My son found a studio at the Mellwood Art Center that he dragged me to check out, saying it was super cool; he was right. In a world of computers, machines and robots, it's easy to forget some things still are finely hand crafted. Ryan Scott is a custom guitar maker, making instruments with a fine artistic process (one that does make use of computers from time to time). His cozy workshop certainly held enough curiosity to pull us in. His friendly personality and passion made the art even more fascinating. He told me about his background, the process that goes into each guitar, and the woods he uses.
How did you get into designing, making and repairing guitars? Did you apprentice? intern? Schooling?
Being a long-time bassist, I've always had a fascination with high-end exotic basses I could never afford. I can remember in high school drawing different bass body shapes in my notebooks all the time thinking, what would be involved in making my dream bass? Having little woodworking experience, I had no idea where to begin building an instrument of that complexity.
A few years after high school I ran into Aviv Niamani, an old musician friend I hadn’t seen in years, who turned me to the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, Az. After a lot of contemplation and research on the school, I became very inspired to make the move to Arizona in early 2005, with the notion that if I could build and repair instruments for a living I felt would never have to retire.
I attended the luthiery school in early 2005 getting an intense crash course on woodworking and string instrument construction. I had my intentions of building basses from the start but fell in love with acoustic guitar building along the way. As a builder, you have so much control of what the acoustic can sound like from choosing different woods, brace patterns and body styles. It’s a more intimate construction process.
Immediately after getting my certificate of luthiery in 2006, I stayed in Phoenix to apprentice under luthier Joe Corral, learning the ins and outs of classical instrument repair. He was heavy on traditional old world methods of string instrument repair emphasizing the proper use of hide glue, chisel and knife work and finish techniques using spirit varnish. I worked primarily on violins, cellos and upright basses in his shop while at the same time acquiring the necessary equipment to start my personal guitar repair and construction setup.
In the following year I began apprenticing under guitar builder and tool maker Al Inteso of AI Guitars in Mesa, Az. In his shop, I learned the 21st century techniques of guitar building with the aid of CNC [computer numerical control] machines and lasers. From there I became comfortable with creating my custom body shapes and templates with computer/laser precision. This allowed me much more freedom to experiment with different body styles and shapes, eventually finding a balance between form and function of my own designs.