Santa Cruz County Art of Guitar Exhibit and Festival celebrates the aesthetic and sonic beauty of the instrument
We tend to think of the world’s great guitar players as more than just musicians. They are artists. According to Jayme Kelly Curtis, the same goes for the world’s best guitar makers—many of whom live and work in Santa Cruz.
Curtis, the pioneering force behind the first-ever Santa Cruz County Art of Guitar Exhibit and Festival, wants to celebrate the creators of those “exquisite works of functional art” we call guitars. The festival, which runs Feb. 1 through March 15, will showcase more than 20 of “the world’s most admired guitar builders”—all of them local.
Over the course of the festival, Santa Cruz guitar makers—or “luthiers”—will display their creations. They will also participate in panel discussions and open their studios to the public. Films on lutherie will be screened, and musicians will play the works of these craftsman in live performances.
Curtis originally had the idea for the festival while at a music trade show in Las Vegas. While there, she came upon the booth of the well-known Santa Cruz Guitar Company, which had a very ornate guitar on display, protected from the surrounding convention by a clear acrylic case.
She was taken with the idea that this humble instrument of troubadours and folk strummers could be, in and of itself, a work of art.
That was about six years ago. Since then, Curtis has been working on the idea of a guitar festival, and this year it is finally happening.
“It’s a beautiful idea,” says Richard Hoover, founder of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company, and one of the festival’s featured luthiers.
Hoover has been building guitars and other stringed instruments for 44 years, and has been making a living as a luthier for 37. Some of the world’s best-known guitarists have come to his shop in search of a custom acoustic guitar, including Patti Smith, Dave Matthews and Robert Plant.
He says they come to him because he has mastered the science of tuning every guitar he makes—from the headstock, through the neck, all the way down through the body. Hoover explains that he does this by choosing materials with complementary resonant frequencies, so that when the player plucks a note or strums a chord, the entire instrument vibrates in harmony with itself.
Musicians like Smith, Matthews and Plant come to Hoover not only because his instruments are expertly crafted to produce beautiful tunes, he says, but because his guitars are also beautiful to behold.
“You could make the best-sounding guitar the world has ever seen, but if it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing you wouldn’t get to market,” he says.
Hoover’s work will be on display on Feb. 9 at Don Quixote’s, where there will also be a concert featuring Muriel Anderson and Steve Palazzo.
All of the luthiers working in Santa Cruz excel at making guitars and other stringed instruments that are handsome and wonderfully harmonious.
Charles Sutton is certainly aware of the important connection between creating guitars that are physically attractive as well as sonically interesting. A member of the board of directors of the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival and the Santa Cruz Art League, Sutton is also an expert luthier and flamenco singer who splits his time between Spain and Santa Cruz.
“I came out of retirement to participate in this guitar festival,” says Sutton, who has been building guitars since 1979.
He will host an exhibit on classical and baroque guitars and other instruments at the Santa Cruz Art League from Feb. 21-23. He will also perform under his stage name, Carlitos de Santa Cruz, along with flamenco guitarist, Guillermo Rios, at the Art League on Feb. 23.
For Sutton, Curtis’ festival is vital for the local arts community. “I think it’s very important to promote the idea of Santa Cruz being an important center of lutherie,” he says.
The Santa Cruz County Art of Guitar Exhibit and Festival runs Feb. 1-March 15 at various locations throughout town. For the complete event schedule, visit purrgirl.com/aog.
Opening reception of the Guitar Exhibit: R. Blitzer Gallery. Saturday, February 1, 5-9pm. 2801 Mission Street Extension, Santa Cruz.
Credits: Photo of luthier Kenny Hill is by Renee Flower. The photo of luthier Scott Walker is by Jim MacKenzie.