written by Stirling Myles | photos by Talia Galvin
The life of a luthier tells a story of discipline, detail and patience, in a world that is increasingly bent on instant gratification. Bend luthier and mandolin specialist Andrew Mowry knows this story well. “I average one instrument per month,” he said. “Each instrument requires a lot of time because the top and back are carved out of solid wood.”
The craft of a luthier is all about specialization. Each instrument is tailored for the needs of individual musicians. “I think of the relationship between a musician and a luthier as a sort of symbiosis, and that tradition has been around for a very long time,” said Mowry.
Violinmaker Don Overstreet of Kerr Violins in Portland feels fulfilled when musicians put such a high level of confidence in his work. “I think of the instrument finding a player as a form of commencement,” he said.
In this “modern maker” movement, as Mowry calls it, the value lies in the uniqueness of each instrument. It is a backlash to mass-produced items available at the click of a button. “Things we make with our hands will always be imperfect,” said Mowry. “I’m highly critical of my own work, and it’s difficult to have it around too long because I’m constantly scrutinizing it…”
For those interested in this craft, there are three paths to becoming a luthier. The first is lutherie school, such as American School of Lutherie in Portland, the school from which Overstreet graduated. Other students of the trade instead opt for an apprenticeship with a luthier, as was Mowry’s path. Still others learn independently by trial and error—finding their own path through each minute detail.
In the end, said Mowry, it’s being able to make a profession from something you’re good at doing. “If we could all do that, I think the world would be a better place,” he said.