Guitar Connoisseur Stories: ” I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to spend most of my career playing in my own sandbox” -Harry Fleischman

I was lucky.

Although I had been designing guitars from the time I was 11 or 12,  it was not until 1969, that I actually built anything. I was working as a studio musician in Hollywood. At a session, I tried playing my Fender Jazz Bass with a bow, tearing out bow hair and realizing that it just wasn’t going to work unless I could redesign the instrument.  This led to my first instrument: a fretless electric bass I could bow.

EUB 1975   

EUB 1999

I made the decision a few years later when I started really building, to do only original design Instruments. I’ve been very lucky to have the opportunity to spend most of my career playing in my own sandbox.

I began designing basses with the tuners on the body, first with bodies (the Jayne, 1976), and later with no head or body (1978).

Jayne, 1976

Bassic IV ad

International Musician credited me as the “pioneer of headless basses,” but for me, the goal was to reduce headstock weight while facilitating tuning accuracy and allowing the player to tune while playing.

At around the same time I worked with Chris Dahlgren and designed the Scroll Bass, that was much later licensed by the British company Avian Guitars.

Scroll Bass, 1976

I began showing my asymmetric-bodied, half-and-half topped, multi-scale acoustic guitars at the first Healdsburg Guitar Festival, and the second year displayed guitars with the Demi Cutaway that is now showing up on many contemporary guitars.

Morning Glory (1995)

Half-Redwood, half-spruce, multi-scale, double soundhole, asymmetric acoustic

Demi classical

Thanks to Donnie Wade, in 1981 I designed a line of guitars and basses for International Music Corporation, who made Hondo. One was a sleek, bodiless BASSIC IV.  That led many years later to designing for Jackson guitars, then Fender, Avian, and two old hippies–makers of Breedlove and Bedell guitars.  I had never owned a new Fender guitar; Imagine my feelings seeing my name on a contract with Fender!

I ran two schools of lutherie, and was the director for a couple of years of the American School of Lutherie in Healdsburg, California, with Todd Taggart.

Along the way, I’ve built about 350 original-design Instruments for musicians around the world. This led to wonderful travels teaching lutherie in Italy, Australia, China, and Texas. I’ve become friends with some of the luthiers who influenced me and seen the influence of my work on younger luthiers.  I’m very proud of this. Jim Roberts, from Bass Player Magazine, referred to me in his book American Basses as “the Thomas Edison of luthiers.” It is an exaggeration, but captures my intent; My motivation has always been innovation.

I designed a line of acoustic guitars, the Skylarks, for an English guitar company, and a couple of years later I had the wonderful opportunity to redesign some of the Breedlove Guitars and many of the Bedell Guitars after Tom Bedell asked me to come on board as his “mad scientist.”  I worked half the month in Bend, Oregon; half the month in my shop in Sebastopol.  What a commute!  It was an interesting experience trying to channel Kim Breedlove, rather than express my own designs.

The combination of designing and building for individual musicians, and for large guitar companies has been a challenge. The first requires a deep understanding of that specific player’s needs and desires, the latter a sense of what a broad swath of the guitar-playing public might enjoy.

I’m still building a few special instruments a year and taking a few orders with the hope of fulfilling musicians’ dreams.

After nearly 50 years of designing and building instruments, I’m still excited by coming up with new designs to test the boundaries of what a guitar or bass can sound like, feel like, and look like. I’m also still excited when I see interesting, innovative instruments from other luthiers; we are all part of a continuum of innovation that started long before Fender and is continuing into the future.

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