Everyone has seen guitars before, and many of you have played them. But how often do you get to see a guitar built by hand, completely from scratch?
If you’ve never seen it done, you owe it to yourself to check out Traditional Craft Days at Canterbury Shaker Village on Sunday to watch luthier Steve Marcq in his natural habitat.
Marcq is in his 60s now, but he’s been playing guitar since he was 15. A lifelong love of the instrument crossed paths with a penchant for woodworking to lead Marcq to becoming a regular luthier – one who makes guitars.
“I actually taught classes at Canterbury Shaker Village for about 15 years doing workshops,” Marcq said. “Basically, I never put 2 and 2 together – guitars are made out of wood, and I’m a woodworker.”
Marcq is an amateur Guild of N.H. Woodworker, and he saw an article in the Guild newsletter eight or 10 years ago about a couple guys who took classes with a New Hampshire luthier named Alan Carruth, a well-respected professional luthier. According to the article, you could sign up for shop time and work your way through the process of building a guitar.
“I saw their write-up about doing it and I said, ‘hmm,’ ” Marcq said. “I called him, made arrangements to stop by, signed up, started doing biweekly classes and made my first guitar, mostly at his shop.”
That was nine or 10 years ago, and he hasn’t been able to stop ever since. He still takes the occasional class here and there, but when you get a look at some of his work, it’s apparent that he’s gotten the hang of this by now – and then some.
While he’s made both acoustic and electric guitars – he’s made 10 or 11 total guitars by now – his passion is making acoustics. The process of crafting an acoustic guitar is much more difficult and requires quite a bit more work, patience and general artistic vision.
“Electric instruments are like woodworking projects, and acoustics are more like engineering and artistry,” he said.
Basically, to make an electric guitar, you take a solid chunk of wood (often multiple pieces are bonded together to form one big one) and just router out cavities for the pickups and electronics, slap a neck on it and call it a day. With an acoustic instrument, the whole structure has to be engineered so it stays together and holds up to the pressure of all those strings pulling so tightly on it. Of course, it also has to sound good, and it doesn’t hurt to make it look nice, too.
Many amateur luthiers will take on the project of building a guitar body, but when it comes to the neck they usually just buy something made by a guitar company in a factory. Marcq does everything the old-fashioned way, meaning he hand-crafts his necks, too. That includes the fretboard, the thin slab of wood glued to the neck that contains the frets, those horizontal metal bars that essentially change the length of the string depending on where you press.
All of this is to say that this takes a very, very long time. While he does use a few power tools here and there, Marcq does most everything with hand tools. As a result, he typically spends close to 200 hours working on each piece. Since he will only be at Traditional Craft Days on Sunday, there obviously won’t be enough time to see him make one from start to finish, but he will have one of his projects on hand so you can see how it’s done.
Another thing Marcq does is use all American woods. Many of the finer artistic woods you see in instruments comes from places like Brazil, where acquiring the wood often means cutting into rainforests and thinning the herd of rare and often endangered trees. Marcq sticks to common woods found here, such as curly maple. The result is your guitar won’t be confiscated at the Canadian border (which will really happen if you try to bring wood from an endangered species).
If you’re interested in any of this, make sure you give Marcq a visit on the Sunday of Traditional Craft Days.