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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Guild of American Luthiers Convention 2011 - Part Three

GAL Convention 2011 Day 3

By day 3 I have gotten accustomed to the routine of waking up, breakfast, workshops, lunch, workshops, exhibition, dinner, evening performance and bedtime.

The Lagerquist Theater

Mike Doolin & Carlos Everett
Taken from:

The day started with Carlos Everett's session called the “Guitar Workshop Evolution: One Luthier’s Journey”. He has painted a realistic picture of a typical luthier’s career from infancy to maturity. While he is pretty successful in his career, he didn’t forget the hard labor he has done in the past to stay afloat. Neither he has become out of touch of the necessary changes of workshops he has made in order to allow his career to evolve. In his presentation, he began with illustrating the early days of repairs, restoration and managing great number of instruments. These events have served as foundation that later became useful as he progressed from part-time to full-time guitar making. The most evident signs of evolution for Carlos were the amount of instruments he made annually reduces drastically as his workshop evolves over years. It was very sobering and real, lutherie was indeed not for everyone. The session took up half the morning.

Mike Doolin & Mark Hanson at Steel String Guitar Listening Session

The guitar queue

Jay generously rendered assistance
Taken from:

The session before lunch was one I longed for; the Steel String Guitars Listening Session. Mike Doolin ( was invited to moderate the session whereas Mark Hanson was the appointed guitarist for the playing. The format was similar to that of the Classical Guitar Listening session except there were more guitars submitted for playing and listening. A total of 39 steel string guitars were submitted for playing. To make sure every guitar has a fair chance to showcase its best, every guitar was tuned prior to playing. It was possible because of Jay Hargreaves, a wonderful guy who voluntarily rendered his help in this session as well as the classical guitar one.

I was standing at backstage ...

Seated among the crowd, I was armed with my camera and have taken the best position to snap pictures. Unexpectedly, Mike approached me for help just before the session commenced. Well I wished he had asked me to play the guitars but … anyway I played a small part by handing him the prepared guitars which saved him the to and fro trips in getting the guitars from Jay. I was delighted to be of some help, at least for my first visit.

In the afternoon, John Greven presented a workshop on voicing the guitar. Instead of being present, I spent some quality time with Jeff, learning from him the long and short of North America’s guitar industry. We visited the auction room to select our objects of desire as well. Invariably, I have more time at the exhibition and tables hopping continued. Here are some random pictures.

I was chatting with Dave Bertoncini
Taken from:
Ukelele are such happy instruments! Mark Robert's Ukes

A Michael Giltzow built

Carbon fibre tools are emerging ...

Arguably the most experimental one ...

Marshall Bruné's built

Jeff was trying to seal it ...

A beautiful one

Trying a Petros Guitar

Jeff checking Brian Yarosh's Lefty

Michael Glitzow and I

Kasha Bracing Pattern

At Peter Siorba's table

Stephen Kinnaird, a cool guy he is!

Notable Wood

David Freeman's offset soundhole design

In the evening, I was treated by a wonderful performance by Edel Muñoz. It was not possible to be not entertained and impressed by Edel. His passionate playing and great stage presence were simply unparalleled. It wasn’t hard to understand the reason for his impressive competition wins he has chalked up in a short span of classical guitar playing career. Above all, he is very approachable and at ease to be with. I must say not all great guitarists are as warm as Edel. What a great player and a wonderful guy!

Edel performed at the Lagerquist
Taken from:
Edel and I

GAL Convention 2011 Day 4

Day 4, one more day before I gone home. The morning session was about Mandolin and its future. Moderated by Jeff Elliott of Portland OR, Dave Cohen from Richmond VA, Lawrence Smart from Hailey ID and Don MacRostie from Athens OH they discuss the Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives of the Mandolin Family. I wasn’t much into Mandolin and my comprehension of this instrument was limited. While the discussions among the panelists and audience were intense, it was hard for me to appreciate the depth of the topics.

About Mandolin's Future

The next session was Charles Fox's workshop called “Production Techniques for the Custom Luthier”. Among luthiers, Charles is regarded as one of the best in producing consistency and accuracy in guitar making. His quality work was attained by means of designing and fabricating jigs and fixtures in aiding his guitars making process. Many luthiers would call him the guru in jigs and fixtures. He has shared many interesting perspectives from his years of experiences. To Charles, jigs and fixtures were not for hastening but to create more control and ease whilst building guitars. Another area illuminated was to have sufficient comprehension of the tools and machines especially in terms of their accuracy and repeatability. Actions spoke louder, he demonstrated the applications of his jigs and fixtures in the lecture hall which was much anticipated by the audience. Finally, he distilled his workshop into two salient points in guitar production, they are, (1) standardization without compromising creativity and quality of production, (2) organize your work linearly.

Charles Fox
Taken from:
Charles' creation

One of the many tools designed by Charles

While all the workshops and exhibitions were underway, the organizers were also busy preparing a truckload of gadgets and gears for the popular GAL auction events. There were 2 kinds of auction, the silence and opened kind. Without spilling the beans for those who hasn’t experienced the auctions, I will leave you to figure out the mechanics of operation from pictures. Suffice to say that both were exciting, teeth biting and extremely hilarious. The exhibition for day 4 was opened to public. As expected, the visitors surged in numbers. The atmospheres within the various exhibition halls were electrifying even the previous days were considered as decent. Again I went tables hopping to complete the entire loop. More pictures below.

Exhibition at basement 1

Carbon rods for reinforcement?

Bob's new Kinnaird, with Stephen (happy man) and Jeff

Edel and Jeff

Edel and Kelly

Mark and Kelly

Mark & Jeff, Happy Dudes and Beautiful Ukes, aren't they!

Charles and Jeff

Me, Charles, Kelly and Dr. Jeff

Gurus talking ...

Jeff and the lovely Bruné Family

Day 4 was kind of special for me. In April 2010, I have commissioned Kent Chasson (, an American luthier to make a guitar for me. Our collaboration was fun-filled, innovative and experimental. Through this, we have learned plentifully and the outcome was a beautifully made guitar. Coincidentally, Kent lives in Bellingham WA, only a 2 hour drive to Tacoma. After months of email correspondences, we were delighted to meet and Kent has delivered the completed guitar in person. Nicolai was among the first the try this amazing guitar. Here’re a few pictures below.

Kent, the new built and I

Nicolai trying it ...

On day 1, each participant was given an electronic meal card that has been programed with a fixed value to cover all meals within the convention. Most people will moderate the quantity to avoid over spending. However many participants only realized on day 4 evening that their meal cards have value way beyond the needs for the last 2 meals. Many were seen ordering foodstuffs to expand the budget; even they didn’t need that amount of food. Perhaps part of the fun was not to get stuck with a high balanced value card.

There was no evening performance on day 4 because it was time for the opened auction. The hall was crowded with bargain hunters. As like most auctions, this auction was also governed by desire and pressure. Items that started as a bargain can turn into an over-priced purchase. However, this was the deal for any opened auction. Buying an item may become secondary when two parties were locked into a bidding war. Well, that was the sources of fun I must say. Also many thanks to the auction emcee Kurt Kendall who made it hilarious and intense. I was totally entertained. Click this link to view more pictures:

Auction underway ...
Kurt Kendall (far right) and company ... it was non-stop laughs

The GAL Convention was indeed extremely rewarding for me. It was rare to attend a convention that emphasized so much on sharing and learning over business transactions. This attitude was pervasive among the participants; it also made the atmosphere friendly and informal. Gurus who I have learned about through internet were present at the convention, live! It was also humbling to meet so many dedicated guitar makers in person. They have inspired me to want to be better. Not to mention the chance to play so many hand-made guitars was like no other experiences comparable in Singapore. Last but not least, the many liked-minded friends I have met was the most invaluable gains.

All these would not been possible without GAL staff’s professional work and dedication. I should be attributing this success to many people who have contributed in some ways but I will likely miss out some names. Therefore, I truly thank them all and this is one convention that is worthy to be praised. Highly recommended to all string instruments player to attend.

Savoring some private moments with my new friend

It has past midnight and the auction has finally ended. The adrenalin to keep going has subsided in the last evening of the convention and it was time I retired back to my dormitory for the last night of sleep. I left for Singapore on Day 5 of the convention. The next time I will make it a point to stay throughout. I will be back for the next one … very likely.


  1. Adam - this is a wonderful account of the GAL conference. I attended days three and four, same schedule as you have summarized. It's very nice to read your thoughts and view your photos. Thanks for posting them here! Sincerely, Tom at Erhardt Stringed Instruments. Salem, Oregon

  2. Hi Tom and Maureen, so sorry for taking such a long time to reply. In truth, I am not certain if I should response because it might make the post grow longer! Jokes aside, I am really looking forward to attend the next one as I had so much fun. I will be smarter in the silent auction as I have learnt tremendously from the overwhelming enthusiasm displayed by certain members in securing the items they desired. Most importantly, your comments mean something to me… because people actually read the stuff I have written and have enjoyed it. Thanks again!