Musicians complete art apprenticeshipAugust 4, 2011
Guitar maker Christopher Zambelli, a master artist in the West Virginia Folk Art Apprenticeship Program, has completed a project through teaching apprentice Seth Marstiller the processes used in making a dreadnaught-style acoustic guitar. Both men are from Beverly, and Marstiller, a recent graduate of Elkins High School, now works at Armstrong Flooring.
Over a course of about 12 months, Zambelli taught Marstiller the many aspects of producing an excellent-sounding Martin D-18 style guitar. Marstiller has kept a detailed notebook of all the operations and stages of guitar making, from rough sawing to fine finishing.
The soundboard or top of the guitar they built is red spruce, harvested locally by Zambelli, and according to many, the finest wood anywhere for making good-sounding acoustic guitars. Instrument makers from all over the eastern United States and beyond have sought out West Virginia red spruce for their instrument making. Old-timers called the red spruce "yew pines." It only grows at altitudes above 4,000 feet, so Cheat Mountain, Allegheny Mountain and other higher ridges from Tucker to Pocahontas counties have red spruce growing on their highest reaches. While very little virgin spruce still exists, a few large trees may be seen on Gaudineer Knob near the Randolph-Pocahontas County line.
As is traditional on D-18 style guitars, aside from the spruce top, the body and neck are made from mahogany. Both Zambelli and Marstiller are excellent guitar players and both are extremely happy about how the guitar sounds - the most important aspect of any guitar. Aside from the sound, Zambelli's fine woodworking is flawless on his numerous recently made guitars, and by carefully working under his direction, Marstiller's guitar exhibits the same degree of workmanship.
Gerald Milnes, of the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College, coordinates the West Virginia Folk Art Apprenticeship Program. He said that this apprenticeship shows how the program is supposed to work. Experienced artists, in this case a luthier (instrument maker), has passed on numerous guitar making techniques and construction methods to a much younger apprentice. This ensures that another generation will have that knowledge. Marstiller has kept copious notes throughout their work together of all the various processes and with the experience of actually doing the physical work, is capable of producing guitars himself. Through more experience, he has the tools at hand to craft finely made guitars that could be in demand by future generations of players.
The West Virginia Folk Art Apprenticeship Program is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and is administered by the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College.
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