Talk about forward thinking: In April 2023, I will be delivered a custom-built classic blues guitar whom I’ve already named Bro—my fourth sweetie who will join Boner, my Martin 000GT16; Bhalz, the electric AVA Guitars Bloody Pearl; and Boy, a Fender Stratocaster. Yes, a long two-year wait for Bro to be sure, but one that will allow me time to further hone my guitar skills, making me more worthy of the instrument I will one day cradle with my body.
How’d all that happen?
In short: By a fluke.
In planning a four-day visit with my dear friends Gary and Iris Heichel in Martinsburg, WV, I cast about for outings we could take. Already on the list was a visit to the Washington County Art Museum in Hagerstown, MD, and a shopping excursion to the shops in quaint nearby Shepherdstown, WV. Why not hit a guitar or music store, eyeball their stock of guitars and pick up some new strings for my Martin acoustic? While I didn’t find such a shop, I did stumble across Hauver Guitars, owned by luthier Michael Hauver. A custom-guitar maker so close by! Bingo!
I immediately went to the HG website and got goosebumps learning about his blues guitar specialty.
I think I can safely say Michael is the sole luthier of 1920s-30s vintage-style blues guitars in the world, the most distinguishing characteristic of which is ladder-style bracing—perhaps the key reason Michael’s guitars deliver the classic blues guitar immediacy of tone, in my mind, its twang.
As Michael says on his web site, “My approach to building guitars is from a repairman’s view. For years I have repaired and restored early 20th-century guitars, mostly from damage due to string tension. Inspired by the Stella guitars of the 1920s and 30s, I wanted to combine the ladder bracing patterns and stylistic aspects of the past with modern building techniques and materials. My goal is to have a vintage looking and sounding guitar which would hold up through the life of the instrument.”
Oh, no! Oh, yes! I wanted one of those unusual puppies. And from a luthier in my home state, no less!
I alit safely at the Heichels, but we didn’t make it to Michael’s studio. A lengthy conversation with him upon my arrival clarified that he doesn’t have a shop per se. He makes one guitar at a time and his most recent creation he had shipped off to Dubai (!) earlier in the week. There was nothing to see. One thing led to another with many details about his work and the luthier business. I told him I was interested in acquiring one, his Blind Blake model, which seemed to be the right size for my small frame, yet not quite as diminutive as a parlor guitar. He agreed. “Let me think about it further, Michael. I’ll get back to you during the summer.”
Two months later, Michael and I spoke again. I ordered the guitar, complete with custom measurements for the depth of the instrument’s neck. A deposit check went off. And the long wait for April 2023 began.
Then, six months later upon another visit to the Heichels, all three of us made the pilgrimage to Michael Hauver’s humble studio—right in Shepherdstown at the end of a narrow road along a rushing autumnal stream—to meet Bro’s maker. The studio is housed in a modest forest-green structure of perhaps 1500 square feet, spaces demarcated by a warren of “rooms” separated only by down-to-the-studs walls, the spaces crammed with shipping supplies, shipping cases, sheets of various woods, and jumbles of books and magazines.
Michael warmly welcomed us inside. A humble man, he asked not to be photographed, but welcomed me to otherwise shoot away. He did, however, take the time to extract from piles of books and magazines, a 2007 issue of Acoustic Guitar where he was featured—a huge publicity boost that saw his nascent studio take off. (And now gives us a glimpse of this remarkable artisan, albeit a tad outdated.)
Breathing in the rich scent of spruce and mahogany, and shuffling around the studio amidst curls of sawdust, I was captivated, charmed to be in the presence of a master guitar maker in his den of creativity.
One handsome guitar, nestled in its case, was ready to ship. Two were in quite different stages of development. I was particularly excited to see the “face” of a Blind Blake (far right), juxtaposed with one of his more complete standard-sized, grand concert guitars (middle photos). Wow! It was easy to see how petite my Blind Blake would be.
For an hour the four of us talked, me peppering Michael with questions. Has he had supply chain issues? No, not with essential materials of any kind, but he faced an issue in shipping completed guitars—the guitars’ cases were caught in the supply snarl. Yes, he lived over in Sharpsburg, MD, but both he and his wife have businesses in Shepherdstown, she the proprietor of a popular art gallery on the main drag. I pointed to a ukulele sitting on a stool in his shop. Do you play? Sort of. Both he and his wife are learning to play. He also showed us the neck of a guitar-in-progress, pointing out the twin carbon fiber rods running the length of the neck that will give it far greater stability than with the wood alone—so that most stressed of guitar parts will “hold up through the life of the instrument.”
Perhaps to me the most amusing exchange came when I asked him what he did before he began repairing and then later building guitars. “I was a stone mason,” he said. And, that, my friends, is a long story for another time!
Clearly, Michael and his luthier business have come a long way when the waiting list takes a custom guitar order nearly two years to fulfill. More power to him. What an honor to meet such a gifted craftsman who’s making beautiful guitars so that more beautiful music can grace our lives.
I’ll leave you now with the sounds of a Blind Blake in the hands of blues guitarist Toby Walker. Get down, down into the blues!