While there may not be as many women luthiers in the guitar industry as there are men, their numbers are increasing.
And in fact, women have been building guitars for a long, long time. In one large-scale example, Gibson secretly hired dozens of women to build their iconic “Banner” acoustic guitars while many of their usual builders were unavailable due to World War II. These women were all but erased from Gibson’s history, until their story was unearthed by Connecticut law professor Dr. John Thomas and revealed in his book, Kalamazoo Gals.
Here are ten awesome women luthiers you should know about, and consider next time you’re in the market to buy a new guitar:
Image courtesy of Brooklyn Lutherie
Brooklyn Lutherie, Brookyln, NY brooklynlutherie.com
Although both Mamie Minch and Chloe Swantner already had about seven years experience in guitar repair and building by the time they opened Brooklyn Lutherie in 2014, starting their own business was the first time either of them had the opportunity to work on guitars in a shop not owned by men. “Over the years it’s become easier to meet other women luthiers; when we started I didn’t know any,” says Minch. “My luthier friends are still are almost entirely men. They’re great, and it’s fun, but you know, they still mansplain all over me.” It was this dynamic that led Minch and Swantner to open their own space, a shop that is centered around inclusivity, where not only they but also their clientele feel at ease.
Brooklyn Lutherie takes on repairs on all string instruments, fretted and in the violin family. Swantner, who began her career in lutherie as a student at the Vermont School of Violin Making, also builds custom violin family instruments.
Kathy Wingert, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA wingertguitars.com
Kathy Wingert has been working on guitars since she was in high school in the mid-70’s. In her own words:
I saw an apprenticeship advertised at a local music store, but I started out on my own because I knew I’d probably be waved away by the guys in there. I started out reading at the library and working on my own, buying cheap guitars and restoring them, selling them for a huge profit…. I was lucky enough to find a course at a local community college. Two months in, the instructor said they were looking for a tech at that same music store, and I applied and got the job. It was very much a full circle story.
Image courtesy of Kathy Wingert
Wingert says that when she started, the glass ceiling had already been “shattered” by master luthier Linda Manzer, the first woman to gain real notoriety as a luthier. So as she started to become more established, it was always “Manzer or Wingert,” she says. “I felt this was an unfair comparison and a sexist one, since Manzer’s career not only preceded, but also paved the way for my own. We were just the only two [women luthiers] anyone knew about.”Wingert’s designs are gorgeous. She makes a wide variety of guitars, including classical, baritone and even breathtaking harp guitars.
Lisa Hahn, New York City sadowsky.com
Lisa Hahn started doing guitar repairs and became more interested in building during an apprenticeship in Chicago about ten years ago. Currently the shop manager and senior guitar maker at Sadowsky Guitars in New York City, her staff bio states she“loves loud amps, cool pedals and a perfect neck fit.”
Sadowsky is most famous for their solid body basses, but Lisa is a guitarist. ““I’m not mainly a bassist, but I’ve spent 12 years working with professional bass players and learning what makes an amazing sounding bass,” she says. Hahn plays one of her own builds in her band, Sursum Verbo, and as our conversation turned to pedals, she mentioned how much she loves EarthQuaker Devices’ Rainbow Machine.
Meredith Coloma, Vancouver meredithcoloma.com
Meredith Coloma started building guitars when she was 17, and at 19 began her career with an apprenticeship with Sadowsky Guitars. In addition to building, repairing and restoring instruments, she also offers classes and workshops in her Vancouver studio. Her website is also a treasure trove of information, with a blog that features videos of her process and even tips on how to get started doing your own repair work.
Coloma says she has felt both the pressure to work harder to prove herself and worry about receiving undue attention due to the “novelty” of her gender. “With anything you do,” she says, “You’ll have people who support you and people who just like to troll. But it’s gotten better over the last couple of years.” She credits social media in part for making it easier to connect with other women in her field for inspiration and support.
Shelley Park, Vancouver, BC parkguitars.com
Shelley Park is a maker of beautiful gypsy jazz guitars in the style of Selmer-Maccaferri. Maccaferri guitars are best known as the favorite guitar of Django Reinhardt, whose music had a big influence on Park as a guitarist and, evidently, as a luthier. She began learning how to build instruments at a community college in New Westminster, BC, just a few years after she started to play.
Park’s website is very informative with plenty of information to help guitarists choose what model will best serve their playing. She even explains the logic behind varying designs, like an oval vs. a D-shaped sound hole.
Image from Park Guitars
Joshia de Jonge, Alcove, QC joshiadejonge.com
Joshia de Jonge built her first guitar at the age of 13 in her father Sergei’s workshop. She builds beautiful hardtop cedar and spruce classical guitars with ebony fingerboards, and offers plenty of optional customizations: buyers can choose the wood for the body, add a soundport, or opt for an elevated neck or a “V” neck to head joint.
All of de Jonge’s guitars are built with a subtle twist in the neck for exceptional comfort while playing, and she uses a family-developed lattice bracing pattern that she describes as “[unifying] the top into one vibrating surface” for “powerful projection, clear note distinction, and balance between the strings.”
Image from the website of Joshia de Jonge
Dagna Silesia, Shoreline, WA silesiaguitars.com
Silesia Guitars, near Seattle, Washington, is owned and operated by musician Dagna Silesia, who handles guitar repairs and luthier work. Her shop also partners Auralsphere Electronics to take on amp and electronics repairs.
Silesia has an exceptional skill for inlay art: her designs are beautifully delicate and detailed. You can find some of them at the Silesia Guitars website, which also features a repair blog that gives some great insight into Silesia’s process. In addition to her work in the shop, she also plays bass in hard rock band The People Now.
Image from Silesia Guitars
Kathy Matsushita, San Jose, CA theamateurluthier.com
Some inspiration for the DIY-ers: Kathy Matsushita is completely self taught and builds guitars as a “summertime hobby.” She is an English teacher during the school year.
Matsushita’s enthusiasm for guitar building is evident throughout her very detailed website. The site features photos of her workspace for organization inspiration, as well as links to sites that can help you start building from kits, a guide for what tools you’ll need, detailed build tutorials with step-by-step photos, and plenty of photos of her dogs.