Lester Devoe is a world class luthier out of California, who specializes in classical and flamenco guitars. At a young age, Lester listened to the current rock and roll and pop music that had a grip on America, but he also liked classical and ethnic music. After taking a few classical guitar lessons and seeing his friends elaborate collection of classical guitars, Lester tried his hand in building his own guitar. It took him around a year to build his first one and it came out real nice. Knowing that he could make improvement here and there, he built a second guitar. One of his friends offered him $400 for it and his career of building high quality guitars had begun. Lester uses the world's finest wood available and now has a reputation around the world of a master luthier. Many top notch classical guitarist's have used his instruments such as: Paco De Lucia, Vicente Amigo, Sabicas, Pavel Steidl, Pepe Romers and others. I recently corresponded with Lester.
R.V.B. - When growing up on the west coast. What kind of music were you exposed to? With the great rock, jazz and folk music scene there, how did you get interested in classical music?
L.D. - Our family moved from Virginia, where I was born in 1951, to California in 1962. The music I liked in the 60's were the Beatles and surf music. My older brother had some rock albums that I heard over and over again but I never purchased a record for myself. Music was not that important to me in those years. Towards the end of college and during my early teaching career, I listened to classical and ethnic music, eventually focusing on the the classical and flamenco guitar. I had a good friend who took up the classical guitar and that interested me enough to take lessons myself.
R.V.B. - Did you have any previous woodworking experience before attempting to build your own guitars?
L.D. - My only training in woodworking was 7th grade wood shop. My fascination with flying and airplanes led me to build a number of wooden models of airplanes and gliders. Also, I did some carving and learned how to sharpen hand woodworking tools.
R.V.B. - How did you gain your basic luthier experience and were your first guitars successful or was there a learning curve where things may not have gone as planned?
L.D. - My luthier experience was by trial and error, always learning something from each guitar I made. I followed a book, Classical Guitar Construction by Irving Sloane and was self taught. The great opportunity I had was to study the guitars of my friends collection of most all of the great guitars in history from Antonio Torres on. The school of design I favored most was through Torres, Manuel Ramirez and Santos Hernandez. The guitars of these masters were my inspiration and teachers. I didn't try to re-invent the guitar so my first guitars were very good. The second guitar I made was purchased by a professional flamenco guitarist. After only 7 years of building part time, my instruments were discovered by the great flamenco guitarist, Sabicas, the best guitarist of his generation and one of the legends in the art of flamenco.
R.V.B. - Did you have to travel abroad to find the right wood for your guitars or were there distributers who carried it locally.
L.D. - My friend with the guitar collection sold me some nice aged wood for my first guitars and when he passed away, I purchased his stock. When that was gone I started taking regular trips to Europe to find German spruce and Spanish cypress. Local distributers furnished me with high quality Indian and Brazilian rosewood.
R.V.B. - How long of a process was it from the idea of building your own guitars, to the reality of getting the right tools and jigs to make guitars to your liking - to opening a store to sell them?
L.D. - It took a full year to make my first guitar. Fortunately, I was substitute teaching at the time and was able to use the various schools wood shop machines to make my molds, jigs, clamps, bending forms and tools. My intention was just to build a nice guitar for myself, not being able to afford a hand made instrument. After finishing my first guitar, I knew I could do a better job if I made another one. I wasn't thinking of selling them but was offered $400.00 for my second guitar. That was two months rent at the time in 1976. I kept making guitars for myself but someone always wanted to buy them from me, good players, so my reputation grew rapidly. I have never had a store, always working out of my home, selling directly for the first few years and eventually through dealers in various countries.
R.V.B. - As word started spreading that your guitars were world class, did famous classical guitarists come in to your shop?
L.D. - Many famous artists have visited my shop but I like living in the country, away from cities, so not as many visitors as if I had a store in a populated area.
R.V.B. - Did you ever travel to any exotic country to watch a master play one of your guitars?
L.D. - Yes. Biarritz, Paris, Madrid, Sevilla, Cordoba, London and Prague.
R.V.B. - Is there any issues these days with political correctness to get the fine woods that made a great sounding guitar?
L.D. - It is difficult to purchase Brazilian rosewood. My supply will last me the rest of my life but I cannot export a guitar with parts of Brazilian rosewood due to international laws.
R.V.B. - how many different models of guitars do you offer, and how
many do you produce in a year?
L.D. - I make flamenco and classical guitars with a variety of wood combinations that account for different models but all models are the best quality. So, I do not make student guitars or 2nd class models.
My annual production is 20 to 24 guitars.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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