Welcome to the inaugural Luthier Edition of 7 Questions! Today we spoke with Stephen Marchione of Marchione Guitars, who builds very fine instruments for several of our Henriksen Amplifiers players, and found out what he looks for in an amp – and a whole lot more.
1. How did you start building instruments?
[laughter] Wow, that’s a big question! It started when I was a kid living in northern Italy, in a town called Bergamo. There were local luthiers that lived and worked there, which got me interested in when I was 7 and 8 years old. I played guitar as young man, and I was always working on electric guitars and swapping out necks on Strats, doing that kind of stuff. I studied guitar seriously in high school and college and earned a Music degree in Jazz Performance, but I wasn’t really fulfilled. I moved to NYC and took an apprenticeship with John Suhr of Pensa Suhr Guitars, who would shortly be leaving to go build amps in California. After about 6 months, Rudy asked me to run the shop, and ironically I ended up making more Pensa Suhr guitars than John Suhr made over the next 3 years! Eventually I left and opened my own shop in Manhattan, already feeling limited by the discipline of guitar making, so I started apprenticing with two violin makers – and that’s really where I got my big chops. You learn the really difficult old school ways of constructing, gluing, planing, varnishing instruments – it’s a whole different world than guitar making. I make the whole family of guitars and one violin a year. The violin is like my art project; I take my time with it.
2. How were you first introduced to Henriksen Amplifiers?
Through my professional clients and contacts, like John Storie, Will Brahm, Sean McGowan, and Paul Kogut – the first guy I knew who was using Henriksens exclusively. We did the Woodstock guitar show about 5 years ago and Paul had one of his new Henriksen amps, and I was amazed at this beautiful small amplifier that sounded like a big stage amp. It was breathtaking! And they’re beautiful; I love the design aesthetic and the way Peter puts things together – I connected with it right away.
3. What style of guitar do you enjoy building most?
The one that I’m finishing up at the time – I’m really into that at the final stages, getting it adjusted, putting strings on it and getting it setup and ready for a player; that’s my favorite feeling.
4. As a builder of very fine instruments, what is key for you in an amplifier?
What I like specifically about Peter’s amps is that they’re allowing the player and the guitar to express themselves without interference; they literally amplify the performance. And not only are they great jazz amps, but Peter’s amps sound so good with a great acoustic guitar through them.
5. What do you consider the ideal pickup system or interface between an acoustic instrument and an amplifier?
I’ve developed two pickup methods of my own over the years. On my jazz guitars, I have a very low output PAF that’s mounted right off the ebony pickguard of the guitar, which allows the archtop to be a fully acoustic instrument without any kind of routing, yet have this great magnetic pickup tone. And the pickup method I think is really groundbreaking is something I’m making for my acoustic guitars and working on currently with Will Brahm, which is a 5-piezo element pickup that’s encased in maple and attached to the underside of the bridge plate of the guitar, up under the ball ends of the strings. The elements are different sizes to give different responses, and the pickup moves in three dimensions along with the top rather than being pressure activated between the strings/saddles and the bridge plate. That pickup through Peter’s amp sounds unbelievably lifelike – it’s as if you had a volume control on an acoustic guitar. It’s incredible, the combination of my acoustic guitar, this pickup, and Peter’s amp. Because it employs a wood surface to wood surface connection, you don’t have the harsher sound of bone on metal that some other piezo systems have. That’s been groundbreaking for us and Will will be demoing that around the beginning of November.
6. What’s the most interesting custom feature a player has requested?
I don’t really do a lot of that for people – because usually when they ask for it, I say no! And that’s because my guitars are handmade and very expensive, so I always recommend that somebody not do something to one that makes it their guitar forever, because the guitar will outlive them. For example, don’t inlay your girlfriend’s name on it, because even if you marry her and stay with her the rest of your life, somebody down the road might not want a Lenora guitar!
7. If you could step into the shoes of any musician for a day, living or not, who would it be?
John Coltrane, hands down. He just transcended music, the instrument, everything. It’s a spiritual experience to sit and listen to one of his albums. I’d also put Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis close behind, but Coltrane is just on another level.
Learn more about Marchione Guitars instruments and features here: http://marchione.com/