Studio Collective Issue XVI - Matt

Page 1

Ringing In Tradition

Interview by: Izze Chagnon Photos by: Grace
2 Studio Collective Volume XVI

Have you ever wondered how bells are made? Considered all the intricacies that go into the huge metal instruments that are tucked away in our courthouses, churches, towers? Admittedly, I had thought little of bells and their fabrication; I simply accepted their presence in my day-to-day life. However, I now know and can respect bell founding and its long, intricate history. Every bell, new or old, holds its own unique story—the molding, pouring, tuning, installing, all the steps in creating these large art pieces that have lasted or will last hundreds of years, outliving their makers and becoming their legacy.

Tucked away in rural Ruther Glen, Virginia, lives the Sunderlin Bell Foundry, a deceivingly large warehouse filled with countless bells, numerous steel contraptions, and a dedicated group of founders. At first glance, I could feel the integrity of the workshop, not just because of the many complex materials and tools scattered about, but rather the character of the people who worked there, all dedicated to their mission to keep the tradition of bell founding alive. Ben Sunderlin, the charismatic co-owner of the foundry along with his wife, Kate Sunderlin, graciously gave us a tour of their foundry, giving three design students an up-close look at the time, care, and dedication that goes into their bell making business.

From the beginning of the interview, Ben was happy to tell us about his craft, describing his academic background in arts and campanology. He and Kate both received their master’s degrees from the University

of Notre Dame. Throughout his time at school, Ben’s studies took him all over Europe, studying the traditional styles of bell making from renowned foundries such as John Taylor and Co. in England, Cornille Havard in Normandy, France, and many others across Belgium and the Netherlands. It was abroad that

Ben learned the age-old methods of bell founding as opposed to the newer, more modern ways that are prevalent in the United States. He told us how fascinated he was not just by the timehonored practice of making the bells, but also how the foundries themselves held so much history: “it was as much a museum as it was a workshop.”

Ben disclosed the intimate nature that surrounds the bell business, calling it a “close-knit community.”

There are only a handful of bell foundries left across the globe, the traditional art becoming rarer as time progresses and technology advances. I believe it is this rarity that made the art so intriguing to me--these

foundries aren’t abundant in every state or even country; you have to go out and search for them, which gives them their character and uniqueness. Ben walked us through his own personal bell-making process with the creation of the molds, using the swept-loam method. His foundry is the only foundry in the United States to still use this traditional process of molding. He described the sand, clay, and horse manure mixture, telling us of its benefits in being a mold for the bells. We were surrounded by real-life examples of his descriptions, bells of varying sizes and shapes, some finished, free from their moldings, perfectly formed and waiting to be tuned, and others still at the genesis of their journey, just the mold and the vintage cast-iron casing, waiting for the molten metal pour of the instrument.

B A Sunderlin Bellfoundry 3

After the bell is cast in the mold and freed from the dirt pit where it is buried to set, it is brought to be tuned. The tuning machines were daunting, massive steel contraptions dating back to the 1940s. As we stood there, stunned by the intricacy of the large antique machinery before us, Ben described the musical aspect of tuning bells, a practice he learned in his schooling: “Every bell is made thicker than it needs to be. The thicker the bell is, the higher the frequencies of the partials are. Bells produce partial frequencies, and those partials are different notes which are used to create essentially a chord, so there’s not just one note that comes out of a bell. There are five principle tones that we tune to. These tones are the hum, the fundamental, the tierce, the quint, and the nominal.” To achieve the correct tune for a specific bell, the bell is placed upside down on the lathe machines, and metal is removed from the interior to achieve the correct sound. This process is very intricate, one wrong

cut can make or break the sound of a bell, giving the practice eminence. Ben is the only person at the foundry who tunes the bells, and he described to us the intimate aspect of it: “I’m the only one who tunes; that’s a special moment for me. I usually do it after the guys have gone home or on the weekends. That’s kind of my moment to focus on what the voice of that bell is going to be.” I could feel his passion and dedication to his craft through his descriptions, something truly admirable to experience.

4 Studio Collective Volume XVI

“That’s kind of like, my moment to focus on what the voice of that bell is going to be”

B A Sunderlin Bellfoundry 5

The Sunderlin Bell Foundry’s main commissions are multi-bell installations, most notably the carillon, an instrument dating back to the 17th century and composed of many bells, varying in size. Ben explained to us that it is comparable to a piano, but instead of keys, there are levers, and instead of having the small, mobile nature of a piano, it is usually built into the architecture, heard and not even seen. Much like the bell-founding process, carillons are rare, also having a small community of people that practice the art of playing them. Ben showed us the foundry’s current project, a mobile carillon. The goal for this carillon is to have it be transported from music hall to music hall, being played alongside other instruments and opening up a new avenue of exposure for not just carillonneurs, but also bell making.

6 Studio Collective Volume XVI

This founding process is not for the impatient, as each bell takes a couple of weeks to a month from start to finish, depending on the size and intricacy of the bell. Ben and his team take the bell-making process from its beginning conceptualization and design to installing the bells into their respective buildings for various projects. We were lucky enough to visit the foundry on a Friday, the day they often choose to pour the bells. We sat back and watched as they put metal into the furnace, a small opening in the top shining bright green as the metal tempered. Ben, along with his two colleagues, suited up to protect themselves from the heat. Most of

their equipment and uniforms weren’t new or modern in nature; they held a nostalgic feeling, and it was apparent to me that what they were doing held a deep history and tradition. It was enthralling to watch as they lifted the red-hot metal out of the furnace, pouring it into the various molds they had on standby. It was amazing to see the beginning of the process, liquid metal dripping into a mold, juxtaposed with the various cast bells around the shop.

B A Sunderlin Bellfoundry 7
8 Studio Collective Volume XVI

Our time spent at the Sunderlin Bell Foundry was filled with so many amazing experiences. It was refreshing to hear Ben talk so fondly of his craft. I could feel the passion and dedication through each step and Ben’s descriptions of them. My experience is evidence enough that even the rarest things can pleasantly surprise and intrigue you, sparking new interests and newfound respect for different types of design.

B A Sunderlin Bellfoundry 9

Stepping into New Territories

James Jones is a multi-faceted, acoustic instrument maker and artist who has been making hand-crafted instruments since 1978. In this article, he discusses his passion for his most popular instrument, the hammered dulcimer, and how he got started making and evolving unique folk instruments for players around the world.

10 Studio Collective Volume XVI

How did you become interested in the hammered dulcimer?

I was attending Massachusetts College of Art in the Boston area, and I was helping run workshops for people with disabilities. Massachusetts was in the process of deinstitutionalizing a lot of people at the time. They had warehoused a lot of people with disabilities, and we were running this workshop for staff, staff in halfway houses, and people who had disabilities. One of the staff at the workshop wanted to build a hammered dulcimer and I didn’t know anything about it at the time, so I did some research. Of course, we never finished it, but it got me interested in them. I built my first one in a cooperative woodshop close to where my son and his wife live now. It was Rogers Foam Factory, and they made Nerf balls and boffing sticks, things like that. I rented a bit of space from a guy there and I built my very first dulcimer from recycled bed parts, dragging in stuff I found on the streets. I built it and it sounded terrible, but I brought in a guy from the music emporium to look at it and he

suggested I tuned it up an octave and it sounded great. And then he asked me to build him one too. So, I was off The hammered dulcimer is a very accessible instrument, and when it came over from Europe it was even simpler than the current dulcimer. With the Appalachian dulcimer, settlers brought it over and it evolved here. The fact that it only had three or four strings, was traditionally played with a melody pair, and worked fine for dancing and sitting on the porch made it very accessible. It wasn’t difficult to build, so many settlers were able to build it. Then, it evolved into the hourglass and teardrop shapes. The hourglass shape is very traditional for the local area, and so is the teardrop, though it is less popular.

How do you use different woods for different instruments and parts?

For a soundboard, there are not as many options because the most important characteristic about it is that it’s strong, but not too heavy. That’s one of the things with instruments; for the most part, you need to make it very thin so that it will respond to vibrational energy. That’s less true for the hammered dulcimer, because the soundboard is much thicker compared to a guitar, and it has very thin braces behind it which alter the ways that the soundboard vibrates. Spruce, redwood, cedar, and mahogany are the major soundboard woods. For example, this cedar soundboard for a hammered dulcimer is over a quarter of an inch, so it’s thicker, but the player generates a lot of energy by striking with the hammers, so it drives the board just fine.

Ken Hooper 11

Ebony, for instance, isn’t used anymore because it is too expensive due to so much demand for it and there’s not enough of it. As another example, Brazilian rosewood used to be the premier wood for classical guitars, but it’s now banned to harvest and export because it’s threatened. It just doesn’t exist any longer. I used redwood almost exclusively for my hammered dulcimers when I first started, but it’s become very hard to find quality, oldgrowth redwood. And legitimately so, because how many more of these redwood trees do we need to cut down? I used redwood because a lot of old lumber yards had it. CampbellPayne in Lynchburg, for instance, used to have these 20-foot-long pieces, quarter-sawn, which means the grain is running vertically. They would probably use those things for hot tubs and signs on the parkway, but I saved them, and now they’re in musical instruments. Now, that place is gone, and all that wood is gone too, and it can’t be

replaced, so I’ve had to find alternatives. For example, this redwood here is wide-grained, so it grew fairly quickly compared to another piece here, which is cedar, whose grain is very close. Each grain line is a year. The redwood that is being harvested now is very fastgrowing, which can make a difference in instrument sound. Tight-grained wood can be made very thin and still be just as strong. If you used the same thickness with this new redwood, it would be more like Flexi, which is fine if you want good bass response. Wide-grained wood will respond to bass notes because they need more movement, but any kind of treble would require a tighter grain.

How do you educate yourself enough on the more uncommon instruments to be able to build them?

With the hammered dulcimer, I built the very first one according to some instructions that had been put together by Sam Rizzetta. He was a seminal figure in spreading information about how to build these instruments, but he also revived the art of building them. The hammered dulcimer was very popular around the turn of the century, and then it was even in the Sears catalog, but it began to die out save for some activity in Michigan. Then a folk revolution came along in the sixties, and Sam glommed onto a couple of old players and their instruments and said, “We can make these better.”

He contributed a great deal to understanding them, and he published something in the Smithsonian, which I used initially to build my first one. Then, I evolved the instrument through my interactions with customers and their own needs and desires for it. There is definitely a tradition with the

hammered dulcimer, but it has a lot of room for build flexibility. The 15/14 dulcimer, which is 15 treble courses and 14 bass courses, evolved from the initial 12/11 dulcimers. The dulcimer began to change in response to people’s needs, so it just got bigger and bigger. The player’s requests are what drove the development of the instrument and its constantly ongoing evolution. That’s one of the reasons I am attracted to them because it has creative flexibility that you don’t get with something like a violin.

How have wood shortages and supply issues affected your work?
12 Studio Collective Volume XVI
Ken Hooper

I respond a lot to customers because I am not a player; the fiddle is my instrument. But I can hear, and I respond to that–the quality of the tone and so forth. Being a good player definitely informs you, and I have not had that experience, but I can listen to the instrument and the players to hear what they need and want, then build accordingly. Listening is what has informed me more than anything. What notes people want and how they are arranged is partly based on tradition, but also the desires of the players. That’s one of the reasons I started developing the linear chromatic, because there

are limitations to traditional hammered dulcimers since they don’t have all the sharps and flats. If you wanted to play jazz on a hammered dulcimer, you’d be hard put, but not with the linear chromatic style because it’s fully chromatic. That came about when I worked with a fellow in Chapel Hill, North Carolina named Steve Shmania, who came up with the idea of expanding the range. It’s a bit hard to conceptualize, but basically, there’s a major scale on a traditional dulcimer, and that’s fine. But if you wanted to play something other than a major scale, you wouldn’t have the sharp and flat notes you needed. With the linear chromatic, we expanded the range. We inserted accidentals between certain markers on the instrument, which expands the note range. With the added accidentals, it can meet the demands of the players. Some people wanted extra bass notes. That was one of the initial things that people wanted, was more range. So, I put an extra bridge in the design for a few accidentals and an extra bass bridge, and those give a whole other dimension to the sound of a hammered dulcimer.

When you’re making alterations to the traditional designs, what is your process like?
Bridges Soundboard Frame With Pinblocks
14 Studio Collective Volume XVI
Custom Sound Hole
16 Studio Collective Volume XVI

When you’re making alterations to the traditional designs, what is your process like?

The hammered dulcimer was primarily the main instrument. Then, the octave mandolin was next, because I was playing with this musical group and a guy suggested he would love to have an octave mandolin. It was a big jump for me to make that, but I decided to give it a try. I also made a few guitars, about three or four. The guitar market is tough because there are a lot of guitar makers and commercial makers. There wasn’t much there for me, so I moved to other things. With my work, I generated a lot of smaller pieces of wood, so then I discovered making instruments like the bowed psalteries and zithers, which are great for using scrap.

When you’re making alterations to the traditional designs, what is your process like?

People ask for more exotic things now towards fingerpicking and much more than ever. Right now, I am working with this experim i ental musician in New York, Nathan a Daviss. He plays everything im i aginnab a le. He H has this piece that he does s wit i h rock c s, and it’s amazing. He came down n here e and n bought one of my m 3/1 / 6/15/8 dulcimeers s He tweaked it becaus u e he wanted a certaiin amount of string n tensi s on all over r it, annd he would plluc u k it and try it annd d stri r ke it. The pieces thhat he’ e s created foor it i sound not o hing g like e what a traditiional hammered dulcimmer player e would play. He usses every part of thhe instrument, p plucking it, using EBows an a d all sorts of differeent things to creeate e hi h s comp m ositiions. Noow, w he waants me to build him a cus u toom bowed psaltery wi w th t four oc o taves, s greeater range, and differren e t string g spacing. God knows what he will produce with that, but I lov o e that kind of f interaction with instrumen e tss. Thhe moun u tain dulcimer has s a very traditional way of playing that was s with just the mellody y l line, and people would play it with h a noter, which wa w s a litttle stick, instead a of their finger. It was dance music, c very faast and such. But now, inncreasingly peo e pl p e have bee e n mo m ving

co c mp m li l cated co c mpositions and d moving to instruments like k the chromatic mountain dulcimers. It’s evolving. The instrument continues to evolve, as do the playe y rs, and as does the music being produc u ed, which is just ammazinng. It’s nice to o know an instrument yoou u made givves people e the freedom to plaay annd d do thinggs s like thaat. As the make k r, r I’m the facilitator Thhat’s all l I am.

Ken Hooper 17

custom made guitars modeled after the classic pre-war Martins. In this interview, Hooper describes his design process, sources of inspiration, and what it means to follow your passions in life.

18 Studio Collective Volume XVI
Gama 19
Interviewer: Katie LeMay, Adler Dills Editor: Katie LeMay Graphics: Matthew Lee In te Graphi cs M Victor

How does your background as a musician inform your instrument making?

I’m not a great musician; I consider myself a decent musician. I primarily build guitars and a few mandolins, as well as one ukulele for my daughter and a few conversion banjos. Being a musician helps identify what a good instrument needs to sound and feel like. One of the biggest challenges for me in building good instruments was knowing what a good instrument was. Once I identified that by being a player and hearing a lot of other quality instruments, I developed a feel for it. Then I was able to work to make it real. You can’t make a good instrument on the first or second try, but usually by the third or fourth, you get to a point where you’re happier with the way they feel and sound.

How long does it take to make one of your guitars from start to finish?

I usually keep three or four instruments going at one time, so I never make one instrument directly from start to finish. I can have a box together for a guitar in about four days, and the process of that involves joining and bracing the top and back and then binding everything together. The finishing process takes a little longer because you’re at the mercy of the atmosphere. Humidity can change the drying time, so say on a cool and crisp day, finishes dry a lot quicker. I spray nitrocellulose lacquer, which is a traditional finish, and I usually do a lot of sunburst designs which adds a layer of complexity. So timewise, it’s a tough question to answer, since there are always so many variables that affect the process. Mandolins are more difficult and time-consuming to make than guitars despite being smaller instruments. You could probably build three guitars in the time it takes to make one F-style mandolin because they require a lot more hand-carving since the top and back are not flat. The bracing used for the top and back of a mandolin imparts a certain amount of curvature in them, and you need to be mindful when joining them together to ensure its thickness is consistent all the way across.

What is the design process for your guitars like? How much planning is required before you begin construction?

The planning process mostly involves using a lot of fixtures and jigs to be able to consistently reproduce certain parts of the process. The design is not necessarily involved because I build reproductions of old pre-war Martin and Gibson guitars from the 1930’s. They are the gold standard for steel string guitars, and I believe it’s a design that can’t really be improved upon. It is the pinnacle of what a guitar should sound like, and most modern builders share the challenge of making our guitars sound like them. There’s no substitute for a hundred years of instrument age, but we aim to mimic pre-war guitars as closely as possible. With reproducing, you can get into the weeds as far as you want to go when it comes to using the same wood for the braces, types of glue, or types of finish. One of the greatest things about pre-war Martin’s is that they are very consistent and are a nice standard for the construction process.

s est Martin’s consistent ndard process

o be ure its ss 20 Studio Collective Volume XVI

How do different materials influence the tone and sound of the guitar, and how do people form different preferences towards them?

When thinking of 30’s style Martins, those were typically mahogany or Brazilian rosewood. Those are the main choices, but now Brazilian rosewood is very expensive and cost-prohibitive for a lot of people. Choosing rosewood can easily cost three or four grand just for the back and sides, so it’s not always the optimal choice. Mahogany is very inexpensive; a set is about a hundred dollars. For top woods, I use all Appalachian red spruce, which usually comes from western North Carolina or West Virginia. Generally mahogany is preferred for recording purposes because it doesn’t have the complex overtones that Brazilian rosewood has. When played live, mahogany always has a clear and fundamental sound, which makes it most reliable. Brazilian rosewood can be compared to a piano because it has the same overtones that ring and ring when someone plays it. One note usually sustains into the next three or five notes, which creates a beautiful wall of sound, but is not always the best for the recording engineer to handle. A lot of my customers, who are mostly bluegrass or country music players, tend to lean towards mahogany because it works better in front of a microphone and has a good cost point. I personally prefer mahogany, especially from Honduras, for the back and sides, and I always use Honduras mahogany for the neck because that’s what Martin used in the 30’s.

You offer many different models of custom guitars–does any style have a different or more difficult process compared to others?

There’s not really a difference in complexity from a size standpoint, but the real complexity is from the amount of tooling required to make the guitar. A lot of my customers are bluegrass pickers, and typically they perform at places like fiddler’s conventions, so they often want a dreadnought guitar. Dreadnoughts are generally the biggest shape of guitar and are the most popular. Smaller guitars, like the single O’s or the double O’s and triple O’s have a different sound and tonal palette. Some customers who buy one kind of guitar will come back for other sizes or materials for a different sound or vice versa. I think this is often used as an excuse by players’ wives as a reason to buy another guitar, because all guitars have tonal differences when it comes to sizes and shapes.

Ken Hooper 21

How involved are your clients in the design process?

As far as customer input, they are often involved in the process. Most of my customers are traditionalists in that they like 30’s Martins and Gibsons, but occasionally they want to do something special. There are a lot of areas for customization, like you can put an inlay in the peghead at the top of the guitar, which is the most thought-of place. Mother of pearl is often used as an inlay that can be added to places like the fretboard. Additionally, customers can choose whether they prefer plastic or wood binding. I’ll let the customers be as involved as they want, but it’s up to them. Most people love being in the shop when I’m doing the neck carving because it is the most personal part of the instrument. The neck is where the player interacts with the guitar the most, so a lot of people have a distinct idea about how they want it to feel. The process involves a lot of carving and measuring it to someone’s hand, and then letting them feel it and adjusting as needed in regard to thickness. Often, it will take a day to make the necks just right, but it’s amazing to have people in the shop when I’m carving the neck. That’s one of the main bene custom guitar route or custom route for any instrument: you can go into a music store and get that level of

eck That’s when I’m carving the e n s of going the one fi custom route custom route or can go into for any instrument: you hat level of a music store and geet t personalization.

Has a guitar ever turned out differently than you’d hoped? How do you deal with that?

Yes, early on that was the case, but once you reach a certain level, you get a feeling of comfort knowing what materials to use and how it will sound. For example, mahogany will always have a distinct sound and so will Brazilian rosewood. That’s one reason I always use red spruce for tops because it’s consistent. I know what to expect with red spruce and I have gained a comfort level with it. When I’m carving and shaping the braces on the top, I flex the top and I have a picture in my mind’s eye of what that top is supposed to flex like and how much it’s supposed to flex, so I know with a reasonable amount of certainty when I get it to the right point, I know how it will sound. When you first start out, it’s a huge learning curve as far as discovery, but little by little you begin to understand. Once you get your arms around the basics, you can start fine tuning the small aspects of it. That’s kind of where I am now—I usually do a little fine tuning and I have the luxury of always being able to compare my guitars back to pre-war Martins as a

22 Studio Collective Volume XVI

What does “pre-war” mean when it comes to building guitars? And what makes Martin guitars the gold standard for them?

Pre-war refers to before World War II, and that applies to any pre-war instruments alongside guitars. The golden era of steel-strung guitars was from the mid-30’s to the pre-war era, which was about a six-to-eight-year period. Guitars from that time are considered special because of the way they are made. The bracing system I use is from the pre-war guitars and it is called an X-brace system. If you put a mirror inside a guitar, you’ll see the two main braces, which are called an X-brace, run from the top all the way to the back side with various small braces coming off. This design was invented by Martin back in the late 1800’s.

The 30’s pre-war guitars are so good because a lot of the factors that went into making those guitars were perfected at the time. Additionally, the materials used were considered prime and the Brazilian rosewood used in the Martins was unbelievable. It was just beautiful, straight-grained stuff. The pre-war Martins are generally considered the time when they “figured it out” and everything came together to produce a sonically superior instrument. They’ve changed a few things structurally over the years for cost savings and production rate, which has caused Martin guitars to not be quite the same. My theory is that at the time they were made, they weren’t worried about production, just making excellent guitars, which is why they have become the standard.

Ken Hooper 23

How does a lightly crafted guitar differ from others, in the construction process or otherwise?

The best sounding guitars are very light. In other words, they are made as thin as possible in order to maximize the sounds of the guitar. For the instrument to be responsive, it has to vibrate, and therefore it cannot be heavy and needs the ability to move. The top, especially at the bridge, moves a lot, like a drum. When somebody uses the term lightly constructed, it means to take off as much wood as possible while also leaving it structurally intact. The best sounding instruments are just on the verge of exploding, and ones that are overbuilt and really heavy won’t sound that great.

The drawback to building light is that you need to do repair work on them occasionally because they will develop cracks as they are played over the years and the neck can also start to pull up, but that’s the price of doing business in order to have a great sounding instrument. I could build a guitar so that you would never have to worry about the neck moving or cracking, but it wouldn’t be that fun to play. I use the analogy of a hot rod or drag racer to describe the need for light construction. Drag race cars don’t have air conditioning or anything not having to do with the car going fast. This applies to guitars: if it isn’t stripped down, it’s not going to produce the optimal sounds.

Are there any differences in the design or construction process between the pre-war Martins and the guitars you model after them today?

I’m always referencing back from a material standpoint. For example, always using red spruce, or Appalachian spruce as others like to call it. Mahogany is used for 18-style guitars and rosewood is used for 28-style guitars. Interestingly, in the 30’s, Martin used Sitka spruce for their bracing as opposed to red spruce, and then used maple for the bridge plate where the string balls go. There’s a piece of hardwood that catches the string balls and keeps them from wearing through the top. All of that is period correct, so I don’t deviate from the original Martin methods with that, but where I do deviate is with carving the braces. I try to bring out the best in each piece of wood and I can do that as a custom maker. So, if a set of braces I’m using is a little stiffer, then I have the luxury of being able to assess that and carve thinner. That way, I can maximize a lot of variables when a factory cannot. d

24 Studio Collective Volume XVI

How involved are your clients in the design process?

As far as customer input, they are often involved in the process. Most of my customers are traditionalists in that they like 30’s Martins and Gibsons, but occasionally they want to do something special. There are a lot of areas for customization, like you can put an inlay in the peghead at the top of the guitar, which is the most thought-of place. Mother of pearl is often used as an inlay that can be added to places like the fretboard. Additionally, customers can choose whether they prefer plastic or wood binding. I’ll let the customers be as involved as they want, but it’s up to them. Most people love being in the shop when I’m doing the neck carving because it is the most personal part of the instrument. The neck is where the player interacts with the guitar the most, so a lot of people have a distinct idea about how they want it to feel. The process involves a lot of carving and measuring it to someone’s hand, and then letting them feel it and adjusting as needed in regard to thickness. Often, it will take a day to make the necks just right, but it’s

amazing to have people in the shop when I’m carving the neck. That’s one of the main benefits of going the custom guitar route or custom route for any instrument: you can go into a music store and get that level of personalization.

What aspect of your craft do you enjoy the most?

It always amazes me to hear when people play my instruments. It’s a cool thing to turn on the computer and see someone on a YouTube video playing an instrument that I built. There have been times I turned on the television and somebody was playing one of my guitars, or also some of my customers regularly play on the Grand Ole Opry. It’s the most satisfying thing to hear music coming from something that I put together, even if it’s just being out in the yard with people standing around and jamming. There will be two or three guys playing on one of my guitars and maybe someone playing on one of my mandolins. Acoustic music is what pulled me into the business in the first place--there’s just a purity and clarity to it when it’s played that is hard

to describe. When you’ve got several instruments playing together in tune with the same song, it makes the sum of what you’re hearing greater than all the parts.

I also really enjoy the process of sitting down and making something. I’ve always been someone who can make; I grew up learning to carve with a pocketknife and so on. It’s just a cool thing, especially when you are able to make something for someone else to enjoy. I tell people all the time that I don’t take credit for what I am able to do because it’s a gift from God that I was given to do this. It has always come naturally to me. If I see something, I don’t have any problem making it, just like singers and musicians. They are also people who have been given a great gift to create. I get a lot of satisfaction in just making something, and if it wasn’t guitars, it would be something else. When people ask me, “What are you gonna do when you retire?” I just say, “Well, I’m already doing what I was planning to do when I retire, so I have no intention of retiring, you know?”

Ken Hooper 25
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.