The 1970s were a pivotal time in guitar lutherie. The 1960s had seen the folk boom where demand for acoustic guitars had exceeded the production capacity of the combined American instrument manufacturers. Gibson, Fender, Guild and Martin ramped up production to meet demand. Larger, multi-national Corporations saw the potential profits and wanted to get a piece of the action: Companies like AMF, CMI, Baldwin and Norlin decided it was time to get into the guitar business. To meet the public demand, they moved to produce more guitars. They found clever new ways to simplify the manufacturing process and through greater efficiency, meet demand and make more money. Unfortunately, the instruments got cheaper, sounded worse, and didn’t hold up. From a collector’s perspective, the late 1960s and 1970s are the low points for American guitar manufacturing.
The consequence was predictable: The public developed a new interest in vintage instruments – they sounded better, were readily available, inexpensive and had an antique vibe. What could be better than owning a Gibson Southerner Jumbo like Woody Guthrie played? Pre-War Martins acquired a new and devoted following; the list goes on and on.
Also, emerging out of the “Whole Earth Catalog” generation of the 1960s was a significant group of people that saw value in working natural materials with their hands. They moved to revive the ancient art of lutherie. What higher calling could there be than to fashion musical instruments out of natural materials, devoted to the purpose of artistic expression both in the craft of assembly and the performance-art of music? Making music was the gentle emotional expression of the era as a nation patiently waited for its soldiers to return from Vietnam.
The fact that the major manufacturers were not producing their highest quality work opened the door for individual builders to fill the void. Builders like Augustino LoPrinzi, Michael Gurian, Nick Kukich, Jean Larrivee and others to follow; they quietly stepped into the void and started at the ground level: a few guitars at a time and slowly developing a devoted following.
Nick Kukich started the Franklin Guitar Company in Portland Oregon with one employee: himself.
He developed a build style that focused on some of the great American guitars of the 20th century: Jumbos, Prairie States and OMs. His guitars found a following in fingerstyle players due to his low-profile necks and slightly wider fingerboards allowing easier fingerstyle playing. The rosettes and inlay work were non-traditional by Jean Munro – beautifully resolved MOP diamond patterns adding character and ‘flash’ to the instruments. Nick wasn’t opposed to experimenting with exotic American woods and built numerous guitars with striking wood sets.
The work was picked up by Stephan Grossman and John Renborn of Pentangle and received good public exposure as Pentangle grew in popularity.
Nick stopped building in the early 1990s but has since started again on a waiting-list basis.
Known Guitar Styles:
- Prairie State Jumbo
- Franklin Jumbo
- Replica of Stella 12 strings
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ⓒ 2008, Leonard Wyeth