Leo Posch | 2009 | Luthier Interview
TT – So Leo, how did you get into repairing and building?
LP – Well, I was always a tinkerer as far back as I can remember. You know, taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together, that kind of thing .So when I started playing guitar and banjo of course I had to “fiddle around” with them too.
Especially since I couldn’t afford something that was perfect from the start. So then when I got tired of doing my lawn mowing in order to pay for my music hobby I ended up falling into a job at the local music store and got started doing set ups and small stuff like that.
So then when I wanted a good banjo the choices were pretty slim and expensive so I decided to build my own using Liberty parts for the pot and a chunk of mahogany that one of my coworkers just gave me. That first banjo was in 1980.
TT – It was the repair work which led to the building?
LP – Yes. Especially with guitar because I had done repair for over 25 years before I really considered actually making a guitar.
TT – And was it a big step up?
LP – There were some new techniques to learn and some new tools and jigs to make. But I really enjoy trying new things and making tools, so it was more of just an extension than a step up.
TT – Coming from that background, are your instruments entirely based on the classics or have you given them new features?
LP – That’s a complicated question. I would say that my instruments are inspired by the great classics and made in a style reminiscent of those. However, modern players require certain details like playability, intonation, road worthiness, comfort, etc. that any modern builder has to also keep in mind. That’s the short answer, I guess.
TT – How about materials and the finish? Some folks are moving towards varnish finishes…
LP – Materials and finish? First I have to mention that in all the time I’ve been working on
instruments my favorites have always been
from the late 1920s to the end of the 1930s.
Not always the highest grade woods, by the way.
So red spruce tops, I actually haven’t made an instrument with anything else. Brazilian rosewood, of course, is great. Honduran rw and Madagascar rw are two great alternatives to Braz. They can make an incredible sounding guitar without breaking the bank. I love mahogany guitars. There are a lot more woods out there that I’d like to experiment with. Ebony fingerboards and bridges, it is strong, tough, beautiful.
Stainless steel frets are long lasting. Waverly tuners usually. Hide glue. That’s pretty much the glue I use for about everything. I love it when things are designed and made to be worked on or taken apart and put back together. Whenever I use hide glue I know that if the joint needs to be taken apart it will be much easier to do than with any other glue.
Right now my finishing process consists of sealing the instrument with rubbed (french polished) shellac. Top coats with nitro lacquer. I’m not a fan of varnish because it is more difficult to repair. I think the thickness (thinness) of the finish is much more important than what the actual finish is.
I’ve been doing this repair and building thing as a full time job now for most of my life. I like to say that I learn from my mistakes and I’ve learned a heck of a lot. I’ve also learned from every person I’ve worked for and each instrument I’ve worked on. Its funny, most of the time it doesn’t seem like work, I’m just playing in the shop all day, sometimes I get so caught up in it its hard to pull myself away (or my wife or kids to pull me away).
TT – I know this one is hard, but in what ways do you feel the honduran and madagascan rosewood differ from Brazilian?
LP – To me Brazilian rw has a very sparkly high end overtone and is very deep and clear in the bass. Honduran rw has a little more glassy sound in the high end, still deep and clear in the bass. Madagascar rw seems not quite so glassy high, very rich in the bass. Of course these are my observations on the guitars I have built. Someone else could get a totally different result or hear things differently.
TT – About mahogany and other woods…
LP – I love mahogany guitars. Something about that crisp, dry, punchy sound, it’s just great. There are so many other woods available now, where to start? I’m ready to try everything.
TT – I’ve been hearing more and more about the sitka bracing on the adirondack tops for the prewar martins, has this been your experience when doing the repair work on those guitars?
LP – I don’t know about the sitka bracing, to tell the truth I guess I hadn’t paid that much attention to what wood the braces are on those oldies. I will be looking at that very soon.
TT – What about bling? What’s your take on the more fancy 42 and 45 styles?
LP – I can’t tell that there is any sound difference due to fancy inlay. That’s what we really care about isn’t it? 😉 I really love the way a 42 style guitar looks, just enough bling without being gaudy like a banjo. I’ve always been drawn to subtle beauty, like the way a late 20s 00-28 looks.
TT – Where do you see the guitar industry going over these next few years with the recession?
LP – My crystal ball is very cloudy. There are so many issues at what seems to be some kind of turning point. Certain woods are being outlawed, becoming unavailable or very expensive. Other new woods are being “discovered” and used.
There are more new builders than ever. New builders have an amazing array of advantages that 10 years ago would have seemed unlikely: Specialized wood suppliers, new tools, educational websites, publications, books, videos, pre made parts, custom made parts, the list goes on and on. I guess I have an old timers fear that the younger folks are going to lose touch with what it actually means to cut down a tree, feel a handplane working with you or sharpen a chisel to razor sharp by hand with nothing but a whetstone. I think I’m getting off subject here…
But if we take all these ingredients, throw them in with a big helping of this crazy economy, stir stir stir I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to try to keep making the best guitars, banjos and mandolins I can. Keep doing the repairs I want to do. And hope for the best.
TT – Any words of advice for aspiring luthiers?
LP – To aspiring luthiers:
Get your hands on some wood.
Hold it, smell it, bend it, taste it, chisel it, tap it, hammer it, glue it.
Read everything you can.
Talk to people who’s work you admire.
Talk to people who’s work you don’t admire.
Talk to players.
Talk to people who know absolutely nothing about music but know a whole lot about anything else.
Find an old beater and practice making it play well, fret it, make a new bridge, reset the neck, whatever.
Do some wood or metal working unrelated to instruments.
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