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Instruments Known for Quality, Unusual Shapes : Guitar Maker Carves His Design on Pop Music

May 09, 1985|BOB BAKER | Times Staff Writer

"It's exciting to sit down with someone and not know what you're gonna come up with . . . a completely unique instrument that never existed before. When you confront a guitar player, they all have ideas, but they're hesitant about asking me 'cause they think I'm gonna laugh at them.

"I've played so many guitars and listened to so many guitar players--that's where I've learned so much from, trying to poke in there and get certain adjectives from them, about what kind of sound they're trying to get, trying to get them to impart a little bit of what they know."

Developing the critical relationships that determine the instrument's quality and tone--the thickness of the sides, the thinness of the top, the dimensions of the braces--is a process Ferrington says is largely intuitive.

"That's just where good sculpture and good art come together. It's one of those things like walking, where you don't think about it. You develop certain instincts. You couldn't tell Willem de Kooning where to put a big blue swipe. He just puts it there.

'Rapport You Get With Wood'

"I think of guitars as being sculptures. There's real rapport you get with wood. When I make a musical instrument, it has to have a certain amount of life to it. It has to have a sensual feel to it. It has to have a certain resonance. If I let down in any of those areas, I've failed."

Ferrington prides himself on "functional art." When one guitar required a flying horse, he found a Mobil station and convinced an attendant to cut the oil company emblem off an old air filter.

Recently, Axton asked Ferrington to solve the annoying problem of playing guitar on a bus or airplane: The neck of the instrument tends to jut out into the aisle, tripping folks. Ferrington's response was a $3,000 "bus guitar," about half the size of a normal guitar but built solidly enough to be tuned to concert specifications.

On his workbench one recent day was another, similarly sized guitar Ferrington had built for Ronstadt, featuring inlaid mother-of-pearl bunnies and blossoms. Somebody asked if that, too, was a bus guitar.

"Nah," Axton interrupted. "That's a Lear guitar."

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