Berkshire Stringed Instruments: North Adams luthiers offer hands-on guitar-making courses

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Video | Berkshire Stringed Instruments has opened in the Windsor Mill in North Adams

NORTH ADAMS - A lot of people know how to play the guitar, but few know how to make one.

Nick Lenski does both, and now he's hoping to teach others how to craft their own guitar. Or mandolin. Or even a ukulele.

And, he said, interest seems to be growing.

"There's always somebody who wants to do it," Lenski said.

Lenski, 34, owns Brier Road Guitars, the brand name under which he builds custom guitars, mandolins and ukuleles by hand. He also does repair work on stringed instruments.

Recently, he and Steve Sauvé, owner of guitar building and repair shop Sauvé Guitars, put their heads together and decided to launch a team-teaching enterprise through which they would help teach folks to make their own instruments next door to Sauvé's shop in the North Adams Windsor Mill.

They named it Berkshire Stringed Instruments School of Lutherie.

Lenski is the primary instructor. Sauvé, 60, steps in when needed.

Sauvé has been building and repairing guitars for more than 35 years.

He specializes in the traditional guitar, while Lenski specializes more in customized instruments, with different flares, inlays or exotic woods, depending on his customers' preferences.

"I'm a traditionalist," Sauvé said. "I build strictly traditional guitars, so we have different clienteles."

Handmade guitars are more of a rarity these days, when mass manufacturing has become so common. And very few can say that they made their own guitar.

Sauvé has an overall concern that the art of building guitars is slowly being lost, one of the reasons why he stays in the business and why he thinks its a good idea to let others have the experience.

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"I'm not going to be able to do this forever," he said. "But I think it would be a real shame if this craft went by the wayside."

Sauvé explained that the process of making a guitar is an exhausting, emotional journey.

"It's a huge accomplishment to make one of these things," he said. "And there is not a lot of money to be made doing this — it's something you do because you love to."

Brier Road Guitars start at $2,600. Sauvé Guitars start at $4,000.

Lenski has been at it for more than three years, after having studied under several master instrument makers.

"I like to create things, and I like to make music, so putting them together seemed natural," he said. "And when you make a guitar, not only are you creating a visual piece of artwork, but a functional piece of artwork as well, one with which you can create even more art."

For $2,400, a student spends eight hours a day for a total of about two weeks, or 10 business days, at the guitar building shop, making their own guitar with guidance from Sauvé and Lenski.

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"We don't use kits," Lenski said.

"We're not building models here," Sauvé added.

Each instrument is hand-built from the raw materials, which are included in the price.

The student is guided through the many steps it takes to build a musical instrument from wood.

"When they first start out, they are excited, overjoyed that they are actually making a guitar," Lenski said. "There are about 100 different woodworking steps involved — multiple little tasks that all meet in the end. When it's done, it is an instrument they can sit down and play."

Once done, the student also gets a hard-cover guitar case and is sent home with specific instruction on how to finish the guitar by applying eight coats of lacquer — a slow process that takes a couple of weeks. Each coat of lacquer has to be completely dry before the next coat is applied.

Phil McInerney, 23, is working on building a guitar with Lenski. A senior at MCLA, McInerney's hometown is Glastonbury, Conn.

He took the course a year ago and built his first guitar — a grand auditorium style — with Lenki's guidance.

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"I knew it would be very interesting, but I didn't know what I was getting myself into," McInerney said. "I've always been interested in musical instruments, and in putting things together. So this seemed perfect for me."

This year, he decided to do it again, after realizing he might like to be a professional luthier, or builder of stringed instruments. This time around he is making a parlor guitar.

"This is what I want to do when I get out of school," McInerney said. "I love it so much, so I wanted to take it a second time so I can go off and maybe make something on my own."

McInerney plays the guitar, but only for himself. "I play just about every day, just for fun," he said.

He noted that Lenski is a good teacher and lets the student do the work.

"Nick works right alongside me, building a guitar while I'm building one," McInerney said. "Some steps are easier than others, and he helps me out when I need it. Working closely with Nick really helps."

When he picks up the first guitar he made, it feels good, McInerney said.

"It's an awesome feeling," he said. "Sometimes I'm still surprised at how good it sounds. And it's great knowing you made it yourself."

Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.

If you go ....

Berkshire Stringed Instruments School of Lutherie

121 Union Street

North Adams, MA 01247

Phone: 413-663-0870

E-mail: nlenski@live.com


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