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Monday, October 7, 2013

My First Healdsburg Guitar Festival 2013

Here I come!

For those who wish see lots of pictures, go here: FB Healdsburg Guitar Festival 2013

About the show

I have attended the winter NAMM 2013 in Anaheim and a few visits to Music China in Shanghai. These were the big shows I have been. However when it comes to comparisons, setting the right context can make it meaningful. NAMM and Music China covers the world market in the music industry. It surely comes with no surprise that these two shows must be huge in magnitude to encapsulate the world market. While it was almost impossible to visit all booths in NAMM and Music China, the show didn’t provide the level of excitement I received from the Healdsburg Guitar Festival 2013. This show was catered for Luthiers producing fully handcrafted guitars and there were 100 over exhibiting tables, two exhibition halls, 2 workshops room, 1 demo concert room and 1 outdoor performance arena. For such niche exhibitions, I will call it a big show. See festival floor map on right.

Biennially, the festival was held. This year it stretched from 9 to 11 August within the lovely Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel, located in Santa Rosa, California, USA. The key organizer and sponsor was Luthiers Mercantile International (LMI), Inc. that specializes in developing and retailing tools and equipment for string instruments makers internationally. (

Jeff and I
Adam & Adam
The show predominantly comprised of luthiers a.k.a. guitar makers and the remaining groups were the vendors and sponsors. From my observations, I think that this show has provided one of the widest ranges of guitars in terms of genres and designs. You can find the most traditional built dreadnought design, rigid rim (Micheletti Guitars) over regular binding, modular guitar bodies (Mervyn Davis Guitars), space edge materials with radical neck-to-body mounting (Ken Parker Guitars), unimaginable archtop body shape (Saul Koll Guitars), most artistic inlays (Laskin Guitars, Pederson Guitars), finest craftsmanship (Erwin Somogyi Guitars, Kevin Ryan Guitars, Bruce Petros), most experimental (David Anthony Reid), trend setters (Matsuda Guitars), alternative and exotic woods (Jeffrey Yong Guitars), offset soundholes (Schwartz Guitars, Martin Keith Guitars) etc. There were more…

Kinloch Nelson and I
Karl, Liz and I
The standard of craftsmanship exhibited by these luthiers was unparalleled. No matter what may be the differences in experiences and craftsmanship, the underlying engine that powered the show was invariably the good old passion.

Once again, I was privileged to attend this show with Jeffrey Yong. He was very encouraging throughout as he told me to move about to make acquaintances and sample as many guitars as I could. Having the chance to stand behind Jeffrey’s exhibition table, I have met many guitar lovers and luthiers in this show. The exchanges of perspectives and knowledge were very useful to me indeed. However nothing beats making friends with the guitar lovers I have met.

Larry Robinson and I
The Goodall Family 
Tom Doerr and I
Kevin Ryan and I 
It was probably a dream for many acoustic guitar lovers; I met many great luthiers and acoustic fingerstyle guitarists, like Kinloch Nelson, Michael Chapdelaine, Thomas Leeb, Erwin Somogyi, Michihiro Matsuda, Grit Laskin, Larry Robinson, Kevin Ryan, Gerald Sheppard, Tom Doerr, Al Petteway, James Goodall, Larry Robinson and so many more all in the three days!

My friend, Bob!
Having fun with Erwin
Talking about meeting new friends, an ex-student of Jeffrey came to help us in the show. Incidentally he is also Adam. Of course his last name was not like mine, he is a Garcia. We had such great time chatting and jaming. I think Adam will surely remember a TV program we have watched.

I have great regards for Michael Chapdelaine. He was trained in classical guitar playing but he has ventured in acoustic guitar fingerstyle as well. Very few guitarists can do well in both genres and Michael made it look easy. On the last day, I met him and summed up my courage to approach him cold. As it turned out, he was very approachable. I got him to visit Jeffrey’s table and sampled his guitars. Michael was very impressed with Jeff’s guitars and he has requested to privately play them in his hotel after the show. Jeffrey and I brought a few guitars for him to try out. He played live before us and I was in awed to see this guitar master in action. Without squandering the precious moments, I video recorded his playing. That was another precious moment to me.

Michael Chapdelaine
The most expecting event and also it was most amazing to me was the Sunday worship group I have joined at the show. It was a small gathering of luthiers and visitors who were believers. We sang and shared all the good things God’s has blessed us. Worshipping with James Goodall, Tim McKnight, Kevin Ryan, etc. it was absolutely wonderful!

In essence it was a big show to me in many ways.

Quality of Guitars

The closest to such experience I had was at the GAL Convention in 2011. I have seen many guitars in that show and the quality varied widely. One may ask, what is in qualities of guitars? It should be the embodiment of creativity, intricacies, accuracies, alignment, details, selection of woods, playability (set-up), tonal characteristics, visual identity, craftsmanship and above all passion.

The guitars in the Healdsburg Guitar Festival indeed carried the mentioned qualities. They may not have embodied by one guitar but the overall quality was top-notched. I have tried to detect faults in some guitars in the show but it was difficult to spot. The great attention to details, aided by precise manufacturing processes has ensured near perfection quality. The bottom line is; when a guitar was not well made, it wouldn’t have made it there.

Program and Activities Flow

The 6-figure Ryan Guitar
Matsuda's Deconstructed Guitar
From all the guitar shows I have attended thus far, this one certainly packed the three days with non-stop activities. There were guitar demonstration shows that went on the whole day. Learning workshops one after another. Outdoor performances that never stopped. You will not find a dull moment in this show.

Click to see the program for the festival:

Post Festival Road Trip

I could not thank Jeffrey enough. Again, he has planned a road trip for me visit a few cool places that guitar lovers would love to go. We visited LMI to start the ball rolling. This place retails just about anything guitar makers would yearn for. From tonewoods to guitar picks, as long as you have can think of it, you can find it at LMI. As I entered the main office, I could sense the hectic mood because it was a regular weekday. To my surprise, they allowed me into the warehouse. I was immediately surrounded by cool guitar merchandizes in huge quantities. It was unlike walking into a shopping mall, this was way cooler! I took the opportunity to get a few useful items to add onto my collection of guitar repair tools.

At LMI's store house
At Allied Lutherie
The next stop was to Allied Lutherie. They are specialist in tonewood retailing. Jeffrey introduced me to the founder of Allied Lutherie who was Todd Taggart. It was cool to see many huge machines designed for wood handling at Todd’s workshop. It was my first encountered with white ebony in timber form. I could imagine the beauty it would give when made into guitars. While the visit was brief, I had great time listening to Todd and Jeffrey.

Bruce Sexauer's Workshop

Bruce, Jeff's Family and I

The next stop was Bruce Sexauer’s workshop. When we arrived, Bruce greeted us with warmth. He was an cool guy and was helpful too. He showed us around his workshop and we talked about the challenges for guitar makers. From the stuff in his workshop, it was obvious that Bruce could build and repair other instruments as well. I saw a bundle of disc shaped wood hanging from the ceiling. As I looked closer, they were the cuts from the soundhole and there were many of them. This simply meant that Bruce has built many guitars. When we left Bruce’s workshop, we tried to make it to Erwin Somogyi’s workshop within the same day but we didn’t.

Erwin's apprenctices
Leo, Chris and I
Jeff, Leo and I
Erwin Somogyi and I
The visit to Erwin’s workshop was postponed to the following day. We received great hospitality from Erwin. He greeted us and took us to his kitchen for tea. I have heard so much about Erwin’s great emphasis in craftsmanship in building guitar and I must admit that I was nervous at first. It turned that he has such good sense of humor. Unexpectedly, Erwin cracked most of the jokes. He was on a hectic schedule as such he bided farewell after our chat. He has graciously allowed us to remain in his workshop so that I could tour it. Erwin’s apprentices were around to guide us around his workshop. I was very impressed by the cleanliness and orderliness of his workshop. We had a great chat about guitar building and left Erwin’s workshop before lunch. It was a great experience.

Mammoth Tusk… heavy

The Healdsburg Guitar Festival 2013 was another wonderful trip to me in many ways. Jeffrey has been making things accessible and easy for me and I feel blessed by his mentorship. Also I would like to thank the National Arts Council for their invaluable support as well. Above all, praise God for His unending blessings.

For those who wish see lots of pictures, go here: FB Healdsburg Guitar Festival 2013

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