Steve Grimes: Archtops & Mandolins from Hawaii

By Andrew Catania

Steve Grimes is a woodworking musician who has dedicated his career to making some of the best guitars in the world. He was a woodworker and also a musician in the early 1970s and wanted to combine the two professions. His job as a draftsman for Boeing Aircraft did little to satisfy his artistic side, and he felt the need to make a change. It was then he decided to delve into lutherie. He had studied with a violin maker and had a fascination with carved top instruments, but felt he wanted to go a different direction than violin family instruments.


Steve set up a shop in Seattle, Washington, USA in 1972, sharing space with some friends who were also woodworkers. He made archtop mandolins during the first two years, and to cover his expenses also indulged in repairing every type of stringed instrument that came his way. When he was finally able to increase his production of custom instruments, he started experimenting with new designs. He was able to get some of his instruments into the hands of some of the better guitar players in the area. By 1974 Steve had plunged himself completely into making archtop guitars.

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His first archtop – an oval hole model with a flat back – was commissioned by an L.A. session guitarist, who still uses the guitar to this day. Steve was thrilled with the results and never looked back. He took a leap in 1980 when he started making nylon and steel stringed flat-top models. His other variants included a semi-hollow body archtop electric guitar and a 20″ scale “alto” steel string guitar dubbed the “Tiny Grimes”.


He moved his shop to Hawaii from Washington in 1982 to take advantage of the more agreeable weather, and get out of the nine month “rain festival” in Seattle. This move brought him under the influence of the local guitar players and music composers. He designed a double sound-hole flat-top slack key guitar with the help of a master slack key guitarist Keola Beamer. This type of guitar produces a deeper bass and greater sustain than center sound hole flat tops. The design worked well for 15 1/4″ (OM size) body guitars giving the bass response usually found in larger guitars. The double sound hole design also makes the tone more prominent to the player.

In 1991 Steve Grimes joined forces with Ned Steinberger, creator of the Steinberger bass and guitar designs. They produced a stress-free flat-top guitar with a tailpiece and very little tension applied to the soundboard. Gibson Guitars bought this design a few years later.

Grimes has made over 325 arch top guitars and 195 flat tops for such artists as George Benson, Larry Coryell, Leo Kottke, Keola Beamer, Walter Becker, Steve Miller, Pat Simmons, and Willie Nelson.

To learn more about Steve GrimesĀ Guitars please visit:

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