The Melbourne Guitar Exhibition was hosted at Soma Gallery, Brunswick from the 24th to 25th January, 2017 by Dan Burke, with its main purpose to showcase original guitar creations from Melbourne’s best luthiers. From cigar box guitars and flat top steel string guitars, to air-dried electric guitars and slide acoustics, the exhibition painted a colourful picture of the guitar making landscape in Melbourne, with each guitar boasting a unique story. It was a sight to behold – “guitar heaven”, some might say.
Below are some key observations I made during the Exhibition, as well as a commentary of some of my favourite guitars:
An appreciation of the guitar is universal
Many of the luthiers had international experiences, such as career opportunities in the UK and Asia. It is this diversity that informs the craft-making process of the guitar. In this regard, my favourite guitar was the “Jailbird” guitar series by Mark Nicol. Drawing inspiration from a ’57 Corvette Stingray, the “Jailbird” guitar series is reflective of Nicol’s experiences working with acts such as The Edge and Sting. A beautiful guitar, and it is hard to believe that the body was made of Swamp Ash.
One thing that was also interesting was the demographic of attendees during the Exhibition. Spanning across all ages, the audience was captivated and united for one purpose – an appreciation of the guitar. This leads me to question: “Is the legend of the guitar really dead?” I believe that the symbol of the guitar has evolved rather than died, with the introduction of effects pedals and layering. But that is for another article. Yesterday’s exhibition gave me hope that people across all generations can derive meaning from the guitar, and I hope it inspires many to pick up the instrument again.
Can you mass produce art?
If we are to take that guitars are a piece of art, then we must ask ourselves: “to what extent is instrument quality sacrificed for quantity of production?” Through the design annotations of each guitar, the exhibition attendees could learn about the meticulous selection of woods to create the intended guitar tone. Woods were sourced from various places such as Tasmania and the Murray River, suggesting to me that true artisanship means taking what you have, and creating something new that reflects your natural surroundings. With many instrument retail stores now opting to import guitars from other countries, perhaps this is a time to reflect on whether we, as consumers, are seeing the guitars as vehicles of musical utility, or treasures to last us a lifetime of music.
Practice is different than play
I concluded the exhibition by having two lovely conversations with the luthiers, Shoma and Dan Burke. Shoma was talking about how as a luthier, it is extremely important to listen to a musician’s vision for a guitar, and create an instrument that truly reflects his/her identity. Using the combinations of ebony, rosewood and mahogany, his guitar produced a rich, crispy mid-range tone like none other. After seeing Shoma’s guitar, I was asked by Dan: “What is your favourite guitar?” My conversation with Dan meandered towards a topic close to my heart: the play of music. Dan commented that practice and play are two different habits to becoming a better musician. Whereas practice is “intended towards a goal”, play is about developing “feel” of the instrument. For his business, DVB Custom Instruments, Dan always plays his modified guitars for half an hour before giving it back to the customer, as he can ascertain whether the guitar is “set up right”, and can play well to the customer’s needs.
Perhaps that is the goal of every musician: to find his/her sound by “feel” and intuition. Where the instrument provides a platform for musical voice, perhaps a musician’s identity comes through the “feel”: the interaction of body with instrument to create something new.
Many thanks to DVB Custom Instruments for hosting a wonderful Melbourne Guitar Exhibition, and to all the luthiers that presented their art to the public. I hope that this exhibition starts the conversation about the link between artisanship and guitars.
Keep on rockin,
Who to follow:
DVB Custom Instruments: https://www.facebook.com/DVBCustomStringedInstruments/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf
Shoma Acoustics: https://www.facebook.com/shoma.acoustics
Jailbird Custom Guitars: https://www.facebook.com/jailbirdcustomguitars/