Symposium = Community
Like it or not you are probably in several communities. I belong to several great communities in my life and one of them that I value most of all is my guitar making and repairing community. I would like to tell you a bit about my history in getting myself into our community and developing life long friendships.
I have been repairing guitars since the 80’s, but decided about 18 years ago that it is what I would do for a living. I took a job at a small music store in the East Village of Manhattan and told them that as well as selling guitars I could also repair them. I was hired and for 5 1⁄2 years built up a solid repair business for the store and a good reputation around the city. Eventually it became hard for the shop to keep me on without modifying my employment status as the repairs I were doing were financially exceeding the retail operation of the store. At this point my then future wife Ela convinced me with much difficulty to leave the financial security of working for someone, and open a shop out of our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The rest as they say is history, and proved to me that my wife is much smarter than I am.
I was unaware back in 2003 of any of the guitar building and repair guilds that existed, or the major shows where builders could show their work. As I started exploring the Internet beyond funny cat photos, I found some forums where the buzz around the conventions and guitar shows was quite intense. I decided that after reading all the repair books available and seeing every StewMac video, that I wanted to at least meet some of the people I admired so much who were successful at what I was trying to do. The question at hand is how did a shy person with no contacts in the community after several years accumulate so many wonderful friends who are at the top of the field I am in. The answer is simple. I showed up.
My first convention was the 2005 ASIA Symposium in in Westminster, MD.
I showed up not really knowing anyone. I talked a lot about guitars and was very awkward, but seeing all of the great folks who were so passionate about what I did for a living was eye opening. Again, deathly shy I thought to myself, wait a minute, I actually spend a lot of money with StewMac and LMI so they have to talk to me. I wound up spending a lot of time at their tables chatting them up.
The first people I started talking to were Erick Coleman and Chris Herrod. Unbeknownst to me they had started developing their own friendship as well so I slipped in between them and I consider them to this day two of my closest friends. For the first time a few weeks ago we met socially for four days in Erick’s hometown of Athens Ohio and had a blast. No conventions to prepare presentations for or attend; just friends hanging out. At that convention I also spent time with other great folks, such as Nate Clark, Jaime Aulson and many others. While very awkward around the “big shots” and just some casual greetings I really liked the mixture of education and social interactions. I was hooked.
Since then I have attended every ASIA and GAL convention and added to them guitar shows. My first show was the Newport Guitar Show in Miami, then a few Healdsburg shows, and my old friend Baker started the Woodstock Guitar Festival so I started attending those. Bryan Galloup also hosted the stellar Northwoods Seminars the last several years and these were unbelievable in their education and social impact. At every one of these events I pushed myself a little harder to meet people. Erick and Chris convinced me to attend the NAMM shows in Anaheim several years ago because we simply thought it was too much time between conventions not to hang out. Remember, I fix guitars, so a guitar show or a NAMM show is a situation that offers me nothing but fostering my community and building my friendships with people. I lose money when I attend them. But I feel it is too important an opportunity to miss. I always say that I never remember the times I am in my shop, but always remember the times I am at one of these events.
It really came to a head last year at the Woodstock Guitar Festival.
The amazing luthier David Collins and I rented a house for a few days and we spent the time hanging out for no reason except to see friends. One night David and I took a moment to notice that we were at a house party having dinner with Tom Ribbecke, Linda Manzer, Julius Borges and the fantastic Larry Fitzgerald. I looked at David, and having convinced him to come to Woodstock, I said: “this is what it is all about”.
Things like this have happened many times over the last few years and the people who I consider my good friends happen to be the best people in the industry.
A couple of weeks ago in Ohio, Chris, Erick and I spent hours having dinner with Dan Erlewine and Don MacRostie and their partners. Again, this is what it is all about: community. Here is what I found after several awkward interactions with some of these folks early on. Like me, I don’t generally like to talk about guitars all the time. I like to talk about other things. These folks were pretty much the same. While we all have this common ground and it is certainly an icebreaker, when first meeting one of the people you consider a legend it is good to remember that we all like to talk about a wide variety of things. I learn more about the way someone I admire works by simply knowing them and their thought process than pumping them for technical knowledge. That stuff can always be found out, but these events are also an opportunity to make friends and build your community.
While Chris, Erick and I are always hanging out at these things, we have always, over the years, added folks to our group; so many good people that I can’t begin to count them. As a repair person it is so useful to have these friends. If I am stuck on something I can pick up the phone and call Dan Erlewine, TJ Thompson, Roger Sadowsky, Cat Fox, Joe Glaser, Gary Brawer, Bryan Galloup, Alex Glasser, Larry Fitzgerald, David Collins, Charlie Hoffman,Frank Ford, Brian Michael, Jay Hostetler, Natalie Swango, Pat Diburro, Tim Frick, and so many more who I am certainly forgetting. If I call any one of these folks, we know each other well and we really like each other. How the heck did I get so lucky? Oh yeah, I showed up. The builders I have become friends with are priceless to me as it is a whole level of creativity that I find astounding.
I love it when one of these folks is in town and they make it a point to visit me, see my shop, and have lunch or dinner. Thinking back on who has been in my shop is incredible: Roger Sadowsky, Saul Koll, Ken Parker, Tim Frick, Mamie Minch, Alex Glasser, Gary Brawer, Chris and Natalie from LMI, Jay Hostetler from StewMac, Michael Greenfield, David Collins, Chris and Jeremy Jenkins, etc. Just great folks one and all. Why did they come to visit me? Oh yeah, I showed up. It really hit home for me last summer when Bryan Galloup asked me to do a version of a 3-hour business talk I did at the GAL convention the year before. I expected nobody to show up. When I looked out at the packed room and the people who were there, I freaked out. In the audience was TJ Thompson, Julius Borges, Charles Fox, Tom Ribbecke, Jason Lollar, and many others. I looked out and kind of panicked as I don’t really make a lot of notes or prepare when I give these talks. Then I saw Linda Manzer (one of the people who know how much public speaking terrifies me) sitting right up front and smiling at me, and I realized I was simply talking to my friends and it would be fine.
These conventions are really something to look forward to, not just because I will learn invaluable things that will help in my work, but because I will see my friends.
They may be from all over the world, but when we see each other we are simply friends. Being accepted by these amazing men and women as a part of their community is one of the biggest indicators that my perception of how likable I am and how I see myself in the world may not have been very accurate. So that’s my story. The only way that I can figure out how it happened is: no matter how hard it seemed to leave my shop, the money I was losing, and how shy I actually am around folks, I showed up. It makes all the difference in the world and my life is simply better because of this decision. So we are a year away from our next shindig. Show up. If you are having a hard time feeling you belong or you think you blew it with one of your heroes last time and feel embarrassed to come back, so what. Try again, it is so worth it. We need you and you need us even if you don’t realize it yet.
See you all at the next symposium. Make it happen.
Evan Gluck has been referred to as “The best guitar repairman in the world,” although he denies this is true. Evan often presents ASIA Symposium workshops, and is co-author of “Never Unplugged” in Guitarmaker.