My grandfather was a woodworker. His house was quite odd. The bedroom was a wood storage room. His living room was furnished as a wood shop with tools and benches throughout, and then in the corner was his bed which he would cover with plastic each day to keep the dust out of his bed. He used a lot of hand tools so fine dust was not a big issue. I used to spend my days with him when I was a boy learning to build a bench or a gun cabinet or other pieces of furniture.
I learned to love woodworking at a very early age. My father also had a love for wood and always had the basics of a wood shop in his garage or downstairs as we finished the basement of our newly built home with him. Besides learning from my grandfather and father, I took woodshop in high school, and drafting for 2 years in junior high. Then in college, I studied fine arts and did a lot of wood sculpture. I also worked in the woods as a tree faller, was an Idaho state licensed timber scaler for Plum Creek Timber Company, and also a molder planerman for them. I have been involved in every aspect of wood working from falling trees, to rough milling, defect determination, and drying wood which is critical in instrument making. I draw intimately from all those early years in my craft as a luthier.
After college and several years in the timber industry as explained above, I started building instruments with a small company called Flatiron Banjo and Mandolin Company. I had been aware of the lutherie tradition since my late teens and had always been drawn to this discipline. When I had an opportunity to go to work for Flatiron, I jumped at the chance though I had a new baby and would be working for 1/3 the money I had been making in the timber industry. I knew with my background with woodworking, starting with my grandfather as a child, that I would be able to learn this craft quickly. Gibson Guitar acquired Flatiron and while working for Gibson I worked my way up to rear plant production manager by punching out after I had completed my days work and then learning other jobs around me until I understood and could perform all of the processes.
Back in the 80ís there werenít many books available and even less schools so I had to ask questions of the few accomplished luthiers we had working with us, constantly. I began to do repair and minor restorations within a year or two and always took each project to one of the master luthiers and tried to get their help with what the appropriate approach would be. Eventually my efforts and abilities were recognized and I was able to move into a supervisory level finally becoming rear plant production manager, when we built the large Factory in Bozeman.
I soon became aware after the large factory was built, that this was not the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to work at a higher craft level on fewer instruments. I contacted the Santa Cruz Guitar Company who had an international reputation as one of the top small custom guitar shops in the world, where the entire staff consisted of 4 people. I received an employment offer from them and moved to California. While working for SCGC, I lived in Santa Cruz, CA for 6 years, but then returned to Montana, and continued to be employed by them for the next 11 years while working out of my own shop. I built their archtop guitars, did design of new models, and accomplished most of the warranty repair for the company. After a few years away, SCGC asked me to oversee production management again with the help of an on-site foreman. This required me to travel a lot and brought me much more intimately into everyday operations with SCGC again though I continued to work out of my Montana shop much of the time. I spent 17 years with SCGC and acquired an international reputation as a luthier, not only as a result of my work with SCGC but from the repairs, building, and restorations I took on peripherally.
While in Santa Cruz, I also took advantage of being in a metropolitan area by learning advanced Japanese chisel and hand planning skills as well as advanced sharpening techniques by apprenticing part time for a while with a Japanese master carpenter. He had been trained in the temple builder tradition, which is one of the strictest of woodworking disciplines in Japan. I learned to hand plane, chop mortises, and pare wood with razor sharp chisels which neatly dovetailed into my guitarmaking, but set me aside uniquely within the modern guitarmaking tradition, as much of what is being done today is dominated by computer assisted milling processes and is heavily characterized by jigs and tool making.
While I employ some of these techniques, I use hand tools extensively in my building and rely on hand bending, and hot hide glue, an ancient and superior tradition, for my gluing processes. I also employ the gobar deck, an ancient method of evenly distributing clamping pressure developed by harpsichord builders centuries ago, as the preferred method of getting even clamping pressure using hot hide glue. The skills I utilize in instrument making are a family legacy that I have been a part of since I was able to walk by myself next door to my grandfatherís workshop when I was 3. My use of such basic tools and skills allow me to build all manner of instruments including the extended range instruments I have designed and built over the last 10 years culminating in the 14 string Contraguitar I recently completed.
Daniel Eugene Roberts:
Montana State University, Sept. 1979, - May 1985. 1 year spent studying in Japan.
Fine Arts, English Literature, co-major.
Flatiron Banjo and Mandolin Company/ Gibson Guitar Corporation. May 1989-March 1991.
I started my lutherie career with Flatiron Banjo and Mandolin which had been acquired by Gibson Guitar. I built Banjos until Gibson built the Gibson/Montana Division manufacturing plant and began to build guitars again. Due to my extensive experience with woodworking and machinery as well as Timber scaling experience, I was assigned responsibility for the shaper department and was responsible for most aspects of Guitar and Banjo necks. Soon after, I was made neck department supervisor and then production manager of the rear plant. I was responsible for re-saw (parts fabrication) through white wood instruments. I was also involved in early re-issues etc.
Santa Cruz Guitar Company. March 1991-July 2008
I was hired by SCGC as a luthier and production manager to build guitars, improve tooling, and help increase production. For the first 5 years I built all of the SCGC archtop guitars, was responsible for production management, and performed duties as a bench luthier.
At the end of 1995, I moved back to Montana and was retained by SCGC as an employee but provided my own shop and tools and performed and managed all repairs for SCGC as well as building SCGC archtops.
In 1998, at the request of SCGC, I again became production manager remotely, and worked with an on-site foreman for day to day oversight. I was responsible for design development of new instruments including many of SCGCís current line of guitars, production numbers, quality, manufacturing methodology, and tooling. I also managed and did some of the repair for the company and was service manager as well.
Daniel Roberts String Works. July 2008-present.
Since leaving SCGC Iíve started my own company performing repair and restorations, specializing in prewar Martin and Gibson instruments. I also began building my own line of guitars and that has gotten so successful that it is difficult to find any time even for restoration now except for especially rare and special pieces.
I build a historical line of guitars, based on vintage Gibsons of the 30ís and 40ís. I have two historical models, the Minstrel, which fuses elements of the 30ís L-00s with Elements of the early 40ís LG-2s, and the Troubadour model which is similar in size and presence to a dreadnought but has a somewhat smaller lower bout and makes up for that with a large upper bout. The overall shape is very beautiful and is somewhat reminiscent of a large LG-2 or a slightly smaller slope shoulder dreadnought.
I also do custom instruments and collaborations such as the 14 string Contra guitar which I just recently finished for Kevin Kastning. Kevin is a world-class composer and guitarist whose work is currently enjoying much interest from the international music community. He has an MA in composition from Berklee College of Music and just finished a tour of Hungary where he performed with Sandor Szabo, a Hungarian guitarist and composer, and Dominic Miller, best known as Stingís guitarist and co-writer, who also enjoys a solo career as a guitarist. The trio will be doing a larger northern European tour this year. All 3 guitarists play both classical and steel string guitars and both Sandor and Kevin play mostly extended range instruments such as the Alto Classical, and the 4 instruments which I designed, as well as voiced, fretted, set-up etc. While at SCGC. These included an OM, a 12 string extended range baritone, a 6 string baritone/bass and an Alto 12 string. The Contra guitar has 14 strings, (7 double courses), with octave strings tuned to either octaves or intervallic tunings from bass Low E and a higher octave or interval, through the bass and baritone registers and a good portion of the way through standard guitar to the place where the Alto takes over for the higher registers. See more on Kevin at www.kevinkastning.com. Kevin says the Contra has greatly surpassed his expectations, which were already high.
I also do one-off replicas and build custom flattops and archtops in a variety of stylings.
It is possible to see a large sampling of some of the instruments I have made as an independent luthier by going to facebook and searching for Chiarored@aol.com. Then look under photo albums for photo essays on various instruments. You should not need to be a friend but should you need or choose to I will confirm requests as soon as possible.
National Association of Musical Merchants/Museum of Making Art.
I did presentations on side bending for the Museum during a NAMM show. Other Luthiers doing presentations included: Ken Parker, Michael Dresdner, Michael Gurian, Ren Ferguson, Tom Ribbecke, Bill Collings, Steve Klein, Seymour Duncan, Rich Turner, Bob Benedetto, and Steve Grimes.
Planet Bluegrass/ Rockygrass Festival
I have taught, with my friend Michael Hornick, a mandolin, mandola, octave mandolin, and recently small guitar building class during the Rockygrass Academy every year for the last 15 years. We take students through the building of these instruments in a 5 day class and the students walk away with high quality hand voiced mandolin family instruments which have a couple coats of finish on them and have been played by some of the best mandolin players in the world, who happen to be there teaching at the festival as well.
A Mandolin Symposium, 2005
This symposium included a class taught by John Monteleone and myself for mandolin builders who were already fairly well versed in building and were looking for additional help with techniques, voicing, wood selection, wood grading, resources such as vendors etc. I believe this was a 3 day class.
I presented a lecture on the process of selecting a luthier or guitar company to build a custom guitar, and how to design a custom instrument. Topics included developing a tonal vocabulary, tonewood choices, back and side choices, effects of different tonewoods, effect of neck on tone, bracing styles, etc. and how to commission a guitar that will fulfill your needs as a musician.
Helena Institute, 2009
I designed and taught a class on Wooden Fretted Instrument Evaluation and Simple Repairs and Setup. This was a two day class. Students learned how to evaluate the setup and neck and top geometry of fretted instruments allowing them to identify which instruments were in good playing order, what kinds of repairs and the cost of which might be required where good playability or tone were not present. Intonation issues, playability issues and tonal considerations were covered in detail. Students were allowed to bring in instruments and were guided in evaluating them and doing minor repairs including making saddles, nuts, adjusting truss rods, and filing high frets or removing wear from frets and re-crowning and polishing the frets.
Musikk Instrument Akademiet, Sarpsborg and Moss, Norway.
The MIA was an institution of international high regard in Norway which taught 4 year courses and provided both College degrees and Guild certifications, where possible, for makers of musical instruments of all kinds. They had departments and certifications available in piano construction, pipe organ construction, brass, woodwind, violin family strings, and fretted strings, especially guitar. The class was oriented toward classical construction and the school contacted me and asked me to teach extensions or apprenticeships in steel string guitar construction, both archtop and flattop, for highly dedicated guitar construction students. I was very selective but chose 3 different students to offer apprenticeships with. Two of those students went on to start a very successful guitar making company in Norway, and the other student, originally from Sweden, went on to work for SCGC and finally went out on his own doing repair for Music Villa in Bozeman, MT and building his own guitars successfully as well.
Each of these apprenticeships lasted 3 months initially and was completed individually with my guidance and oversight.
The MIA, unfortunately, lost itís funding from the Norwegian government and is no longer in existence. I had been selected as an international instructor and was to go to Norway to teach at the MIA the following year had they not lost their funding.
I have also had two long term apprentices whom I took from no previous experience through the building of several instruments each. I still am in contact with the second of these apprentices. Gary Lundy, Ph.D. teaches Poetry and Literature at U of M, Western, in Dillon. Gary has built a couple of guitars and has a small waiting list of people who would like to buy guitars from him but he is very busy with his primary occupation. I am proud of what he accomplished and he now is part of the mandolin building staff at Rockygrass Academy.
Charles Fox Guitars
When Charles began creating a business plan for his company, he approached me about consulting with him to help create a legitimate business plan for his initial goal/target of 5 guitars per week. He had already designed the guitars and had prospective investors. He needed someone with experience in production guitar building who could help determine realistically what equipment would be needed and approximate cost, how many people would be required, How the work would be distributed approximate wages he should expect, etc. He also wanted to compare his methods with those of more production orientation.
I was paid to provide a list of equipment and approximate cost as well as a breakdown of departments and what tasks would be accomplished in each, and how many people would be required to man and outfit his initial goal of 1 guitar per day or 5 per week.
After my initial consulting I continued to consult with Charles on such topics as finish, and production methods. His design ideas were sound and completely his so we spent little time on such things. This later consulting was always done free of charge, as friends in the industry sharing information.
After James moved his Guitar building operation to Hawaii, He contacted me and asked for help with a finish situation he had encountered with guitars sent to Germany. They had gotten very cold and had then been re-warmed quickly which checked the Nitrocellulose lacquer on about 40 guitars. He asked if there was a way to not have to refinish all of these. I shared with James a method for re-amalgamating the lacquer so that it would melt back together and could be re-sanded and buffed without a complete refinish. I had developed such a procedure and though it was still a lot of work I was able to share this with James and save him the need for refinishing a large number of guitars.
Another time when James was having difficulty with his production running smoothly, I spent many hours, sharing with him organization details that would allow him to be able to walk through the shop at the end of the day and see what had and had not been accomplished in which departments to allow him to achieve accountability and higher quality standards from his employees.
I consulted with the CA guitar company many times during their time building carbon fiber guitars. I was asked to become their production manager but I was working for SCGC and my love has always been for solid wood acoustic instruments.
I have a backlog of approximately 25 instruments. I build historically inspired models of my design, custom flat top guitars, archtop guitars, mandolin family instruments, and extended range guitars.
I have a list of teaching engagements including a trip to Norway to teach a Masters Class for luthiers in that country, and a lecture at the Danforth Gallery in Livingston, MT.
I also do some restorations when my interest is piqued and my building schedule allows the time for it.