During my most recent solo tour, I had the pleasure of staying with Boston-based luthier Burton LeGeyt and touring his workshop. In addition to being a swell guy, Burton makes gorgeous, distinctive steel string guitars that look and play like a dream. Burton’s guitars seem to walk the line between modern and classical design traditions; when I initially saw his instruments online, the first thing I noticed was the cutaway design: a very organic, bowl-esque shape that offers a unique solution to reaching the uppermost frets. I was also quickly smitten by his logo design and the shape of his headpiece.
As inspiring as Burton’s guitars were his independent spirit, attention to minute details, and his cozy but well designed workshop. I was able to get a few questions together and Burton was kind enough to answer them below. Shop photos by Chuck Johnson and myself, guitar glamour shots courtesy of http://www.legetyguitars.com.
W&W : Please describe your history with guitars before you started building. When did you start playing? What kind of music?
Well, it is kind of funny now that I make acoustic instruments but my introduction to the guitar was through hardcore music. I started taking lessons in junior high and by high school a few friends and I had a band and were either playing or attending shows every weekend. We were a part of a very vibrant scene in Connecticut and my life was all about music and it was a great time for me. I had a Les Paul copy and a nice loud amp and I was really into this deep saturated aggresive sound. Later when I learned more about music and started to appreciate a bit more nuance I was able to look back and laugh a bit but I still like that music and am proud of the work we did. Since then I have played in everything from jam bands to a very brief but fun stint in a speakeasy band. Lately on my own I like to noodle around with more jazz styles but I wouldn’t consider myself seriously playing anything too well anymore.
W&W : Explain what got you started with building acoustics. How and where did you begin? Who were your early inspirations and what did you hope to contribute to the craft?
I had been pursuing painting, I had finished art school and was involved in a great art scene in Boston when I first moved here in 2003. After a year or so the large studio space we were renting and sharing became a real headache to keep together. I was working in a woodshop building picture frames and had always been intrigued by the idea of building instruments so I gave up my art studio for a while and shifted my attention over to instruments. I found that I really loved it and have spent the last 6 years very dedicated to pursuing that craft. My early projects were building strange things with features I had always wanted to try but had never seen. I built a small fretless teardrop instrument with classical strings that I loved playing. I had a sitar that I liked messing around with and built a few gourd instruments as well. Eventually I got around to building a copy of my Dreadnaught and since that first one I have focused pretty exclusively on steel string guitars. I became involved with the New England Luthiers Guild soon after finishing my first few guitars and the members in that group have been a very direct influence on my work, I feel lucky to have met them and been a part of that group. Continue reading →
While I don’t get out on the road nearly as often as I’d like, it seems that for the last few years, I’ve been able to tour with some regularity… and though I normally relish these trips as an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts and tunes on the sometimes long drives between gigs, my last three outings have been cooperative tours with other musicians, which is really the more interesting way to go. This time out, I had the good fortune to spend a week with Chuck Johnson, in my opinion one of the coolest players recording today. Chuck had secured a small arts grant and was hitting the road to promote A Struggle, Not A Thought, his debut solo LP on the Strange Attractors Audio House label. I’ve been following Chuck’s music ever since his appearance last year on the amazing Beyond Berkeley Guitar compilation, and was really excited to spend some quality time with the man, exploring each others perspectives on our tool of choice, the steel-strung acoustic guitar. Throw in our mutual friend Trevor Healy, not only a talented luthier but a fantastic fingerpicker in his own right, and we had ourselves a week-long guitar bro-down of epic proportions! Having interviewed both men for the release of BBG, I knew that they would be thoughtful and intelligent travelling partners, and alas the short time we spent playing shows together passed far too quickly.
For me, this particular trip started with a whimper: having played a house party the night before and getting to bed in the 3am area, I was not able to rise in time to catch my 7am Megabus from Pittsburgh to New York City, where I was supposed to meet up with Chuck and Trevor to start my leg of the tour. I wasn’t actually on the bill in NYC, but was planning to concentrate on getting photos and videos for this here blog, and I was looking forward to visiting the Zebulon venue for the first time. As it was, it gave me an extra day to pack properly and to practice, which was welcome… but it also meant that I’d have to figure out how I planned to get from Pittsburgh to Cambridge the next day for our gig at Zuzu. I decided to rent the tiniest car that Budget offered (and my budget afforded), which turned out to be a Chevy Aveo. Tiny it was, for my dreadnought case didn’t even fit in the trunk! It mattered little, though, since I’d be leaving the car in Boston and travelling in Chuck’s rental the rest of the trip. I spent that grey, rainy Monday traversing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and finally gunning it across the Mass Pike to get to the gig with a little time to spare. Continue reading →
Bay area guitarist and composer Chuck Johnson has assembled his fingerstyle guitar compositions into a new digital-only collection called A Struggle, Not A Thought. Chuck is a great picker, and was featured on this summer’s fantastic Tompkins Square compilation Beyond Berkeley Guitar. You can stream the songs on Chuck’s Bandcamp page. You can also read our recent interview with Chuck here.
Chuck Johnson is based in Oakland, CA. In addition to writing scores for film and dance, Chuck has worked extensively in the fields of modern composition and experimental rock, and also composes very fine acoustic guitar instrumentals. We recently interviewed Chuck about his appearance on the new Tompkin’s Square compilation Beyond Berkeley Guitar, which features new music from seven Bay Area guitarists. Chuck’s track is available as a free download at the link above.
W&W : Please describe the guitar you play on your track, how long you’ve owned it, where you got it.
It’s a 2001 Martin 000-17s. I bought it new in ’01 or ’02 from Elderly, after playing one at a local store (I lived in North Carolina at the time.) The 000-17s is an all mahogany guitar with the older Martin 000 design – 12-fret body, slotted headstock, longer scale and wider neck. It is really fun to play and has a melancholy voice that works well on certain pieces, especially in the open D tunings. Martin ended up only making a couple hundred of them for some reason, and I have played the 000-15s that looks identical and is still available, but it has different bracing and just doesn’t have the same mojo in my opinion. Like any mahogany top guitar it takes a little more work to get the top moving, but I love how the mid-high overtones sing out when you drive it, kind of a lower register than what you might expect from a spruce top. Continue reading →