Acoustic Guitar Maker Builds Each Piece By Hand

I’d like to give a huge thanks and shout of appreciation to Linda Leiva for writing up this feature in the Lewiston Sun Journal, and to Jose Leiva for taking these incredible photos of me in action at the Builder’s Workshop. You guys are both amazing, and so appreciated! Here’s a link to Jose’s photography website: Jose Leiva Photography. I very highly recommend him.

Acoustic Guitar Maker Builds Each Piece By Hand

By Linda Leiva, For the Sun Journal. Published on Tuesday, Dec 20, 2011

Guitar maker Bill Russo applies the frame ribbing to an OMC Cutaway acoustic guitar in his workshop in Wilton, Maine

Guitar maker Bill Russo applies the frame ribbing to an OMC Cutaway acoustic guitar in his workshop in Wilton, Maine

When Bill Russo, of Wilton, spends time in his shop, he is anticipating a sound. No, it’s not the sound of saws and sanding machines that his profession as a carpenter might suggest. It is the unique tone of a custom-made, flattop acoustic guitar. Russo has spent a number of years crafting guitars, each of which has its own personality in sound and appearance.

Russo’s profession has brought him from being a carpenter, who specializes in trim work that puts finishing touches on beautiful homes, to dreaming of guitars in his shop in the small-town setting of Wilton. It is here that he began his effort to learn how to build guitars. Russo recalls, “I played (guitar) for a number of years and I have a love for this woodworking thing. I always had a dream to build a guitar, but always thought it was out of reach. I began reading about it, researching to see if it was doable, and before I knew it, I had a box of wood, and I was building my first guitar, and it was pretty good!”

Russo builds guitars in the Martin style and, as he says, “I take what’s been done, enhance and build upon it so that (the guitar) is responsive, sounds good and looks good.” He notes that being a musician has helped him to know what the feel and sound should be, blending his craftsmanship and his musical ability. The beauty of a custom-built instrument is in the personality of each piece of wood, bringing out the best in the material. Russo says, “Hand building helps to ‘voice a top.’ It’s not so much a specific note, but how each piece of wood responds tonally, each grain is different. You have a stiffer grain and a looser grain, each is braced differently to bring out the optimum sound.” He comments that each species of wood is a big factor in the tone of the finished product.

For Russo, seeing how each guitar responds to his gentle hand is, as he says, “like birthing something for the first time! There is excitement in having a guitar on the bench and stringing it. It’s fun to anticipate where they’ll go and who’ll play them.” Though Russo modestly says it is early in his career, he did derive a great deal of pleasure in hearing one of his guitars being played by a worship leader in a New York City church in front of thousands of people. “It was exciting to bring pleasure to the musician and to those hearing it,” Russo admits with pride. “This just feels right, it’s something I’m supposed to do.”

Another facet of Russo’s work has brought him to the classroom, or rather, the classroom to him. “A few years ago, I held a builder’s workshop for a dozen or so students. It was a 12-to-14-week course, taking (students) through the complete process where they could work with service materials, work through every step, personalizing an instrument.” Russo continues, “SAD 9 Adult Ed was willing to offer the course so I became comfortable in it and it’s been a great experience, I’ve been learning with the students.”

Russo comments on the visions and dreams artists have about their craft. Sure, it would be great to have someone really famous play one of his guitars. However, he says, “I keep it all in perspective. I have been blessed. The Lord has given me ability and talent in my hands. It’s a great way to finish out my livelihood, a fun journey and I am just scratching at it, learning after each instrument, trying to achieve a higher benchmark each time.” For Russo, his reward “is in getting really good instruments into the hands of really good musicians.” For information on making your own custom guitar, please go to www.WRCustomGuitars.com.