Sophie Says: Music

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Gramps Says When you are walking through Walnut Park you might hear strange music coming from the direction of an old timer sitting on a bench. Oddly there is no musical instrument in sight and if you approach him the music will stop. He is friendly enough and will chatter freely in the Spanish tongue. If you gain his confidence he will reveal his secret. He will show you a plant leaf, and with that simple instrument properly folded between his lips, he is able to produce ethereal music.

There is another man in town that makes much more complex musical instruments and he can play them and teach you to play them as well. His name is Al and he is the proprietor of Arc Guitar. Al’s shop is not like other music stores you may have visited. There are no racks upon racks of instruments on display for retail sale. What you find are tables with templates for guitars, various hand tools and electric driven tools,   clamps, wood cut in various shapes and partially completed instruments. On some visits you may see several men moving about the shop with tools or wood in hand. At other times you will see a guitar or ukulele student learning his chords.

For a fee and using the equipment in the shop, Al will teach you how to make your own hand crafted guitar. As an example, Everett just completed a classical guitar which he sent off to someone else. He is now making a steel string guitar for himself. Everett says it takes 300-400 hours to complete a guitar. He speaks fondly of some of the exotic and rare woods that he has acquired for his instruments. When you examine the perfection of the finished product you get a sense of the painstaking skill that is required to cut, mold and fit the wood of a high quality instrument. 

Al lives in Winters. He states that he was ‘discovered’ by John Pickeral, who lives nearby. John persuaded him to start a shop of his own in a building that he owns. Al tore out the plaster board on the north wall to expose the original brick, put in new flooring and completed other renovations that, ”were a lot of work.”

Al has been working with guitars for about 20 years and has been in business at this location for 12 years. He is now teaching his 89th student. He also repairs and renovates instruments. During a year Al will build a couple of guitars himself.

Sophie Says Al’s got it figured out. He doesn’t have to commute to the Bay Area or anywhere else, which probably adds 10 years to his life. He can set his own hours and he gets to enjoy music and do something that gives him pleasure and the satisfaction of accomplishment. Now, if he could take an afternoon nap like I do, I would say he would be in the Garden of Eden.

The only guy who’s got one up on Al is the man on the park bench with the leaf.


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