The year was 1970. I’m playing hookie from school at Arizona State University. I had a friend whose brother played guitar in a rock band. He was a real cool dood. Lots of hair and patchuli oil, and a good player. He knew that I had a couple guitars. One a Martin D-28 and another was a mexican nylon string I picked up in Tijuana for a few bucks. Anyway my friend’s brother, told me that I could make a better guitar than the nylon one I was playing. He said there was a guy in Glendale, AZ that was building a few guitars in his garage, and was helping other people to build instruments for themselves. “You should go see him” ….
Glendale is not far from where I lived in Tempe, so I drove out there in my 1965 VW. That’s when I met John Roberts. Well, first I pulled into his driveway and wondered if I had the right place, then I saw the garage and went there… There were a couple guys around a large workbench that took up most of the space in the garage. Pretty soon John came out and we chatted. The deal was this: If I bought all the wood for a guitar, then I could build it in the garage. John would advise me. The charge for the wood? $100. Back & sides, top (redwood), mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard, rosewood bridge… Think of it. Back in ’70 $100 was not chump change. I bought my D-28 new for $350. But the use of the shop and the advice and interaction with others made all the sense I needed to justify the expenditure. What about my schooling at ASU? What about my job delivering pizzas or making donuts? No problem really. It was November/December and the semester was going to end. I was going to build a guitar!!!
John Roberts had been a bush pilot in Central America and had imported a bunch of logs from Guatemala (Dalbergia cubilquitzensis). He thought he could sell the wood in veneer form to banks or other architecture applications, but he didn’t seem able to crack that market. So he started looking at uses for the wood. Somebody said “ROSEWOOD! It could make GUITARS!” Except that he didn’t know anything about guitars. He had a copy of a book, and some articles from a magazine or two. Of course, there were also guitars to look at. I’m sure there were other resources, but there was more willingness to experiment than there was knowledge. You can find out a bit about John at the website of the Roberto-Venn school of Luthiery.
From start to finish, the construction took me a little more than a month. I also built a case using 5/8 inch thick plywood. Heavy duty… I’m not sure if I have a picture of the guitar anywhere, but one might surface. It now belongs to my son who lives in Portland, OR.
So much has changed since 1970. I’ll be writing more about that and the years since in other posts.
Who knows where the time goes?