A lot of people told me of Mark’s many talents. Some so incredible, it was hard to imagine in this digital world we have created for ourselves. Then I arrived at his home one day, looked up at the house he had built and was living in, and understood. Oh my word. He gets it.
What “it” is, I’m still trying to figure out myself, but in short, Mark is a maker. Meaning he has a beautiful discipline that he has crafted over time, that no cynic can touch, because he creates what he likes and that is the definition of an artisan.
I am so pleased to share with you the story of Mark’s handmade guitars and the beautiful images of him in his workshop, photographed by his incredibly talented daughter Hannah.
How long have you been making guitars?
I have built guitars, off and on, for over forty years.
What made you make your first one?
When I was young, my older brother brought home a guitar and taught me a few songs. That was it for me, the mix of art, science, and wood appealed to me. I was hooked. I built my first guitar while going to college at WSU. I made a small work bench in the corner of my bedroom and built that first guitar in my spare time over a span of a year or more using primarily a violin knife and hand tools. What made me do it is a much bigger question. I am drawn to wood. I love falling trees and splitting firewood, milling wood from the trees I've harvested, and turning that wonderful material into guitars. Looking at the face of a guitar exposes a one hundred year history that was hidden inside that particular tree. The other big factor is that I was built to build things, and in my own way. It is a blessing or a curse, surely an obsession, it is the way I am and doesn't apply just to guitars.
Did you ever have any roadblocks with your craft?
One of the main obstacles to building guitars is how long it takes. From the time when I started building, I thought someday I would do it to earn money. In the meantime I just enjoyed designing and building. I took a few years off to build a house and shop and then started in again honing my craft. The numbers never worked, though, for a business, and it's just as well. Worrying about wages would spoil the fun.
If you could have anyone that’s ever lived play one of your guitars, who would that be?
Well, it would not be Leo Kottke, my guitar hero. He can have the best guitar made. I don't claim to make that. The person I would want is the guitar player who appreciates the playability, the tone, the local woods and woods from around the world, and the unseen details that make the guitars unique. The best fit person, is the one I would choose.
Tell us what your ideal day looks like.
Chronologically ... Coffee with a good book, cereal, cool weather and hard work outdoors, lunch and a short nap, give all the shop projects a spin of the wheel towards completion, go for a walk with wife and dog, drink beer and make dinner, pick a tune or two, TV, sleep, repeat.
If you had the chance to go back and change one thing in your life, would you do it and what would it be?
I've never thought about it, but an allowance of a thousand dollars a day for life would have been good.
What advice do you have for the person reading this that wants to do what you do?
These days there is lots of support out there. Your first purchase before wood or tools should be "Guitarmaking - Tradition & Technology" by William Cumpiano & Jonathan Natelson. Then you will know what you are in for and what you will need.
Many thanks for your story, Mark! Make sure to check out Hannah’s website to see more images that are wonderful like the ones above. Time to go and create something for yourself my friends!