Newport Guitar Festival

Apr 24, 2008

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to my local NPR station, WLRN, and they were playing “South Florida Arts Beat” a show dedicated to informing the public about art and music events happening all over South Florida. I missed the first few minutes and Ed Bell’s guest was talking about a Guitar Festival coming to Miami Beach on April 11-13, 2008.

I thought that it was going to be some sort of open air concert, but I was mistaken. When the guest, the show’s promoter, said that it was going to be at the Miami Beach Convention Center, I thought hemeant the Jackie Gleason Theater next door. As it turns out, the Newport Guitar Festival is not a concert, but a Luthiers Convention.

From wikipedia: A luthier (IPA: /ˈljuːtiɚ/) is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The word luthier comes from the French word for lute, “luth”.

So this wasn’t a festival of guitar players, but of guitar makers. “Fascinating”, I thought. Here is a centuries old profession still thriving in the 21st century. The show was not to have any of the major manufacturers; this was all about luthiers who still make their insturments by hand.

Also, April in Miami-Dade County has a “Take Your Daughter to Work” Day, so I availed myself of the opportunity to introduce my 10 year old daughter to the less glamorous side of technical journalism – hoofing through a trade show. She was also my assistant photographer and did a fine showing for her first time out.

If you are a person who thinks “a guitar is a guitar” then you need to come to this show next year and be enlightened. That statement is as off as saying all cars are the same.

We were both amazed at the craftsmanship of the instruments on display there, some valued at over $30,000! Acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, lutes, and mandolins of all sizes, shapes and materials were on display.

Russ Strobel Guitars had their amazing Folding Guitars on display. These mini-instruments are full-featured electric guitars that can fit inside a standard briefcase! Their String Keeper System prevents the guitar strings from getting tangled. Bung a belt-mounted Danelectro HoneyTone Amp in the mix and you are ready to jam while you walk!

Genius.

This next part shows us what would’ve happened if Gregor Mendel majored in Woodshop instead of botany. Weird hybrid instuments like a guitar-harp, a banjolin, and a guitar-viola crossbreed shows the innovative spirit is still alive in this business.

Other guitars on display were works of art by themselves. The amount of detail in these instruments is staggering. Some were elegant, some were cool, some were whimsical and some were just plain weird.

First up, Blueberry Guitars enhances their aready beautiful guitars with relief carvings and embedded artwork in the frets. Horses run free and Chinese dragons snake their way around these masterworks.

Jeanfranco Gadotti of Gadotti Guitars, shows us designs that are thin, elegant, and almost Bauhaus in their simplicity. Various woods are combined to give a racy look to these finely crafted works. Small touches, like a magneticly mounted cap over the electronics (all powered by a 9-volt battery) keeps the lines of the guitar silky smooth.

Marlin Guitars shows us that whimsy has its place in guitar design as well. Now I know where Gwar goes for their instruments…

Jonathan Plant of Plant Guitars answers the question “What if Captain Nemo played an electric guitar instead of a pipe organ?” These instruments are works of art all by themselves, combining sculpture and instrumentality in one package.

Wow, some of this stuff was quite mind-blowing. Add to that the free mini-concerts (by folks with real talent) and the ability to try out any of the instuments there (behind the stands of course) and you have yourself the makings of a wonderful cultural experience.

I would like to thank the promoters for bringing this wonderful show to South Florida, WLRN for spreading the word, and my lovely daughter for humoring her dad ( and she may have actually learned something here, heh).

You can see the entire gallery of photos here.

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