From the May/June 2021 problem of Acoustic Guitar | By E.E. Bradman
Dan Erlewine simply could be essentially the most well-known guitar repairperson on earth. His books—together with Guitar Player’s Repair Guide, How to Make Your Electric Guitar Play Great, Guitar Finishing Step by Step, Fret Work Step by Step, and Trade Secrets—are definitive reference works which have stood the check of time. His traditional columns for Guitar Participant and Bass Participant magazines (in addition to his decade-plus relationship with Classic Guitar) have helped introduce the vocabulary of guitar setup to the lots, and his devices have discovered their method into the palms of icons akin to Jerry Garcia, Albert King, and Otis Rush. Nevertheless it’s Erlewine’s pioneering educational content material—a slew of VHS tapes, DVDs, and YouTube movies, largely for guitar-tool juggernaut StewMac—which have made the Athens, Ohio, resident a mentor to 3 generations of guitar upkeep and restore geeks.
Right this moment, at 76, Erlewine stays the corporate’s most recognizable face on social media and YouTube, and he nonetheless will get animated speaking about necks, nuts, frets, and different essential parts of an amazing guitar setup. In his movies, he’s surrounded by instruments of his personal invention—most of which can be found at StewMac—and his calm demeanor imparts a way of methodical zen that impressed one YouTube commenter to dub him “the Bob Ross of guitar.” He’s unflappable and no-nonsense however heat, grandfatherly, and even humorous typically. When he picks up a guitar, nonetheless, it’s clear that he’s extra than simply an excellent repairman.
It’s onerous to imagine that in any case these years, there’s nonetheless uncharted territory for Erlewine, however the new Iris Guitars DE-11 proves in any other case. His first signature guitar, primarily based on a beloved 1937 Kalamazoo KG-11, encompasses a Thirties V-shaped neck, Rickard rear-mount banjo tuning machines, an Adirondack spruce high, a satin end, in addition to Honduran mahogany again, sides, and neck. Most intriguing, its neck extends previous the nut earlier than transitioning into the ears of the peghead, and threaded brass inserts within the fingerboard settle for screw-down capos. “It’s essentially the most musical new guitar I’ve ever owned,” says Erlewine.
The Domino Impact
Erlewine’s roots as a participant and restore nerd return to his childhood in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His mom, an artist, and his father, a businessman by day and woodworker at house, inspired Dan and his brothers to make use of instruments, paint, and wooden. When Erlewine bought his first six-string, a Stella-like Domino, he stripped, sanded, and refinished it. Quickly, he was placing inlays in buddies’ devices, and it wasn’t lengthy earlier than he discovered his method into the Herb David Guitar Studio (“a real acoustic music retailer”), the place he swiftly moved from promoting guitars and giving classes to working in repairs.
Erlewine’s mother and father’ document assortment—particularly albums by Lead Stomach, Marais & Miranda, and Josh White—primed him for the late-’50s folks craze. “My earliest affect was folks music; Bob Dylan with Michael Bloomfield was the explanation I strayed into electrical guitars and performed in electrical bands,” he says. “However for the final 20 years, I’ve centered on taking part in the roots music I began with.” Within the ’50s and ’60s, Ann Arbor was a folks music hotspot, and dealing on the Herb David Guitar Studio gave Erlewine the chance to fulfill and listen to artists like Bob Dylan, Andrés Segovia, Sabicas, Carlos Montoya, Julian Bream, Jesse Fuller, Reverend Gary Davis, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, the New Misplaced Metropolis Ramblers, and Doc Watson, in addition to Clarence and Roland White with the Kentucky Colonels.
“Bob Dylan’s first document, with ‘Man of Fixed Sorrow,’ led me down the folks music rabbit gap,” he says. “In 1960, I purchased Pete Seeger’s Folksinger’s Guitar Information, which got here with a e-book and a document. I purchased my Herco thumbpicks and fingerpicks, realized ‘Railroad Invoice’ from that document, and was fingerpicking away.” The arrival of the Kentucky Colonels was one other seminal occasion. “They got here to Ann Arbor in ’63 or ’64 to do a two-week stint on the Golden Vainness, a coffeehouse I managed at night time, and Clarence White turned my new hero,” Erlewine remembers. “Clarence taught me to play ‘Wildwood Flower,’ a tune I already knew, however he crosspicked it. He known as his method McReynolds choosing [after bluegrass mandolinist Jesse McReynolds], and he advised me to get Doc Watson’s new document. That’s once I bought my first flatpick.”
Constructing a Legacy
As a lot as he beloved taking part in, Erlewine determined to commit much less time to “making it large within the music scene,” and in 1969, he opened Erlewine Devices in Ann Arbor. A pair years later, he started constructing electrical guitars; two of his most well-known creations are Albert King’s famed “Lucy,” a Flying V, and Jerry Garcia’s “Stratishcaster,” a Strat with a Gibson cease tailpiece, a rosewood pickguard, and rosewood numbers inlaid within the fretboard (“so Jerry would by no means doubt what fret he was at,” he jokes). By 1975, Erlewine had moved to Huge Rapids and opened a brand new store, Dan Erlewine’s Guitar Hospital. However his largest improvements have been but to return.
In late 1983, his older brother, Michael, loaned him a video digital camera: “‘Make movies of what you do, and also you’ll at all times be first in line,’ Michael advised me. ‘They’ll credit score you as their trainer and it’ll make you well-known.’ He was proper.” Erlewine went to a NAMM present a number of months later, demoing his fret method on the Dunlop sales space, and he organized to have his Guitar Hospital videotapes, the primary of their type, play on a monitor all through the day. A number of months later, Kix Stewart of StewMac known as to say that he’d seen the movies, and he invited Erlewine to hitch StewMac in Athens, Ohio. Dan’s been there for 37 years.
Six a long time after he first started working with guitars, Erlewine says the web has modified restore tutorials exponentially. He’s hopeful in regards to the future, too.
There are such a lot of extra assets for aspiring luthiers than there was.
That’s for positive! With the various books, DVDs, guitar kits, and constructing/restore faculties, it’s a lot simpler to be taught the commerce. Once I began, there weren’t many luthiers round, and people I discovered wouldn’t share what they knew. I needed to be taught alone.
Some of us may name you the godfather of guitar restore.
I’m not the godfather. In my technology, the godfathers have been Hideo Kamimoto, who wrote Complete Guitar Repair; Don Teeter and his two-volume The Acoustic Guitar: Adjustment, Care, Upkeep and Restore; in addition to Irving Sloane’s Classical Guitar Construction and Guitar Repair: A Manual of Repair for Guitars and Fretted Instruments, which he researched, wrote, after which photographed in Martin’s restore store. These guys are my godfathers.
What you consider guitar-building faculties?
I attempted school twice, and by no means lasted a complete semester, however I’d have jumped on the likelihood to go to a guitar-building college. If one can afford it, and spend time away from work or house, it’s a beautiful substitute for going to varsity.
What recommendation do you’ve gotten for a luthier who’s contemplating going to high school?
Study all you possibly can earlier than attending a college—it provides you with a head begin, and also you’ll be extra able to be taught from the outset. The web is an effective place to start out. Although I’m positive there are various useful web sites on the market, there are two veteran repairmen whose websites I frequent as a result of I be taught a lot: Frank Ford’s frets.com and ianhatesguitars.com, hosted by Ian Davlin.
Some individuals say the guitar in up to date tradition is passé. What are your emotions on the way forward for the guitar and guitar restore?
Guitar, passé? No method! I see extra guitars being made, offered, performed, arrange, and repaired in the present day than ever. The world wants guitar makers and repairers, and new generations will go far past what got here earlier than them. I meet younger luthiers who’re already elevating the bar, and plenty of of them are graduates of luthier faculties.
You continue to play often. Do you’ve gotten a follow routine?
Sixteen or 17 years in the past, I began taking part in every single day, and with goal. I play guitar for no less than an hour earlier than dinner. It’s not follow—simply taking part in. I decide a key, play a chord, wait till one thing begins to kind, after which glide as unconsciously as doable. Quickly, it turns right into a melody and the premise for a tune.
How did you first get into the Kalamazoo KG-11 that impressed your new collaboration with Adam Buchwald of Iris Guitars?
I repaired one for a particular pal round 16 years in the past, and I couldn’t cease remembering the way it felt and sounded. I discovered one, did the required restore and setup, and it was simply nearly as good as I’d remembered! I additionally love the scale. I’m not a tall man, however I’ve been taking part in large guitars all my life, and reaching over a jumbo guitar wasn’t good for my proper shoulder. Hey, brief individuals—play small guitars and also you’ll last more.
When did you determine to make your individual model of the KG-11?
I’d wished to for years, and I even reduce up some particular mahogany to make them. When one in all my apprentices, Steve Miller, bought a job with Iris Guitars final yr, I stated, “Hey, why don’t you ask if Iris can be all for making a Dan Erlewine mannequin just like the Kalamazoo, with the built-in capos?” His boss, Adam Buchwald, stated, “Yeah, man!” I despatched out my Kalamazoo, they spec’d it out, made one, despatched it again to me, and bingo—we had it.
How does the DE-11 examine to a KG-11?
The DE-11 feels like a KG-11 made in the identical batch on the identical day. It has all of the punch, heat, and energy I’ll ever want. The DE-11 is fantastically made, and the sunburst is ideal; it’s carried out by Dale Fairbanks, a famend maker of Thirties Gibson-style guitars who joined the Iris crew. The end doesn’t use coats of sealer or wooden filler, so it’s a really skinny, onerous, lovely end that lets a guitar sound “outdated” or played-in, proper out of the case.
The screw-in capo is likely one of the most distinctive parts of this guitar. How’d you provide you with that concept?
Capos have at all times gotten in the way in which of my fretting hand. They’re clumsy, however obligatory for the music I play. After I’d experimented quite a bit with a clamp-style Hamilton capo and an extension, my longtime shop-mate Elliot John-Conry requested, “Why don’t you simply screw a capo onto the ’board?” I advised him we couldn’t do this, and he requested, “Why not?” So, that weekend, we constructed screw-in capos and put them in an outdated guitar. I spent a pair years enhancing the capos till I settled on what I’ve now.
How do you employ them?
Effectively, it’s actually a capo that holds down the center 4 strings. If I put it on the second fret, I’ve capoed up a complete step, however the exterior E strings aren’t capoed—which suggests I’ve a D tuning on the underside (D, A, and D) plus G, B, and D on the highest. It’s nice for enjoying the blues, folks, nation, and rock kinds I really like. It’s sort of like taking part in with an open tuning, however every time I play chords I already know, I’m closing the strings, and I’m again in commonplace tuning—however with open-string choices that wouldn’t be accessible in any other case.
If I need to capo up the neck with the identical dropped-string impact, I exploit a second capo a complete step beneath. We additionally make a capo that covers all six strings which doesn’t get in the way in which of your fretting hand. There’s no comparability between that and another mechanical capo; our capo makes it simpler to execute something you’re taking part in within the first place.
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How do you connect them?
With a mini Torx screwdriver, which places the mounting screw flush with the highest of the capo, or with a thumbscrew that tightens on high of the capo, which is much less awkward and sooner.
Have you ever begun placing them in all of your devices?
All my guitars have my capos. I’ve a 1939 Gibson J-35, and I put capos in that. I despatched wooden to Gibson to make a 2001 Les Paul that appeared like Bloomfield’s, and I put capos in that. I even have two different electrical guitars with capos for the blues and nation bands that I play in.
Inform me in regards to the elongated neck.
I’ve at all times felt cramped taking part in sure chords within the first place—E, B7, and sure F chords, for instance—as a result of the neck transition to the ears of the peghead is so shut. I wished a bit extra room, so we let the neck form carry on going slightly farther. Chords that have been uncomfortable to the bones of my hand are not an issue. You’d must play one to know.
Do you shuttle to guitars with and with out capos?
Not typically, however what I’ve realized with the drop-capo factor causes me to play new music and not using a capo, and typically I’m curious to see what comes out.
Do you think about your screw-in capo a alternative for normal capos?
No, as a result of it’s not a capo you progress round quick, though it’s not tremendous gradual to vary positions, both. It’s the unscrewing and re-screwing which may concern stay performers. However as soon as they uncover the brand new melodies, chords, and sounds provided by these capos, I feel they’ll need individuals to listen to it, and I imagine they’ll develop the required “patter” to maintain audiences occupied whereas altering capo positions.
What else would you want to say in regards to the DE-11?
It comes with my favourite strings, D’Addario Flat Tops Phosphor Bronze mild gauge EFT16s, which have a heat, semi-bright sound and hardly any finger/string noise. The Rickard tuners are the best, most correct, and easy-to-tune machines I’ve ever used, and I feel they’re lovely. These tuners, first designed by Frank Ford, have cycloidal gears, one thing that’s by no means been used on a guitar earlier than. The DE-11 can be accessible left-handed, or with a narrower neck for small palms.
The place do you go from right here?
I’ve the proper guitar, and I make one of the best music of my life with it. Together with Adam—Iris, that’s—I’m engaged on an electrical guitar with capos, the longer neck, in addition to bolt-on alternative necks so gamers can have a simple solution to strive the system out. These capos aren’t only for acoustic guitars. I guess Keith Richards would have a blast with this neck-mounted on a Tele!
This text initially appeared within the May/June 2021 problem of Acoustic Guitar journal.