The Creationists

Building Pat Metheny’s guitars with Linda Manzer

February 17, 2020 Steve Waxman / Linda Manzer Season 1 Episode 4
The Creationists
Building Pat Metheny’s guitars with Linda Manzer
Chapters
The Creationists
Building Pat Metheny’s guitars with Linda Manzer
Feb 17, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Steve Waxman / Linda Manzer

Linda Manzer is a Canadian luthier who has built custom instruments for hundreds of musicians around the world including Carlos Santana, Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot. Her most notable association though is with Pat Metheny who has commissioned over 20 guitars from Linda including the unique (bizarre) 42 string Pikasso guitar.

In this episode, Linda talks about discovering her life's calling, dealing with government regulations on endangered woods and building cardboard air guitars.

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creation podcast on Facebook. Let us know who you’d like to be featured on future episodes of The Creationists: [email protected] 

Show Notes Transcript

Linda Manzer is a Canadian luthier who has built custom instruments for hundreds of musicians around the world including Carlos Santana, Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot. Her most notable association though is with Pat Metheny who has commissioned over 20 guitars from Linda including the unique (bizarre) 42 string Pikasso guitar.

In this episode, Linda talks about discovering her life's calling, dealing with government regulations on endangered woods and building cardboard air guitars.

To see more materials related to each episode of The Creationists, follow @thecreationistspodcast on Instagram or "Like" The Creation podcast on Facebook. Let us know who you’d like to be featured on future episodes of The Creationists: [email protected] 

spk_0:   0:02
Welcome to the Creationist, a podcast about people who create I'm your host, Steve Waxman. Back in the early eighties, my brother showed up with house with a brand new guitar. When he lifted it out of the case. The word Mansour was beautifully inlaid in the guitars. Head stock Theo guitarist creator Linda Mansour would eventually become world renowned, building custom instruments for Carlos Santana, Gordon Lightfoot, Bruce Coburn and, most famously, Pat Metheny. As a matter of fact, it's for Matheny that Linda built the Picasso guitar, a 42 string monster that defies description.

spk_1:   0:34
Remember when I strung it up the first time I wore safety goggles in case it started exploding? I mean, I was terrified. It's like, What have I done? I had a sense that this was a guitar that was goingto follow me around for the rest of my life. Like this was a turning point. Might created a controversy, and then in Pat's hands, he created magic and beauty, so I knew he would do whatever I gave him. He would

spk_0:   0:59
adapt. I met up with Linda at her studio, downtown Toronto. The front room was filled with guitar cases and the backroom carried the strong smell of freshly cut wood. In between is her workshop, and on the bench was a guitar talk that she was shaping for Pat. Metheny is latest order starters, one that is actually on the bench. I'm actually working on right now is an art stuff guitar making apathy, and it's a very large guitar. It's an arch top. It's a very big one. He wants it to be big and loud, and I've been working on it for months and months, just shaking this part. It partly you have been going really slowly. You can see I hold it up to the light. You can see the shadows. And if you look really carefully where scribbled isn't actually a high spot Okay, you can see there's a shadow there, right? Just just if you get just the right angle and this is I'm just carving it. So took sounds, because tapping and light are the tools I use listening and and shadows for art shops in particular. Do you? Do you want the residents to sort of be the same all the way around? Is that the idea yet when you're happy, you so I'm holding the guitar top upside down, uh, in the middle with my fingers. Sort of like touching it as little as possible. And I'm tapping on the outside room with my finger and I'm moving around. I don't know if you can hear the difference. I can because my ear is right beside it. I can hear the lower frequencies. If you've been a microphone up a little closer here, that should be a difference that your audience here and then where's higher? It's actually denser. See the difference? You can. Sure, you can hear that. That's just and that's what you're listening for. As you carve wood. It's like when you carve. Would you take what away? It lowers the frequency. Just one piece of wood? No, this is two pieces of wood. There's Ah, line right down the middle. So So what's called Book matched. So it it comes out of the tree Here. I'll leave. Come this way. Uh, got an ax. Don't be afraid. And if you look here, you can see I've already split one section here.

spk_1:   3:34
And then the green line goes like this. Yeah. So what I want to do is I want to split. This would

spk_0:   3:40
on a right angle is, I don't usually do this, and I never do it in front of an audience. So if I cut my foot off, I'm about to hit a piece of wood. Here we go. The axe did its job, so that split. And that shows you that that means that when I'm using this on a guitar might actually use this on Pat's guitar and I'll just cut it on. The band saw. Now migraine is at right angles to the split split wood sounds better than would. That isn't split that because you don't know that if you're Vance was following a grain line, a natural green line or not. So in other words, the path from one end of the wood to the other is the most direct with split wood. So you get the fastest reaction, and I would what would be called the faster attack. It's amazing all the wood I keep. I never think all this is a piece of junk, and then 30 years later it's fantastic compared to what I can buy nowadays, because we used to be, so we have so much would we were so particular we could be so fussy and and get rid of wood for the smallest flaw and think it was faulted or something. And now you can't get wood even close to some of the worst would we would reject is now considered some of the best wood, and the other types of wood, like Indian rosewood, are Brazilian. Rosewood were very plentiful when I started 40 years ago, 45 years ago, but now they're endangered. Um, Brazilian is now completely banned unless you have a permit for it. Um, if you have pre existing stock like I do, I have it's grandfather, so I'm allowed to use it. If I ship a guitar out of Canada with an endangered species, it has to have ah, certificate from the Canadian government stating that the wood is legally obtained by me and that will be sent to the broker in the country is going to, and their government will decide whether to accept it or not. For instance, I just did this with Indian rosewood going to Poland and the broker that the end had to approve. It took about a month for him from the moment it left me to the moment he got it. And you know, you worry about the guitar getting damaged if they actually start to inspect it or which they don't usually. But it's a bit of a crapshoot is kind of in flux right now because they just lifted the ban on Indian rosewood for guitars but not Brazilian rosewood. So if you have a guitar with Brazilian Rosewood in it, which a lot of the sixties guitars do, because there was no issue with it in the sixties, uh, that there could be problems. But generally speaking, the customs don't care if you only get our that. Occasionally, they they get fussy about it. But they generally know that if you have a guitar with it already in it, that is probably was pre is grandfather in some way, so they're not too fussy about that. But somebody like me who makes guitars they're on the lookout for somebody like me making a guitar, and I'm I bought. You know, they're wondering if I bought the guitar legal would legally or not. So the end this all has happened in my career lifetime. So I've watched it go from plentiful too, you know, on a on a watch list to endangered to completely illegal and mean eating, you know, stamp, paper, work. So and it's all for the same piece of wood that I bought, you know, 40 years ago. So it's just gone from not, you know, that much fuss about it, too. Incredible fuss about it, So but I've registered all my wood with the Canadian government. So where did you grow up?

spk_1:   7:15
I grew up in Toronto, went to a couple our colleges, and but as a teenager, I was a folk singer with all my friends were into folk music. You know, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young. All those people were the stars at the time and still are, Um, and I was a pretty bad folk singer. As a teenager, I went to see Joni Mitchell performing, and she's playing on a dulcimer, which is a lap instrument. It's an appellation Lapin Straight folk instrument. I went to buy one because I you know I needed one in my arsenal. If I was going to be a good Joni Mitchell clone, and I went to the store to buy it was too expensive. $150. And so the fellow in the store convinced me to buy a kit, which was half the price. So I took the kid home and, you know, thank you to him for pushing me because I was sure I couldn't do it. And he actually had to talk me into it when home made it in the moment I put strings on there was this magic moment of I had created the singing brought it to life and that was the seed of my building instruments. So I made a few more del summers when I went to Art college, but it was a painter, but I kept finding myself in the woodworking shop. And then, in my second art college, I decided that I wanted to focus on what was it that I really wanted to do because I was a painter. I was not a great folk singer. I was, uh, in the woodworking shop, making these little instruments, and I decided the thing that would combine all these things are music and working with my hands was building instruments. So I saw a teacher, and that was John Cloud layer of and I basically bugged him until he hired me. He was resistant to hiring a woman in 1974 because that was 1974 and there's all men working in a shop. And luckily, I grew up with two older brothers, so I was able to realize that he didn't really mean it when he said, I'm a male show veniste on the phone and I could hear his wife laughing in the background. I thought, Well, it can't be that bad if she's laughing. So I said, I don't care if you don't care. And I got hired and I stayed with him for three and 1/2 years and later he wasn't a male chauvinist. In fact, there was an incident that happened that involved some sexism against me. And I, uh, he he actually took a very courageous course and in my favor, which cost him and, you know, he deserves a huge amount of credit for that because that could have been the end of my career right there. And he supported me. Well,

spk_0:   9:47
how did how did you find him?

spk_1:   9:49
I heard there was a man I was in Halifax studying at the Nova Scotia College of art and design. And I'd heard there was a guy in Toronto who made guitarists and probably is the only guy in Canada making guitars. And I was also told he had a list as long as his arm of people want to work for him. So I shouldn't even bother. Which, of course, made me slightly more determined. And so I like, I say, I bugged until he hired me. And probably in a weird way, that's like a very good trait to have as an employee is being that determined. And maybe he saw that in me and hired me because of that. And I ended up being, you know, very I did. I had no knowledge of woodworking tools at all when I started, Um, I mean, I was afraid of them, and he I worked up my way up through the ranks till I became his senior apprentice before I left. So and we built about 1500 flat top guitars while I was there and I in the last year. So I was the one who strike did all the tops, which is kind of one of the more important parts of it of the guitar because that's where all the sound comes from. That's determines how a guitar will sound to a large degree. So So

spk_0:   10:59
when did you open up your shop?

spk_1:   11:01
1978. I came back from Victoria to Toronto and opened up my shop on. I shared it with the lute maker Michael Shriner at the time. You know that point being a guitar maker was kind of signing an oath of poverty. You did it because you loved it. And that was the way it was for the 1st 89 years. But then, during that time, I started to get well known clients who I was building instruments for And that, when that happens to you, is a guitar builder that instills faith in what you're doing to potential clients so they know you're safe. If Carlos Santana likes your guitar, then you must be okay. So there's a degree of trust and then that snowballs. Uh, then I made a guitar for Gordon Lightfoot for happen, Seanie, Briscoe, Burn. Those are all people that I worked with in the early stages of my career. So

spk_0:   11:56
how did it start? What was the first celebrity guitar

spk_1:   11:59
that you was Carlos Santana on DDE. That was kind of by accident because his drummer and wife bought ordered a guitar from me as a surprise Christmas present for Santana. I had taken a road trip across North America, ended up in San Francisco and it's crashed that her him in Sandy Leers house, which was the guest house on Santana's property. So I was there for a couple nights, but I met sent in at that time, and I was on my way to Victoria Toe continue studying, working with Jean Claude. So that was my route was via San Francisco, Cisco to Victoria and S O they I met him and they decided be, you know, nice thing to give him as a present was one of my guitarists, which, when he got it, he started playing it and almost immediately happened to be interviewed by Guitar Player magazine. And he mentioned be in the article, which was kind of for me, absolutely mind blowing, you know? I mean, just making him a guitar was mind blowing. Knowing I'm making a guitar for Carlos Santana as a surprise was kind of. It's kind of great that I actually had I didn't know enough to be completely ultimately terrified. I just kind of Oh, great. I'm making sent in a guitar. This is so exciting. But, you know, the truth is like, I kind of didn't really know what I was doing at the time. I was still an apprentice, but it was my guitar design. At that time it was it was actually the first of what I call the man's or model, which is my sort of flagship guitar. It's a steel string guitar so that he actually got the very, very 1st 1 when No, if he knows that, So that's

spk_0:   13:45
how did you, uh, meat or hook up with Pat Metheny?

spk_1:   13:50
I saw Pat Metheny performing with Joni Mitchell, and he was He did a guitar solo, and my earth changed on its axis when he started playing. I had not really been paying much attention to the band until he stepped forward into this solo, and I just completely musically connected with this whoever this person was, and I I started following his musically his music after that, rather obsessively. I just found everything he did, and they just so musically connected with him that was in 1978 or something. And in 1981 he came to Toronto and I went to his concert and sent a note backstage and his tour manager came and found me. It was just a kn invitation for him. Come and visit my shop, half a cup of tea and try some guitars. And he responded, and I went backstage and I met him and he was leaving later that night on the tour bus. They're all they just travel as soon as I can. And, ah, I went back to his hotel room with my then apprentice Peter from Denmark and his drummer, Danny Gottlieb, in the four of a satin hotel room until late into the night, and he played the concert over again and he ordered a guitar, and I delivered it about three months later in Syracuse, New York, And then I saw him about two weeks later, and he offered to endorse my guitars. So that was a huge Obviously, this. You know, Poppy that just came from the lair of a litter, too, had a huge endorsement like that from a player who I absolutely loved, and that began my relationship with Pat where? But once every time I saw me to order another guitar. So we're up to about 26 guitars, right? Yeah. And they're all innovative and different. And, you know, he would say, Can you make me a guitar that has. Well, the Picasso was about the fifth or sixth instrument I made him on, and he asked me for a guitar with his many strings as possible. That was it. That was the parameters I was to work under. And at this point, he's having fun. And I thought he wanted them all in a line so they would be just as many strings, you know, from the travel down to the base. And I just how is he gonna play that? And then he says he was talking to me. His hands kind of went in a windmill like, swirling around. He said no, like, all over the place. And so I thought, all you want some sticking out in all different directions. So that's when I started sending him drawings back and forth over about it took about five months to come up with the final design. There was no fax machines No, no. I

spk_0:   16:39
don't think there's a

spk_1:   16:40
fax machine at that time. There certainly was no Internet. So anything I sent him went by mail or by, you know, Priority Post or something. Um eventually came up with a life size version of it, which I folded. It was a cardboard versions folded up, put in a box and send it to New York in the studio. He took it out, and I had instructions how to stick it all together. It's an air guitar made out of cardboard. And I said, You tell me if this works, you know s so he's walking around, apparently playing air guitar, trying to figure out if it's the arms and everything's working and and we settled on that on. Then I built it and had 42 strings or two necks and then two other string sections to sand holes and two doors access doors so you could get in into the work on electronics. And it was also the first wedged instrument that I made, so that meant that it was the wedge came from the guitar being ableto lean back, and you could look over it and see what you're doing instead of, you know, looking at the strings on the edge and just being a, you know, a blur of strings. I wanted him to look down on the guitar, so I had the top lean back so he could see what he was doing. But it ended up being physically comfortable, which was an accident. And that's what actually everybody uses. The wedge for now is it's for comfort.

spk_0:   18:04
Had you or he figured out how it would be tuned.

spk_1:   18:08
No and no, no, no, we just got off. It was really an experiment. I mean, I kind of I remember when I strung it up the first time I wore safety goggles in case it started exploding. I mean, I was terrified. It's like, What have I done? I got what the interesting thing about it was because it took me so long to build it. I got really usedto how weird it waas and I, you know, you I just became accustomed to. There's a knack here, neck there. There's this that there. And then I took it into a music store in Toronto and I opened up the lid and it's huge. It's massive and I opened the lid and every person in the music store. It was in the back of Steve's music on Queen Street and every person. The music store somehow ended up in the little repair room staring at it, and they started to back away from it and has kind of had an out of body experience. And I realized I had created something. I had a sense that this was a guitar that was goingto follow me around for the rest of my life, like this was a turning point. I had created something that was highly amusing. The comments were, of course, funny and ridiculous and complimentary and insulting and, you know, it was sort of all over the map. I created a controversy, and then in Pat's hands, he created magic and beauty, so I knew he wouldn't, you know, whatever I gave him, he would adapt to. I had a sense that this was a guitar that was going to follow me around for the rest of my life, like

spk_0:   19:35
this was a turning point. I hope that you enjoyed this episode of the creationist. If you'd like to find out more about Linda Mansour, head over to mansur dot com, and you'll find plenty of videos of Pat Metheny playing his Picasso guitar all over YouTube. If you'd like to comment on this episode, offers suggestions for future episodes or just say hi thes e mail. The creation is podcast at gmail dot com. And if I could ask a favor, please don't forget to rate us on whatever platform you're listening on. And I'd really appreciate it if you could spread the word and share episodes with your friends. I'm Steve Waxman, and I created this podcast.