do innovations and progress the art forward but sometimes those progressions are an eighth of an inch at a time.
“It’s not always that I walk into the shop and a miracle with wood happens. But you just, through working more and more, it advances, and creeps forward and advances slowly,” he said.
Source: Evansville Courier & Press, https://bit.ly/1Wf0gX4
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com
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