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A Guitar is Born

Written by Cary Burkett, Arts & Culture Desk and WITF Host | Jan 22, 2015 2:03 PM
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Roland Stock

In the 1970's when Roland Stock was a was a young man in Austin, Texas, he had a serious ambition to become a luthier -- a maker of fine guitars. To learn the craft he first got a job repairing the instruments and then later bought his own repair shop. 

The music scene was exploding in Austin at the time. He kept busy, and in fact got work from some big-name artists. When Willie Nelson's guitar (which he named "Trigger") had its bridge broken in airplane travel, the guitar was brought to Roland for a quick emergency fix. Roland stayed up all night to finish building a new bridge for the guitar. He points to a picture of the guitar today and notes with satisfaction that his bridge is still on the famous guitar. 

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Roland's expertise with guitars grew as he worked on and handled hundreds and even thousands of instruments. He says he can look at a line of guitars hanging on a wall and tell just by looking which ones are likely to have the best sound. As he developed his skills and acquired tools, Roland also collected sets of high-quality woods for the guitars he intended to build. For the tops, he found wood from a 200-plus-year-old European spruce tree grown on the foothills of the Alps so that it would have the slow, even growth necessary to produce the dense grain that is the hallmark of a high-quality guitar. For the back and sides, he collected magnificent sets of Brazilian Rosewood, material highly prized by instrument makers not only for its beauty but also for the bell-like sound quality it produces. Today, such fine sets of Brazilian Rosewood are scarce since Brazil no longer allows the wood to be exported in raw form.

He also collected measurements of guitars with particularly good sound qualities, and catalogued them.When he felt ready, in 1976, he sold his repair shop and launched into his dream.

Roland built one guitar. 

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Celest

 The process, he says, was far more difficult and demanding than he had thought. And for a young man planning on getting married, it didn't look to be a career that would quickly support a family. Roland married his wife. Melissa, and the two of them moved to her home area of Central Pennsylvania. Roland spent 30 years as a kitchen designer, still working with wood in creative ways.

Now he's retired.The high-quality woods he collected have been stored all these years, weighted to keep them flat, their ends waxed to keep moisture from warping them. And the time has come for Roland, in his basement workshop, to build his guitars.  

His first handmade guitar has only recently been finished. You can hear him talk about the process in our audio feature above. And you can hear him play a bit on the guitar, which he has named Celest. 

 

 

 

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  • RBA img 2015-01-23 13:57

    We are very fortunate Roland and Melissa chose to live and raise their family
    Mechanicsburg PA! Much thanks to Roland for sharing his story and his gift with the community and our Congratulations on his retirement!
    Thank you, sir.

  • Frank img 2016-03-19 03:18