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Influences: Appreciation & Affection

by L. Dalton Potter

L. Dalton PotterIn 1977, I was fortunate to meet Lawrence K. Brown, an Annapolis-area luthier. Over the next several years, he guided me and my shop partner, Eliot Sternfeld, in the basics of classic guitar making, plus the all-important skills of tool selection and maintenance.  It was during this time that I was offered the opportunity to play and closely examine virtually every one of the finest guitars available in the Washington, DC-area’s playing community.

The generosity of professional players like Jeffery Myriecks, Larry Schnitzler, David Perry, Myrna Sislen, Sophocles Papas, and John Marlow contributed immensely to my growing “library” of reference instruments. These included instruments by Santos Hernandez, Ignacio Fleta, Miguel Rodriguez, Henri Bouchet, Daniel Friederich, Herman Hauser II and III, Jose Ramirez II and III, Manuel Contreras I and II, Manuel Velasquez, Jose Oribe, and Masuro Kohno, Jose Rubio, Jose Romanillos, and Hermanos Conde. Having the opportunity to intimately examine the construction techniques of these giants of guitar-making helped me develop my own sensitivity in tone and sound production and laid the foundation for being able to analyze the construction techniques of the most precious and historically important instruments that I would be privileged to work on later in my career. Larry was an extraordinary craftsman whose passion for luthiery led him to become the premier supplier of Renaissance lutes for the Early Music Society of London. His training as a former computer programmer allowed him to design and implement an intensely detailed approach to the production of his instruments.  This level of organization allowed him the freedom to perform every step by hand and by himself, alone.

I was also fortunate that, during that same period, another world-class guitar maker, Manuel Velazquez, had settled in Northern Virginia and was willing to critique and guide a novice guitar maker. He and his family were tolerant of my unexpected visits with my latest pride and joy. Additionally, another pillar of the Washington music community, Joseph Wallo, adopted the role of a grumpy but constructive mentor. His example of diligence in attention to detail and selection of quality materials remains a guiding principle for my work to this day. At that time he was working as a luthier for the Violin House of Weaver, an establishment that would figure prominently in my later career. And no chronicle of my early education as a restorer and luthier would be complete without expressing my utmost gratitude and respect for the late James Bumgardner. Jim generously took hundreds of hours over several years freely sharing with me the finer points of retouching the most delicate and exotic of fine finishes. He was a master at analyzing and matching varnishes and timbers for tone and appearance. His input, plus my experience as a professional performer, combined to give me the ability to empathize with players in their quest for instruments that live up their highest expectations for performance and appearance.

Many years have gone into my background of violin making and many colleagues and makers have contributed to my present abilities.

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