Andersen Stringed Instruments History
I built my first guitar in 1973 in Phoenix, AZ. I was in high school physics class, and a friend who also played guitar told me about a shop he had visited over the weekend. He said they were making guitars, and in fact anyone could go in and build a guitar for a small fee. Well, I went to check it out, and it was true. The shop was open from noon to midnight and the owner would help you build a guitar. I was 17, a junior in high school, and to me, this was pretty cool stuff. I signed on to build a 12-string guitar. It took about six months, but I ended up with a guitar I had made myself, and I was hooked.
I had some very basic woodworking skills, having worked summers for my father, a home contractor. After I got out of high school, I went to work at a cabinet shop, starting out doing grunt work: deliveries, sanding, clean-up, etc. Eventually I started learning the basics of cabinetwork, and learned more woodworking skills in the process.
In 1976, the guitar shop where I had built my guitar became the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery. This was one of the first schools of its kind, and I decided to attend. For me, this was my first introduction to the idea that one could make guitars for a living.
After completing the school, I continued working in cabinetry, as well as doing some traveling to the Northwest and Canada with my brother Tom. It was during one of these trips that we ended up in Sandpoint, ID, where my brother had some friends. It was there that I met a guitar maker named Bob Brook. He was the first person I met who was earning his living making guitars.
I continued to live in Phoenix until 1978 and continued to pursue guitar making there, setting up a small shop, collecting tools, and building several instruments. In 1978, I set out from Phoenix, determined to move to the Northwest. I packed up my ’62 Ford Econoline, and with my dog Scooter traveled through California, Oregon and Washington, and ended up back in Sandpoint. By this time there were several instrument builders in Sandpoint, and I went to work for one shop, Franklin Guitar Co.
This small shop, owned by Nick Kukich, produced high quality flattop guitars, and was one of the first guitar companies besides the Martin Guitar Company to build an OM style guitar. I spent less than two years at Franklin, but that time was pivotal in developing my understanding of many important aspects of guitar making: wood choice, clean workmanship, good finish work, and basic production techniques. During my tenure at Franklin I developed a foundation of sound building techniques that I’ve been able to build upon and refine, and still use today.
In 1986, I moved to Seattle, and for the first time started doing a fair amount of repair work, mostly to offset the higher living expenses. One added benefit, though, was seeing first hand (and working on) some excellent archtop guitars. These include guitars by D’Angelico, D’Aquisto, Stromberg and Gibson. Seeing these instruments was both inspiring and instructive, and I began to get serious about building archtop guitars. From the early 1990’s until today my main focus has been building archtop guitars, although I continue to offer mandolins and flattop guitars.
In 1999, I hired John Walker, who had been one of the head builders at Gibson’s Bozeman, MT factory until he moved to Seattle. He brought some skills that I had been hoping to learn, including production techniques, skills in tool design and fabrication, and a deep understanding of basic guitar design and construction. His 4-year tenure in my shop was one of the greatest learning experiences of my time as guitar maker, and many of the improvements we made to my building process are firmly ingrained in my methods today. John Walker now resides in Alberton, MT, and builds flattop guitars. Johnwalkerguitars.com