Stigma Guitars and Ukulele Interview
NAME: Garrett Gardner
NICK NAME: For the past handful of years people have always called me “G”. On rare occasion l’ve been refered to as “Crazy G”, hopefully after the famous ukulele song.
LIVING IN : Meridian Idaho, which is just outside Boise…..well the area all blends together now.
TRAINING & BACKGROUND: Believe it or not, l’m mostly self taught,· I have had no “formal” teaching in lutherie. I read countless books on the subject and have watched many hours of instructional videos online over the years and my beginning days were full of much trial and error. An interesting backstory on the ukulele side of things is that it initially started out as a bit of a joke with my dad. Once I built my first guitar he told me he wanted to build one but that it was too big so he wanted to do a ukulele instead. I bought some plans for him for Father’s day in 2010, I finished up a ukulele we were both kinda messing around on, and the rest is history. I quickly fell in love with the 4 stringed instrument.
PLAYING: something that shocks people is that I build instruments but barely play. I know a few chords on guitar and have an ear for it but l’m “all thumbs and two left feet” when it cornes to music ability. That said, I do play a bit on the ukulele, as that is the instrument I put a lot more of my focus on pretty early on in my lutherie career. Not a lot by any means, but enough to always be able to have some fun with one whenever I had one in my hands.
LUTHIER YOU ADMIRE THE MOST: I have 2 ! Robert Obrien from Obrien Guitars, I have gained so much knowledge from his videos and they really made things start to click for me. And Doug Proper from The Guitar Specialist Inc, the amount of knowledge he has and his willingness to share it with people is amazing.
INSTRUMENT YOU DREAM TO HAVE ONE DAY: l’ve always been a bit more of a sentimental persan, so it would be something that has some type of personal connection with. Getting my dad into the shop to handcraft a uke together would be the first to corne to mind.
LAST ALBUM YOU BOUGHT: Tauhid by Pharoah Sanders. 1960s jazz is one of myfavourite genres to listen to especially when l’m relaxing after a long day in the shop.
LAST MUSIC SONG YOU PUT IN YOUR CAR: The last song I put on in my car was Walking With a Stranger by Escondido. One of my all time favourite bands to listen to.
LAST SHOW YOU WENT TO : The last show 1 went to was UtopiaFest in October of last year. l’m good friends with the band Rumour Mill so as soon as I heard they were opening the 2nd day of it, I bought airfare to go out and support them.
MOST IMPRESSIVE INSTRUMENT YOU EVER HAD IN HAND: An 8 string steel string ukulele made by the late Lenny Young. lt was unlike any instrument I have ever encountered.
MOST STRANGE RESTORATION OR REPAIR YOU HAD TO DO : I haven’t done many restorations or repairs, but a couple weeks before this past Christmas I had to do some work on a high end custom ukulele that had very expensive tuners that were grinding shavings off when turned. 3 sets later and some minor adjustments to the hales in the head and she was all set.
My “design” process for both Guitars and ukuleles is the same but some find it to be a bit different.
Unless l’m doing a custom build where a client is wanting a particular sound, I start with either a piece of wood for the top or the back and sides and will go from there. If I first choose the back and sides, I will then tap multiple different tops to find the one that will compliment it the most. Whenever I get a shipment of spruce in from the sawmill I work with in Southern British Columbia I will actually write down what each one might pair best with to help speed up this process.
As I have more experience in ukuleles than guitars *105 to 17* , I know how to push the boundaries a bit more for the nylon stringed instrument and perhaps get more creative and think outside of the box with multiple aspects like incorporating natural defects in the wood without sacrificing the overall integrity of the instrument.
Currently the models I craft are tenor ukuleles. I’m still in the process of redesigning my concert model, OM/000 and dreadnought guitars, and a smaller bodied guitar I designed that I call the Traveler model. lt has a full scale but a slightly smaller body but while having a very full sound at the same time. The body of the Traveler is also the same as the tenor guitars I make.
So one special difference my ukuleles have, is actually in the neck.
A late friend of mine who had 60+ years experience playing and teaching the ukulele used to test every one of them that came off my bench and would give me a lot of input. Something we came up with together was a very subtle change to the shape of the neck, making it a little thicker than usual, which we found to make it a little more comfortable to play. lt’s very subtle but does make a bit of a difference.
My inspirations for my instruments corne from multiple things but mainly corne nature. Seeing a particular animal may influence my colour palate or inlay designs on the fretboard or it couId mean pairing woods that corne from the same region. An example for this would be going with redwood and claro walnut or redwood and Myrtlewood.
The ukulele virtuoso that instantly got me hooked on the instrument was Jake Shimabukuro.
His album Live in Japan is amongst my favourites, but practically any of his live versions of “Dragon”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, or “Sakura Sakura” will get anybody hooked.
There are many different things that impact the sound of an instrument but the 2 that really stand out to me and that I focus on are wood thickness for a specific piece of wood and also the glue.
First, a bit about my first comment: even if the same species, no 2 pieces of wood are the same in terms of density, stiffness, hardness, etc. I take this into account when making any instrument. lnstead of thicknessing to a specific dimension, I will use other things to determine what it should be, such as light or flexing the wood. I want an instrument to be strong but also be as responsive as possible.The aspect of a build I have corne to swear by the most is using hide glue for the whole build….well with the only exception being installing binding. Hide glue I have found cures a lot stronger and cleaner and also doesn’t seem to dampen the vibrations in the finished instrument like I sometimes find a modern yellow glue to. I recently made the switch to hide glue from modern pva glue and will never go back.
When building custom instruments, the usual build time is around 3 weeks for a guitar and 2 weeks for a ukulele.
I try to have a good supply of all components in stock so I don’t have delays waiting for them when fulfilling an order; l’m starting to run into supply chain issues so doing this is kinda key for me.
Clients definitely understand that building a custom instrument takes time and also enjoy that I keep up to date on everything via communication and also setting up private pages on my website where they can follow along with the process on their instrument.
When I first meet with a client to discuss the build, I ask them the usual things like what kind of vibe they’re going for in terms of tone or even aesthetic and what style they like to play; bath of these helps us narrow down wood options. Also i ask if they have any requests for inlays or if not, a little bit of their personality so I can try to reflect that in a design I may corne up with. One of my goals for building a custom instrument is to build something that is a reflection of the player and feels like an extension of themselves.
There are a few recording musicians that have some of my guitars: Anna Katarina, the lead guitarist of the indie folk band Rumeur Mill has a couple of my OM’s in her collection that she has used on stage at a lot of her live performances. Aline Daigle, who is also a member of Rumeur Mill, has a custom tenor guitar of mine that she does a lot of her songwriting on. A local indie rock musician in the Boise music scene named Kyler Daron has one of my dreadnoughts that he uses constantly in his recording studio and also has many of his clients record on when they want a guitar with a “very lively mid-range”. I also have a singer-songwriter named Max Clark that loves to write on his OM that we built together and are planning on doing a dreadnought together later this year. So nobody “famous”, just a handful of immensely talented independent artists that I respect just as much, or probably more, so as I would any household name.
Currently I do not really do repairs but will always take a look and see if I can help someone out with an issue they might be having. I can build an instrument entirely from scratch but always get a bit nervous when going over another luthier or manufacturers work. l’m definitely learning more and more and honing my craft so I can be more comfortable doing repairs for sure.
I’ll probably step on a few toes here with this comment, but it’s something I have noticed in American lutherie – I’m sure its in general- but I’ve personally experienced it with some American luthiers, so I’ll only speak from experience: we can be a bit egotistical and arrogant because of the quality of work we do.
Something I have appreciated about luthiers.com is it has introduced me to some absolutely amazing luthiers around the globe that are supportive and always willing to share knowledge if you have a question about something.
Whether you’ve built 1 guitar, 100 guitars, or 1,000 guitars, I truly believe that there is always room for growth and that there are always opportunities to learn; having a great community to learn from is very much appreciated.
I currently don’t have my work featured in any shops, at this time l’m strictly selling through my website stigmaguitars.com
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