A retrospective look at my shifting musical taste,
my career as a musician (a total failure),
and how I got to be a luthier instead.

På stranda anno 1972 I repeat: If you do not enjoy reminizing, you'd probably be better off linking back to the main page quickly! (Nevertheless, I made a table of contents just for you:)

The 60's | 1968 | Trondheim | John Fahey | To America |
Home Again | Starting Lutherie | Success? | The Secret

The 60's
As most luthiers? I started by playing the guitar, locked in the boys-room - an old Levin - kindly provided by our neighbour - the strings way above the fingerboard. In the music encyclopedia there was a song with the chords C, F and G - difficult, but in the end I learnt them, in fact I still get uneasy if a tune has other chords. Well, my fingers got sore, and I soon found out that the bridge could be lowered to ease the pain somewhat, that was my first attempt in the art of lutherie.

This happened in 1964. Beatles and Stones were the undisputed Kings. Some of my friends had a band with the badly concealed name: "The Black Stones". They were practicing in a cottage near our house, playing "The Last Time" over and over again as loud as their gear would permit! Hoping they would need another guitarist, I invested in a light blue plastic-bodied Kent electric guitar at about $100, a fortune at that time! But it turned out they did not need another guitarist after all. Maybe this was the reason I have never really got a grip of playing the electric guitar.
Back to the loneliness of the boys-room. Soon the folk wave washed over the land, and I resorted to fingerstyle playing, this time on a 12-string. Why make it easy, when there are lots of other ways! I invested again, in a one-spool tape-recorder, which was indeed compact the time considered. If you recorded both tracks and played them back on a traditional tape-recorder, one track would come out backwards!

I Norway 1968 happened around 1972, when the picture above was taken. Notice the fingerpicks (a must) and the practical clogs, that were stubbornly worn everywhere. Everyone was not wearing foot-form shoes! I had once traded the guitar for 5 hours of work as a messenger at the local telegraph office. Among the messengers there were several with ambitions on the guitar between telegrams. String comsumption was enormous. The guy in the next room was not fond of the sound of guitar practicing and he had an adequate supply of wire-cutters!

(True to the colour fashion of the time, the guitar was first painted orange, them black, and it ended its days on earth towards the end of the 70s as a dobro when I was playing in a bluegrass band in Trondheim, "Inant og innful", which for a time was quite popular. The most remarkable gig was when we were hired to play "Norwegian" folk music for a troupe of Chinese dancers. I am sure they did not tell the difference, and their hosts, the local marxist-leninists, kept their upper lips stiff!)

After military service I moved to Trondheim to study metallurgy at the technical university. In the Student's society there was jazz, mostly, it seemed, performed by very serious people from North Norway. (There were exeptions). For some time I was trying to count beats, applauding between choirs, and mimicking the special, bird-like head movements of the rest of the audience, but without much luck. Soon, however, I discovered country-blues via a record by Stefan Grossman , "How to Play Blues Guitar". It had a book with tabulature. I became quite good at this, and, I have to admit, more and more of a fanatic! People who had brought their Pink Floyd records with them at social gatherings, were told to pack them away, instead they were terrorised with music from a small, moist area in Southern USA, the Mississippi delta!

John Fahey
In Trondheim there was a guy studying architecture who had been to the US, and brought with him back records by an obscure and myth-spun guitarist, John Fahey. His music went right to my heart. The slide technique on "Poor Boy", the open tunings, the fingerpicking style, and much to my liking, he did not clutter his recordings with singing! On his record label, Takoma Records, there was also guitar music by the subsequently more commercial Leo Kottke, and the most obscure of them all, (now he has passed away), Robbie Basho! Not to mention Sandy Bull, but he was on the Vanguard label. Great, and after some time it became clear to me that a pilgrimage was appropriate!

But, getting a visa to the United States of America was not self-evident at that time! You never knew, the year before I had attended a demonstration on 1st May, and there had been just two of us under the particular, optimistic parole: "Free public transportation to everybody!". Thus, I could hardly rely on my merging with the rest of the working masses, and we knew the Secret Police were busy filming the event!

A Guitar Pilgrim in America
Fra brosjyren om Fahey-konserten To save some money, I joined the working masses, freezing bitterly at a small shipyard during the cold winter. And Heureka! Against all odds, I got a visa very promptly and efficiently, and in march 1973 I was headed for New York! There it turned out to be winter, too, which came as a bit of a shock to me, who was planning to travel by the thumb, with a tent and a very thin sleeping-bag. NY was no place to spend a lot of time, so I took the bus to Paterson, New Jersey and from there as fast as I could to L.A.!

I spent half of the way squeezed into a VW beetle with a lot of luggage and a girl who apparently had broken up with a guitarist and was moving. She must have lost some illusions, for along the road the following words fell: "There is no place for a chick between a guy and his guitar". Again, I had a shock. After all, I was just an innocent guy of 23. I had always thought that such things could be combined, and ever after I have strived to prove this quotation to be wrong!

Anyway, in Los Angeles I sought out Takoma Records, not far away from McCabe's Guitar Shop. I presented myself, and the people at Takoma were really nice to me (the Norwegian flag is a door-opener everywhere). They even let me have a peek into a closet where they kept numerous copies of a Fahey record "The Sessions", which for some reason was never issued.
Fra MCCabes-brosjyrenSo I hereby serve you my contribution to the Fahey mythology! I doubt many people could have been allowed into that closet. Anyway, in the back of McCabe's there were regular conserts, and it turned out that Fahey was appearing there in the end of the month! The pictures are from the flyer with the program of the month, look what they wrote:

Tekst fra McCabe-brosjyren
Anyway, when I appeared at the consert with my buddy with a house on his car, Nick Rogers (where are you now, Nick?) they were sold out, but luckily me coming all the way from the land of Polar bears made enough impression, so they let us in after all.

And mr. Fahey was living right up to the myth: Came in, sat down, played for half an hour, took a glass of water, played for another half hour, bowed and went, to enormous applause from the dedicated audience! Afterwards, still being a VIP from Norway, I was allowed into the artist's wardrobe, this in a way became sort of an anticlimax; Essentially a shy person, I was a little embarrassed, the artist was, as we have seen, not a man of many words, and there were several other people there in oriental dress. Evidently, I thought to myself, they had some kind of religious thing together.

Home Again
By a large tree in AmerikaBut for me this was enough, my mission was fullfilled, I could travel back to my country, but to contribute a little to the Kottke mythology as well, in a record shop on Cannery Row I got hold of his first record for 1 dollar, less than a thousand copies issued! ("12-String Blues/Live at the Scholar" Oblivion, 1969, according to Kottkes notes on "Mudlark" it "sometimes turns white and crumbles around the edges"). Unfortunately, I never got to hear it, and a couple of days later, I forgot the plastic bag with the clenody in the back of a pickup truck.

Back on the road. Roberta Flack had a major hit: "Killing me Softly" that was constantly on the radio. Some of the trip back was in a drive-away car from San Francisco to Florida. You paid for the gas only (cheap). I started up and drove for nearly 48 hours in a row just with coffee-breaks. I do not recommended this! A lot of people I met on my way had good advice for me, in particular against hitch-hiking in Georgia. Sheriffs were lurking along the road, and if they didn't have other criminality to attend to, they would bring in hitch-hikers and give them a free haircut! But I was among the lucky ones to avoid this humiliating experience, and very soon I was on the plane back to the polar bears.

At a pawnbroker in San Diego I had bought an old Martin 1-18 for $250. "Way too much", they told me at GTR (now Gruhn Guitars) in Nashville later on (at some point it had been refinished). But I don't know. Being a poor student, I sold it later on to afford another Martin, but I found myself regretting it almost immediately, and I pestered the various owners for many years before I succeeded in bying it back. I still have it, it is stowed away, the case still stuffed for transportation purposes with Nashville papers of the time. Whenever I am in a nostalgic mood, I take it out, (it is feather feather light and quite fragile) and play it for a while, before it is stowed away again, like "The sleeping beauty" of the old legend.

The Inevitabe Road to Lutherie
As the years went I had many guitars, all needing repairs and alterations, which I performed very energetically. New fingerboards, bridges, backs and tops. I even stripped, sanded and sprayed an entire guitar with nitrocellulose lacquer in my single-room living quarters. That's a thing you do only once! The snag about buying parts and materials for guitars is that the more you buy, the cheaper it gets. This, of course, is part of a cunning plan thought out by the vendors of such ware to make you a life-long addict. If you are a bit economical, like me, very soon you'll discover that you have a lot of stuff lying around! Then you really are on the hook! It would be stupid to try to get rid of the stockpile, which nobody wants to buy anyway exept maybe for a fraction of its value. Furthermore, knots and cracks seem to materialise in stock that used to be flawless, making it unmarketable (and of course you have also bought some tools, made jigs, etc). Sooner or later, and more or less inevitably, you have completed your first guitar!

The Quest for Success!
While building #1 you include many mistakes, and you feel so miserable about the result that you start one more immediately, doing less (and some new) mistakes. Kind friends and relatives take care of these first attempts, so you'd better have lots of both. After about 10 guitars you feel more comfortable about your products, and all your friends have one guitar. It is time to start looking beyond the nearest circle!
My first guitar saw the light of day in 1981. It is an "Irving Sloane-dreadnaught" (Sloane passed away in 1998, he wrote some of the first books about guitarbuilding, he was an eminent designer, and a real jack-of-all-trades). I checked up on this guitar last summer, it has been hanging on a wall in a farmhouse, and remarkably enough it did not even need an adjustment, a fact that I interpret like this: Irving Sloane (and I) build sturdy enough guitars!

The Secret Revealed
Since then there has been around 20 instruments from my hand, and libraries of lutherie books have been written, but the true recipe of success as a luthier was not revealed to me before I read Robert Benedettos book "Making an Arch--top Guitar". This is not a direct citation, it is what I get out of it, and I bring it along here for all you budding guitarmakers to consider: Get up at 05.00 AM, get down in the workshop, and with small pauses you work until well into the evening. Et voila! Work, work and work again. (And, please let an expert take care of the marketing). In other words: With lots of elbow grease, long days and some talent, maybe 10%, you're bound to succeed. Good luck!

LUTHIER Audun Hofseth
Fjellveien 27, N-4838 Arendal, NORWAY
Tel. +47 37 02 31 74
E-mail: audun (at) hofseth.com

Copyright Audun Hofseth, 1999 - www.hofseth.com