Instruments of Perfection

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

The home of Alfred Hosokawa is much like its owner—compact, with a quiet charm and rustic attraction.  The house sits modestly overlooking a small piece of garden, yet it hides a treasure trove.

Behind the house is Hosokawa’s workshop and entering it is like walking into another time—inside, there is nothing made of plastic, nothing glowing and bleeping.  The walls and posts are warm, brown unfinished lumber and the small space is filled with tools of all manner.  Some are recognizable—woodworking tools, augers of differing widths, screwdrivers and chisels—while others look like art sculptures; a wooden arm with a stone wired on top of it, for instance.  Three instruments gleam among the supplies of raw wood and wooden tools on the shelves, their bodies shining, their shapes inviting touch.  These are some of the treasures wrought by Hosokawa in creating his hand-made guitars.

“I had to invent lots of machines and tools for myself once I started making musical instruments,” explains Hosokawa with a smile. “Once I took a trip across Canada with a backpack, and I think I stopped at every secondhand store across the country, looking for old woodworking tools.  They were hard to come by then.  There has been a revival of Luthiers (instrument makers) in recent years, but back then, I had to be creative.”

There is now a school in Qualicum—the Summit School of Guitar Building—which has been in existence for about 15 years, that inspiring Luthiers may attend to learn the ancient art of guitar making.

Hosokawa built his first guitar in 1972; it took him six months to complete. “I’d grown up around woodworking,“ he says.  “My dad was a boat builder and I’d worked with him as a teenager, so I was quite accustomed to using my hands and had always enjoyed it.”

The Hosokawa family grew up in Salmon Arm.  But the family—although all had been born in Canada and Hosokawa’s grandfather had fought with the Canadian Infantry in the First World War—was forcibly moved from their home by the Canadian Government when all people of Japanese ancestry were forbidden to live on the coast.  The government’s rationale was that Japanese-Canadians might assist Japan in an invasion of Canada after Japan dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War, destroying much of the American fleet.  It is only within the last 10 years that Japanese people have been compensated for the homes and businesses the government seized at that time.

Hosokawa and his parents eventually made their way back to Salmon Arm.  “My parents liked it in Salmon Arm and stayed there.  I was a child when we were expatriated, so to me it was home,” Hosokawa says simply.

Despite the turmoil of being uprooted from his home, Hosokawa had a happy childhood.  “It was a farming community, and I spent a lot of time working on ranches with animals, haying—one of our neighborhood friends had a ranch with cattle and I worked there quite a bit.”

He began playing guitar when he was 15.  “Actually, all my brothers and sisters—12 of us in total—enjoy music and when we get together we still sing and play.  I remember sitting around bonfires as a child and my older brothers playing guitar.”

A dyed-in-the-wool BC boy, Hosokawa spent his working life moving around, part of the boom of the seemingly never-ending supply of natural resources.  He worked in the woods, as a logger, in pulp mills, sawmills, fishing and more.  When he did begin making instruments, Hosokawa followed every lead he could to meet other instrument makers, learning from them and exchanging ideas.  “There were no schools back then, like there is now where you can go and learn the skills to make instruments, so it took a lot longer to amass the knowledge necessary to make instruments.”

Hosokawa smiles and gives a shrug, adding:  “When it’s your passion, though, you don’t care.

“I think I must have read every book there was on the subject to get ideas and information, some of the tricks of the trade.  It’s funny though, lots of the people who wrote them weren’t very good builders, so I got a lot of misinformation as well.”

Hosokawa worked from books and experimentation, mostly on his own, until he began working in Vancouver and Victoria in the 1970s.  “I remember working at Bill Lewis Music, a shop in Vancouver.  I was making speaker cabinets there for a while and I saw all these people in the back building instruments.  There was another guitar shop up on 10th Avenue and there were people building there, too.  Ray Nurse, Michael Dunn—they were the established builders of the time, and Anton Smith, a lute builder.  I talked to him for a long time and, you know, I got a lot of information in that one talk.  He really got me going.”

He found more established builders to draw from in Victoria too.  “I set up a shop with two others and we were making dulcimers, violins, guitars—everything you could think of.”

He smiles, remembering a fellow builder who worked near his shop.  “There was an old guy just round the corner, and he was building huge organs for churches—that was his job.  He came round and talked to us and lots of people were taking him guitars to get fixed, and he didn’t really know about that.  He was building these big organs with long metal tubes for churches—of which there were many—and they all had wonderful organs.”

One Response to Instruments of Perfection

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