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Hi Everyone!

    As time permits, I'll be adding content to this site.  As a convenient way (I hope) to find out if the site has changed since the last time you've logged on, I have added this page, which will document updates and supply links to the new content.

 

Please note that I'll be updating this site on a monthly basis rather than daily.

 

 

 

 

Wren Guitars

 

   I seem to be an aficionado of homely tortoiseshell pickguards … the homelier the better apparently. 

   And I’m not quite sure what it is with me and these small guitars with checkered marquetry everywhere. Sometimes when I grab this guitar, I really don’t know whether I’m going to play a tune, or a round of Snakes and Ladders. 

   But I have to say, I just love this odd-ball look!

   And just for the record, I love grabbing on to a neck with a big soft-V neck profile! Not so big that you want to tap home plate while looking deep to left field … just big enough that you can get a grip on it.

   Now that the prototype is strung up, I can see that the recipe for my new Sojourn model seems to be …

2 cups  double-0
½ cup  Recording King
2 tablespoons Bacon & Day
1 teaspoon Euphonon
And a pinch of butt-ugly

   OK. I may have been distracted and doubled up on that last ingredient, but “in for a penny, in for a pound” as my grandma used to say.  And anyhow, I always think of my ugly meter as being circular … once the pointer sweeps past the 180 degree point, the guitar’s still getting homelier … but in a good way!

   And how lucky am I to have my buddy Mike Francis record a couple of audio files for this guitar! That is definitely beyond the call of duty to say the least. In Mike’s words: “Both tracks are kinda just a loose jam designed to show what the guitar can do.”  I wish that I could bang out a couple of loose jams like that!

 

 

 

   When I build a prototype, I’ve always got a sound in my head that I’m shooting for. On the first try, there are usually surprises in this department … and the surprise this time is that I nailed it straight off.  I was surprised at the bass presence of this one when I first strung it up … not a flabby low end that blooms into the note, but a nice tight bass with a sharp point to the attack transient. The mids are right where I want them on a new instrument i.e. slightly attenuated from where I ultimately want them to be (otherwise, when the guitar is played in, things get too muddy and nasal). I expected the trebles to be strong on a 14 inch box, but the amount of  girth in the note fundamental was a gratifying surprise … especially noticeable when single note lines are played. The dynamic range is holding up well too. This thing responds well to a light and controlled right hand attack, but doesn’t quickly hit a ceiling when you tie a brick to your right hand either.  Wrap this whole sound up in a thick drizzle of overtones and you get the idea. I’m a happy camper!

 

 

 

  So why “The Sojourn” model, you ask? Well, I always keep my prototypes for a couple of years, so I’m using this one for my own personal instrument and taking  it back and forth to our little cottage up north (where the location photos were taken) … so “sojourn” in the kick-back-and-relax meaning of the word.  And it seems to work. When we arrive up north, I tuck this little 14 inch box under my arm, my shoulders go down a quarter inch and my breathing slows a tad.

    I’m a very lucky guy to have a place to enjoy a sojourn, a brand new guitar to inspire me, and family & friends to enjoy it all with!

 

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What a blast I had making this instrument ... and what a priviledge to be able to use woods of this quality. This back and side set of Ziricote is to die for, and was a coin toss away from being used on my Group of Seven Guitar Project guitar. As a matter of fact, this gorgeous Bearclaw Sitka top was cut from the same billet as my G7 Carmichael instrument.

I was hesitant to add Snakewood appointments to the mix, thinking it would be too much ... but am so glad that's the direction we took. Just to make this one a bit unique, I added a simple Art Deco motif in a couple of places, and I just love the result!

Right out of the gate this one seemed alive and responsive in all registers ... a nice point to the attack transient ... solid note core ... and lots of sparkle and shimmer in the overtone series ... just the way I like it!

 

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Wren guitar Wren Guitar Works Wren Guitar Wren Guitar Works

 

 

 

 

Here's an audio file that I made shortly after stringing up this one ... along with a slide show of the build process ... in my own inimitable jazz-comedy styling (Harpo meets Herbie?). Apologies in advance for the performance!

 

 

 

Here's a brief and veeeeery informal little video that gives just a quick peek into the finishing process. I'm thinking there's not a career out there for me in voice-overs ... I'm just as tongue-tied and inarticulate as ever in this!

 

 

 

 

 

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   I have been wanting to use this set of koa for over a decade and was finally asked to build a guitar with it for a great local pro player. This was one of those guitars that almost built itself ... it just seemed to flow right from start to end and the finish really popped the grain and figure in the Hawaiian koa. The top was resawn by me back in the seventies and is one of the most lively tops I've ever built with.  What a pleasure using such wonderful wood!

 

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Wren Guitars Wren Guitar Works Wren guitar Works Wren Guitar Works Wren Guitars

 

  The youtube clip below is an audio sample (with slide show of the build process) I recorded shortly after stringing the instrument up for the first time. A chord melody arrangement of a jazz standard is possibly not the best demo for a flattop ... not many open ringing strings, and in the case of this arrangement,  a good workout of the trebles but not much action in the lower registers ... but I just felt like learning this tune, so what the heck!

   My standard disclaimer applies i.e. please don't take anything good, bad or indifferent away from an audio sample, as so much depends on the recording gear, the playback gear and of course the player (me, unfortunately).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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    What an honor it was to be asked to present an overview of the Group of Seven Guitar Project at Tony McManus's 12th annual Guitar Summit in Elora, along with Linda Manzer! The reality of the presentation is that I was Vana White to Linda's Wheel of Fortune (which suited me just dandy) ... and she did her usual wonderful job talking about our journey through this great project!

    This year's special guest (as if you need a guitar player any more special than Tony himself) was Ed Gerhard, who has been one of my favorite guitar players for a couple of decades now. If you ever get a chance to attend this intimate workshop ... jump at it ... what a wonderful learning environment!

 

 

 

 

 

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   I was rooting around in some boxes recently and came across this article from a 1982 edition of the Toronto Star about an exhibit launched by the Ontario Arts Council (and curated by William Grit Laskin) featuring thirty instrument builders. I'm surprised there were thirty of us back then! I certainly wish I had a bit of that hair back!

 

 

 

 

Group of Seven Guitar Project

 

Well ... it's happening ... our Group of Seven Guitar Project has crossed the ocean and opened its run at Canada House in Trafalger Square! I still can't believe the long journey we've all been on with this incredible project conceived by Linda Manzer and inspired by the original Group of Seven artists!

For a peek at my personal scrapbook of this project, click on the button below.

 

Group of Seven Guitar Project

 

 

 

 

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Well, this one was very definitely a fun one to build. I met the gent who commissioned this instrument back in the '80s when I was teaching a night school course in guitar building ... he was one of the students, along with his brother. I've now built both of them instruments in the last few years. I love it when they go to a good home!

This instrument featured a Master Grade Sitka spruce top along with an absolutely stunning set of Madagascar rosewood for the back and sides. The grain on the sides is beautiful to say the least, but the match at the end pin area was not as good as it could be, so I designed a custom end graft that seemed to pull it all together. To see a time lapse of how the end graft went together, and to listen to an audio file of this guitar shortly after it was strung up ... click on the youtube video below!

 

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Wren Guitars Wren guitars Wren Guitars Wren guitars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here's an instrument I made in 1990 that popped into my shop the other day. I only had a few minutes to take a shot ... and here it is!

I didn't do a lot of inlay work at this point, but this customer wanted some work that alluded to his children, so he could hand the guitar down to them and it would have some meaning. If memory serves, the body shape was from an archtop model I'd developed!

 

 

 

 

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I had my photo gear set up the other day to shoot a couple of Linda Manzer's gorgeous instruments, and thought I'd pop a couple of shots of this dulcimer I made 44 years ago for Deb. At the time we were just dating and not even engaged as far as I remember. This must have been started at the old Larrivee Mt Pleasant shop and completed at Portland Street ... I think the third instrument I'd ever made. It's not in bad shape considering it took a tumble down a full flight of stairs a few decades ago!

 

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Wren Group of Seven Guitar Project

 

Well ... what a run it was ... and still may be! The Group of Seven Guitar Project wound up at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection on March 18th with another sold out show, this time featuring the inimitable William "Grit" Laskin doing his 2 1/2 hour "Give Me Wood And I'll Make It Sing" lecture, slide show and performance! There is talk of the show going to London now, but we'll have to wait and see.

This project was so special to me, that I've created my own personal informal digital "scrap book" of photos and memories that you can access now on the "Group of Seven Guitar Project" button at the top of most of the pages on my website. I hope you enjoy looking through the first new page on my site in ages!

Group of Seven Guitar Project

At the same time, I've assembled most of my YouTube audio/video files on another page, and created a button for that as well ... thanks for watching!

 

 

 

 

Wren guitars

 

This one went to a good player in Paris who needed a guitar that had enough nuance and clarity for fingerstyle playing, but good headroom and some beef in the note fundamental for flatpicking as well. The top is Master Grade Lutz spruce and the back/sides are a stunning set of Madagascar rosewood. I'm really happy with the way it turned out, both sonically and visually!

 

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Wren Guitar Works Wren Guitars Wren Guitar Works Wren guitar Wren Guitar Works

 

 

Here's a brief audio sample (with a bit of a slide show) of this guitar that I made shortly after stringing it up.

 

 

 

 

 

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I made my first guitar (a classical) in my dad’s garage over the winter of 1972-73 … then started my apprenticeship with Jean Larrivée in ’74 at which point I made an arched top mandolin under his guidance. Later in ’74 I received my first pro commission when a gentleman walked into the small shop on Mt Pleasant and asked Jean “do you make arched top jazz guitars” to which he responded “no, but he does”. I realized that I was the only other person in the room. Yikes! We drove to New York City a couple of weeks later and bought a set of cello wood from International Violin, and away I went.

This flattop from 1975 was my first pro flattop steel string and is essentially a Larrivée Concert model from that time period … but made by myself in Jean’s shop while I was still apprenticing. Jean encouraged us back in those days to make our own projects at night, so that we could get our skills up. Good times!

I was messing with the image of this 1975 example, and a current guitar … started making a collage and was going to put “1975” on the left and “2018” on the right, but it started looking too much like some kind of obituary! I left out the dates and included the image here just for fun anyway!

 

 

 

 

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I really feel for left handed guitar players. It just about killed me, not being able to play this one after I made it ... the feeling they have every time they walk into a music store! It was great to hear it played when my customer picked it up though ... and to get to work with another spectacular set of tonewoods ... from the European spruce top to this luscious set of Cocobolo ... I'm a lucky guy!

 

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Wren Guitar Works Wren Guitars Wren Guitar Works

 

 

 

 

 

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One of mine from 1985 that the original owner just brought back for some TLC. I made a series of these little 14" archtops, and this was the prototype. It was a thrill for me back then when a photo of this one made it into Fine Woodworking Magazine's annual Design Book issue!

 

 

 

 

Wren Guitars

 

One of mine from 1984 ... guitar #151. Still with the original owner who was signed to Narada records at the time ... toured and recorded with it extensively, and has apparently played it every day for the last 33 years! I didn't make many maple guitars and not many bursts either. Nice to see a well used guitar that has been taken care of!

 

 

 

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I know that it's not to everyone's taste, but I think this is one of my favorite looks in a guitar ... a bit of a retro feel, with a touch of modern thrown in. Here's one of my Modern Slope MS-1 models with a stunning set of Cocobolo, checkered binding, rope-bound Taj Mahal peghead with cast metal logo badge, Manzer wedge and RFX raised fingerboard extension!


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Here's a quick-and-nasty audio file I recorded (with a slideshow of the build process) shortly after I strung up this guitar for the first time.



 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks to the folks at Japan's prestigeous "Acoustic Guitar" magazine for the segment and photos highlighting my JB-0 model! It still amazes me how word spreads in the digital age!

 

 

 

 

American Lutherie

 

   Thanks to Steve Denvir for writing this article and interviewing us for "American Lutherie" magazine ... and to the folks at the Guild of American Luthiers for including us in their prestigeous publication! What a great look back at the early Larrivee years!

 

 

 

 

 

Northwoods Seminar

 

What an incredible honour it was to be asked to teach at this year's Northwoods Seminar in Big Rapids Michigan! With folks like Dan Erlewine, Linda Manzer, Tom Ribbecke and Michi Matsuda in the audience, it was a nerve wracking experience to say the least!

To be included with all of these seminal figures in my field was truly gratifying. Thanks so much to Bryan Galloup and all of his luthiers (special thanks to the amazing Sam Guidry)!!!

 

Link to the Northwoods Facebook Page

 

 

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