Art

Instruments of Perfection

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

Building a guitar starts with cutting out the front and back, planing the wood to the desired depth, and then bending the sides.  The tools used to bend the wood have all been hand-made by Hosokawa.  His guitar tops are often Sitka spruce or yellow cedar, both locally available.  “It’s the wood that gives the sound, of course,” he says.

“Spruce gives a warmer sound than, say, mahogany, which is also used, along with Rosewood.  I really like using the spruce—it’s simple and from here.  I usually get big chunks of it and cut it myself,” he says, pointing to three sizeable blocks of wood on the floor.  Next to that are two pieces of what looks like metal, but are actually ebony.  “That’s really hard wood,” Hosokawa explains with a laugh.  “A bit like fast-growing rock!”

Some of the woods he uses came from a fellow instrument maker who retired and passed on his own supply.  Another find was from a customer who happened to be at an auction where some rosewood chairs were being auctioned off.  With Hosokawa in mind, he bought them, and those chairs were carefully cut up and planed into guitars.  “The chairs were big,” Hosokawa says. “About two feet long in the seat—the boards were six inches wide.  It gave me a supply for five guitars.  I’m still using that wood.  To buy wood new costs a fortune and I prefer reusing wood as opposed to being part of destroying forests in Brazil.”

The intriguing device with the stone tied on top is actually made to hold down the beading around the sides of the guitars during their construction.  As Hosokawa often has cut-out pieces made of a different color woods inlaid in the beading, it is very time-consuming to glue them down and have them held fast by hand.  In one of his many strokes of ingenuity, Hosokawa devised a tool to hold the guitar vertical and steady to keep the beading in place until firmly glued on.

“The look of a guitar is important, but really it’s a tool, and as everyone is differently shaped, each one has to be custom-designed.  Some people have limited mobility of their arms or hands, so I can adapt a guitar that will suit their body type.  Of course, factory-made guitars can sometimes be excellent as well, but you might have to try a lot of them to find one.

“There’s been a huge growth of instrument makers since I started,” he adds.  “There’s a Luthiers Guild now on the Island, and we get together every three months in someone’s home.  We sit around and talk about instruments, swap ideas—usually there’s a pot of chili or something like that.  It’s very casual and welcoming—if you want to bring the grandchildren or the dog, that’s fine!  We have a show once a year and display our work for sale.  It’s mostly guitars—electric and acoustic—a few bases, but mostly guitars.”

Hosokawa did build two electric guitars, the first for a friend and in true Hosokawa style, that friend had another friend who wanted one, so Hosokawa obliged and built him one as well.  “I don’t find it as satisfying though,” he says.  “It’s more about electronics than the actual guitar, and of course, they have a solid wood body, so they’re not as finicky to make as acoustics.  I’m just more into the actual craft of making a guitar than electronics.”

One of his most intriguing guitars must be the one now owned by Leon Bibb.  He heard about it from Bobbie Blue, a well known musician and promoter of international performers in the Comox Valley.  “I built a guitar for Bobbie.  Her son died prematurely some years ago, and he was inspired by the story of The Red Violin and wanted to have a guitar made in a similar fashion.  Before his death we got a pint of his blood, which we used to soak the sound board with, and I added some red dye to keep the color.  After his death we got a piece of his arm bone and made it into the sound hole.  Leon Bibb had heard she had a guitar for sale and when he was performing here at MusicFest, tried it and liked it enough to buy it.”

Hosokawa makes only about three guitars a year now, as well as repairing.  He has plans to make a lute—“just to make one.”  He points at the hefty Harley Davidson Road King Classic motor bike tucked into a corner of his workshop. “That’s my retirement present to myself,” says with a laugh.

Guitars, like all instruments, become an extension of the player, and guitars are held in the players’ arms, close to their hearts.  To many of the musicians who own a Hoss original, they hold Hosokawa to their hearts as well.  “I’d played guitar for years before I bought a Hoss,” says Sam Lennox.  “Now that I play one of Al’s guitars, I feel I’ve become a guitar player.  I also watched pieces of wood be transformed into an exquisite instrument, both to look at and play.  Through that progression I also got to know a super-skilled master craftsman.“

Local singer/songwriter Judy Norbury agrees.  I feel it’s a great privilege and honor to own one of these guitars,” she says.  “As a basic guitar player, it makes my songs sound as good as they possibly can.”

For more information Alfred Hosokawa be reached at 250-334-2080.  Visit islandluthiersguild.com


One Response to Instruments of Perfection

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