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Got custom guitar built by Serra Mesa’s Lennis Laviolette

I wanted to reach down to a “C” the way a cello does

Wilson’s custom guitar in progress.
Wilson’s custom guitar in progress.

Having a custom guitar built just for you is every classical guitar player’s dream. As a performer and teacher for over 30 years, I have played (and owned) many fine guitars, but until I started working with Lennis Laviolette, I had never had one built according to my own specs. (Two woods for the soundboard? No problem!) A student of mine had a custom guitar made by Len, and I was so impressed that I called him up and met him at his workshop in Serra Mesa. He had several beautiful guitars already made: a spruce top with maple sides and back, and a cedar top with rosewood. Both sounded and played wonderfully. For me as a player, a guitar not only has to look and sound good, it also has to play well, meaning my fingers must feel a minimum amount of effort as I play the strings. Len’s guitars had all three; I was hooked.

Still, I wanted something a little different. I had been recording works for three or four guitars and was continually running into problems with the low range of the guitar. I wanted to reach down to a “C” the way a cello does, instead of the normal “E” or “D” that a guitar uses. I wanted an extra string. Over the next few months, I worked with Len, first deciding on an instrument with seven strings and no cutaway (the indentation some acoustic guitars have that allows access to the upper frets). He showed me a stunning piece of Brazilian Rosewood for the back and sides. We picked cedar and spruce for the top. On my guitar, Len used a technique called a double-top, where there are actually two soundboards, and we were able two use both Cedar and Spruce (the two most traditional woods for the soundboard) to create something new. I stopped in about once a week after that, choosing the tuner color, the rosette design, and even the wording on the label.

Sponsored
Sponsored

To commission a work of art such as my guitar was a new and surprisingly fun experience. Other than the shoe rack I once made to house my kids’ ever growing collection of footwear, I have never had success in making anything. I can’t draw, carve, whittle, or sculpt. But what I could do was imagine what my dream guitar might look like. I communicated this vision to Len as the weeks progressed, and the guitar took shape according to that vision. The curve of the sides of Brazilian Rosewood, the smell of the cedar top, the light marbling of the rosette’s wood, the feel of the neck as it was shaved to fit my hand — Len’s long experience in woodworking and love for the guitar made it all happen. (He is not only a luthier, but is also an active player in several local ensembles.) I felt understood, and grateful that I didn’t have to hold back with my long list of custom requests. I own (and love) many guitars, but seeing my seven-string built and then playing that first note — hearing its mellow, warm, beautiful tone for the first time — will always be something special.

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Wilson’s custom guitar in progress.
Wilson’s custom guitar in progress.

Having a custom guitar built just for you is every classical guitar player’s dream. As a performer and teacher for over 30 years, I have played (and owned) many fine guitars, but until I started working with Lennis Laviolette, I had never had one built according to my own specs. (Two woods for the soundboard? No problem!) A student of mine had a custom guitar made by Len, and I was so impressed that I called him up and met him at his workshop in Serra Mesa. He had several beautiful guitars already made: a spruce top with maple sides and back, and a cedar top with rosewood. Both sounded and played wonderfully. For me as a player, a guitar not only has to look and sound good, it also has to play well, meaning my fingers must feel a minimum amount of effort as I play the strings. Len’s guitars had all three; I was hooked.

Still, I wanted something a little different. I had been recording works for three or four guitars and was continually running into problems with the low range of the guitar. I wanted to reach down to a “C” the way a cello does, instead of the normal “E” or “D” that a guitar uses. I wanted an extra string. Over the next few months, I worked with Len, first deciding on an instrument with seven strings and no cutaway (the indentation some acoustic guitars have that allows access to the upper frets). He showed me a stunning piece of Brazilian Rosewood for the back and sides. We picked cedar and spruce for the top. On my guitar, Len used a technique called a double-top, where there are actually two soundboards, and we were able two use both Cedar and Spruce (the two most traditional woods for the soundboard) to create something new. I stopped in about once a week after that, choosing the tuner color, the rosette design, and even the wording on the label.

Sponsored
Sponsored

To commission a work of art such as my guitar was a new and surprisingly fun experience. Other than the shoe rack I once made to house my kids’ ever growing collection of footwear, I have never had success in making anything. I can’t draw, carve, whittle, or sculpt. But what I could do was imagine what my dream guitar might look like. I communicated this vision to Len as the weeks progressed, and the guitar took shape according to that vision. The curve of the sides of Brazilian Rosewood, the smell of the cedar top, the light marbling of the rosette’s wood, the feel of the neck as it was shaved to fit my hand — Len’s long experience in woodworking and love for the guitar made it all happen. (He is not only a luthier, but is also an active player in several local ensembles.) I felt understood, and grateful that I didn’t have to hold back with my long list of custom requests. I own (and love) many guitars, but seeing my seven-string built and then playing that first note — hearing its mellow, warm, beautiful tone for the first time — will always be something special.

Sponsored
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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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