Craftsmanship in Motion: Irvin Guitars
Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Far and away, the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” It is with this sentiment that we are featuring this series of profiles in craftsmanship. Photo essays of passion, dedication, sweat, and an obsession with detail. In the same manner we approach shoemaking, these talented creators and makers are proving that design can be simultaneously timeless AND original.
If you think about it, it’s not often that an artist pours absolutely everything into a body of work just so another artist can use it to create their own art.
But as a luthier who got his first guitar when he was 6 years old and now specializes in building custom steel-string acoustic guitars, Wayne Johnson lives for the sound.
“I like the idea that I’m building something that’s going to become such a memory for the guy or gal who’s playing it, and draw significant people around them like family or friends,” he says. “I try to build a guitar like it’s going to be mine. Every ounce of sweat, blood, and tears, and love and passion that’s going in because I want it to sound so rich and good.”
In his workshop overlooking the Puget Sound, creating that “Irvin sound” is quite simply a work of art in itself. It’s a precision operation full of custom-made tools and impeccable organization, as Wayne finds every opportunity to add his signature. Every detail, every angle, and every cut helps create his unique sound.
I like the idea that I’m building something that’s going to become such a memory for the guy or gal who’s playing it.
– Wayne Irvin Johnson, luthier
“I get a real rush of tapping the wood, hearing the musical tonality of the woods that I’ve chosen,” he says, noting that the Pacific Northwest has some of the best-sounding top woods in the world. “That creates a real surge of, ‘I want to get this together. I want strings on this and find out what’s going to happen.’
“I think that’s what’s helped me as a builder,” he adds. “I think you can be a good craftsman, but it’s all about the sound. This community wants a guitar to just captivate their soul when they play it. In the custom world, you’ll hear, ‘Well that’s an Olson sound, that’s a Somogyi sound, that’s a Traugott sound.’ I hope they’re going to say, ‘That’s an Irvin sound, and that’s what I want.’”
Such pursuit of perfection, absolute attention to every detail, and a passionate approach to bringing innovation to an age-old craft, it all sounds beautiful to us.