Looking at one of
Andrew White's personally-made guitars, one might think he had
been raised by a band of musicians who taught him to pluck before
he could speak. Truth is, White, 24, didn't start playing until
his senior year at St. Mary's High School and, admittedly, he's
still not very good at it.
don't think you have to be very good [at playing] to be a good
guitar-maker," he says. Many, including one of the more famous
guitar-makers in the country, would agree.
This minor handicap hasn't prevented White, who now divides his
time between Annapolis and Morgantown, W. Va., from creating "amazing"
guitars, according to Matt Umanov, New York City's premier guitar
salesman and repairman for nearly four decades. In fact, so amazing,
that Umanov agreed to sell one of White's guitars on consignment,
marking only the fourth time he has ever agreed to do so.
"Andrew is one of the brightest lights on the guitar-making scene
in years," Umanov says about White. "As far as we're concerned,
he has 'it,' however one wants to define that."
The story of how these two crossed paths is a good one, which
White will joyfully tell. It's clear White believes that the cosmic
coincidences of how it all came together is a sign that becoming
a guitar-maker, also called a luthier, was obviously meant to
be. The story begins in a blizzard in the middle of New York City.
"I was trudging through the snow carrying two of my guitars,"
he says. "I went into this one guitar shop, and it was clear the
owner didn't really like them. So I left and tried to catch a
taxi. But I was in the middle of a blizzard, so catching a cab
was impossible. To make matters worse, I had to go to the bathroom."
White made his way to Greenwich Village and happened upon another
guitar store. Hoping simply to use the store's facilities, White
entered and was directed to the back. As he was leaving, one of
the employees asked him what he was doing walking around in a
blizzard with two guitar cases. He told them the cases contained
guitars he had made himself and that he was trying to find someone
to sell them.
"They said the store owner was upstairs and might be willing to
check them out," says White. "I was tired and expressed some doubt,
but they said, 'C'mon, just wait one minute.'" The owner happened
to be Umanov, who came down, looked at White's guitars and simply
said, "These are amazing." Then Umanov began to tell White his
life story---that he had been fixing and selling guitars for 37
years, ever since he was 18 years old and that, since that time,
he has often worked on guitars owned by famous musicians such
as Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan.
"I listened to everything he had to say, but I was skeptical,"
White recalls. "I later told my mom what happened. She checked
him out on the Internet and, sure enough, everything he had said
was true. I couldn't believe it."
Umanov now sells one of White's guitars for $3,000. Next to the
price tag is his own glowing recommendation in which he compares
White's style of construction to Michael Kasha, a famous guitar
designer and builder from the 1960s. "The tone is bold and clear,
and the workmanship superb," he says. "A most lovely classic guitar
with Indian rosewood back and sides and an Englemann spruce top,
by a maker whom we believe to be better than excellent. This guitar
is an exceptional bargain as well, in our opinion."
In just a few years, White has come a long way from being a mediocre
student learning to play guitar for the first time at St. Mary's.
"It was the first time a guitar class was offered at St. Mary's,
and a bunch of us took it," he says. "I was a pretty terrible
student. The teacher wanted us to read music, which I was really
dreadful at. I just wanted to learn chords."
White continued learning to play guitar in college at West Virginia
University. His passion for making guitars didn't set in until
he traveled to Spain and decided the one big purchase on his trip
was going to be a "classic Spanish guitar. I went into this shop
and immediately thought, 'Man, I'm paying a lot of money, and
I think I can do this myself.'"
When his sister and brother-in-law gave him $300 worth of wood
and a book on guitar-making that following Christmas, he knew
there was no turning back. "I was kind of obligated at that point,"
he says. "But that was what I needed. I think I started that day."
White says he started making his unique guitars through simple
trial and error. "I kept it in the realm of a guitar, but I thought,
'Well, let's try this,'" he says. "I learned by doingI think I
am a bit naive about all of this, and I think that's a good thing.
I don't need money. I don't need to eat. I think this has allowed
me to take risks."
He also had the help of his brother, Daniel, and father, James,
whose engineering skills White believes have given him "an edge"
over many guitar-makers. "They've enabled me to make a very stiff
instrument that is still very light," he says. "They've helped
me create bracing designs that people have never seen before."
Greg Dibos, one of the owners of Acouticopia, a music shop on
West Street which sells White's guitars, says White's unique bracing
system "really blows people away. Creating your own bracing system
takes a lot of knowledge about guitars," Dibos says.
The external design and shape of some of White's guitars are also
unique. In most guitars, the sound hole is in the center. On some
of White's guitars, it is on the top left corner, which White
says provides for a fuller musical range. And the unusual shape
is "very comfortable to players. We asked a player to demonstrate
how he sits with his guitar, then we looked at the angle at which
the player held the guitar and said, 'How can we get that guitar
to sit at that angle with the least amount of effort?'"
Today, White, the youngest of five children, works with another
brother as a carpenter to pay for his main focus in life---forging
a living out of making guitars. Since early last year, he has
sold 15 guitars and travels the country trying to find retailers
to sell more. "When I get a call that a guitar has sold, it's
the best feeling in the world," says White, whose workshop is
in Morgantown, W. Va.
Dibos says he expects White will be getting many more such calls
in the future. "Andrew is very innovative," he says. "In the few
years that he's been making guitars, he's taken the basic knowledge
of guitar-making and really pushed the limits."
White's instruments range in price from $2,500 to $4,200, take
about 100 to 200 hours to make and three to six months total to
complete in order for the instrument to dry. "It's hard sometimes,
because I want to just pump out guitars," he says. "But I'm trying
to set myself up for a long-term career. I really have to think
about the future. One thing I know, though, is that my life is
about guitars. Everything I think, eat or feel is about guitars."
Mohsberg is a resident of Eastport and a freelance writer
in addition to being the media relations associate for Anne
Arundel Health System.