Instruments of Perfection

Local craftsman helps people make beautiful music with his custom hand-made guitars…

Despite his knowledge, Hosokawa has no desire to write a book of his own.  “There’s too many out there now, and I’d much rather personally teach someone.  I tell people who’re interested, ‘Set up your own shop, then come and see me.’  I thoroughly enjoy helping other makers, but I don’t really have the space for another person in my shop—it’s too small,” he says, looking around at his compact and efficient workplace, which was, after all, a garage built for one car back in the days of modest thinking and consumption.  “That’s basically how I learned too.  I set up my workshop and brought the information back there.”

Criss-crossing BC while working, Hosokawa was playing in bands too.  His early leanings were toward country music—he is a big Johnny Cash fan—and gradually rock n’ roll and blues became integrated into his repertoire.  Hosokawa formed his own band in Canoe, just outside Salmon Arm, after playing in Port Alberni with his first band.  He had moved to Port Alberni when he was 16 years old in 1957.

“I was always good at picking up melodies and we played music by the Venturas and The Fire Balls, old rock n’ roll, and I played lead guitar on an electric.  Of course,” he quips, “it wasn’t my job.  I was still doing bull work.”

When an accident at work in the local sawmill damaged his fingers in 1967, Hosokawa stopped playing guitar altogether.  It’s only in the last 10 years that he’s picked up a guitar again to play.

Where the inspiration to build a guitar came from is still a puzzlement to Hosokawa.  “I was listening to a lot of classical guitar players when I lived in Victoria, like Julian Bream, and actually, flamenco guitar had been an integral part of my life.  My dad used to take us to the movies as kids, and there were lots of westerns with a Mexican theme showing then.  Invariably ‘Rosa’s Cantina’ would be played and there was lots of Spanish-influenced music in the background; without my realizing it, flamenco-style guitar playing just seeped into my consciousness.”

Once he did start building himself, he made a huge variety of stringed instruments—dulcimers, mandolins and hurdy-gurdies, as well as guitars.  In fact the hurdy-gurdy that he built in 1973 is one of his favorite instrument-building projects.  An instrument widely played in earlier times by travelling street musicians in the 1600s and 1700s, the hurdy-gurdy has a wheel that turns by means of a little handle.  The wheel scrapes against strings, making a continuous sound, and the player fingers a keyboard to change the note.  Often they were built with a central leg to stand on, sometimes a three-legged version, and most of us have seen drawings of a hurdy-gurdy man with a little monkey on his shoulder.

“A street musician bought it in Vancouver, so lots of people saw it and were intrigued and wanted one.  I’d been reading a lot about baroque instruments and there was quite a craze for them for a while.  I think that was the first hurdy-gurdy built in Canada, then people began building them back east and so on,” Hosokawa says.

In 1980 Hosokawa and his wife Cindy moved to Denman Island, where he began to get a lot of orders for guitars.  To concentrate on this niche, he stopped making other instruments.  “By then, I’d built about 80 instruments, but I’ve stopped counting now,” he says.  “I really just want to build.  I’m not bothered about keeping account of all I do, how much it costs and so on.  I just like to build instruments.  I would build something and then another musician would hear it and want to buy it, so I’d sell that one, and start on another.  I never set out to become an instrument-maker in a professional way, it just slowly grew and grew over the years, and then I began to take it more seriously.  It wasn’t until I moved to Denman that I became a full-time instrument maker though, and could afford not to do other things.”

In the time that followed, the Hosokawa family was increased by three children—Tana, Naomi and Toshi.  “None of my children play music though, their passions are more travelling,” Hosokawa says.  “My oldest boy Tana went to Japan and was the first of our family to re-connect with our Japanese ancestry.  I’d never felt any connection to the culture or music of Japan; I was strictly a BC boy, really.”

Valley musicians are extremely grateful for that fact.  Many of the musicians who perform both here and abroad are thrilled to have a Hoss (as Hosokawa’s guitars are known) to accompany their voices and song-writing.  Each one is hand-built and unique.  The wood comes from a variety of sources, with local woods featuring strongly.  “Each kind of wood gives a different quality to the sound,” Hosokawa says.

Hoss guitars are now spread across Canada, as well as in Europe and the United States.

“It’s all word of mouth,” he says.  “Having lived in the Valley for 20 years, I’m pretty well established as an instrument maker, and people just turn up or phone, asking for a guitar.”  He pauses for a moment before continuing in a reflective tone.  “I like the music world.  Someone comes by to talk to me about a repair, or a new instrument, and I’m working here at the bench.  They just sit down and begin playing a song or a tune.  I enjoy them all, from beginners to professionals.”

Hosokawa laugh as he adds, “It’s pretty much my social life now.  I do lots of repairs because I don’t like to turn people away; and I don’t go out much.”  He does occasionally turn up at the weekly jam at the Backdoor Pub in Royston, held on Sunday afternoons.

Three finished guitars on display in his shop are all different, and each has a special feature that shows Hosokawa’s innate creativity and delight in simple beauty.  One has a scroll top on the neck, giving it a baroque-look; another has inlayed nighthawks of mother-of-pearl; mammoth tusk has been used for inlay and to make the pegs.

“I like birds,” Hosokawa says, “and often find myself putting them on my instruments.”  He points out the pick-up hole on the side of one guitar, which is a circle of three birds, their bodies smooth black wood, making a striking contrast to the honey-colored wood of the sides.  The largest of the three instruments is actually a bass guitar, with an intriguingly different shape, having an extra, sharply scalloped sweep upwards.  “I don’t really know what I’m going to do with it,” he confesses.  “I may donate it to something.”

One Response to Instruments of Perfection

  1. This article is awesome. Make me love guitar even more.