Allegheny Blues Guitars

Luthier Michael Hauver mixes art with music

Luthier Michael Hauver mixes art with music

November 13, 2007|By HARRY NOGLE

Michael Hauver's Allegheny Blues Guitars guitar building and repair shop looks exactly as the shop of an artisan should look, cluttered with tools and rigs, guitars and guitar parts. And, it is located exactly where it should be located, on a side street off a county road on the edge of Shepherdstown, W.Va.

However, Hauver is not just a guitar mechanic. He is a "luthier." A luthier is, literally, a "lute maker." But the term has become a general term for a maker of violins or other stringed instruments - in Hauver's case, guitars.

"My guitars simulate old-time guitars," Hauver said. "What I'm trying to do is capture the old sound."

The "old sound" is the music of bluesmen Charley Patton, Blind Blake, Barbeque Bob, Blind Willie McTell and Leadbelly.

"I enjoy playing pre-war blues," Hauver said, "and I wanted to play the same guitars that the greats like Charley Patton and Blind Blake played," he recently told "Acoustic Guitar" magazine.


A lot of those greats played ladder-braced guitars built by companies like Stella and Stromberg-Voisinet.

"I developed an appreciation for Stella guitars," Hauver said. "The problem was that the old guitars always seemed to be in need of repair, so I taught myself to fix them."

He stared out collecting, repairing and restoring these old guitars, and this eventually led to taking on repairs for other collectors and music stores.

Hauver did not set out in life to become a guitar builder.

He earned a master of arts from the University of Maryland and worked as a stone mason for 30 years in new and restorative construction.

"I started repairing (guitars) more and more, and, at the same time, I was continuing masonry work," Hauver said. "At first I would go to music stores to get repair work. But, eventually, my ability to repair guitars got around by word of mouth. People started sending me guitars for repair."

After years of repairs, in 1999 he attended Charles Fox's American School of Lutherie and began building his own guitars.

At Fox's school, Hauver learned traditional building techniques, but Fox also introduced him to various ways to use modern materials such as carbon fiber and graphite.

"I use an adjustable carbon truss rod with graphite reinforcement," Hauver said. "I also use mahogany for the neck and ebony for the fretboard.

"Every guitar in its lifetime will need some type of repair or adjustment. That's why I advocate bolt-on necks, graphite reinforcement in necks and reverse kerfing."

For the body of the guitar, the part that actually produces the tone, Hauver sticks to the ladder-bracing style of the Stella guitars.

"Ladder bracing" or "lateral bracing" runs horizontally from side to side. Unlike the X-bracing used by Martin and other builders, the ladder bracing is what contributes to the dry, burly tone of the guitars used by the bluesmen in the 1920s and '30s.

"Building a guitar is a process of holding wood together under tension," Hauver said. "You want to reach a point in time where the neck and body quit fighting each other."

Hauver combines ladder bracing with modern materials and construction. All of his guitars are made of solid woods with graphite reinforcement in the necks and an adjustable truss rod. Reverse kerfing is used for added stability to the sides and a bolt-on-neck for easy neck resets is done to correct natural aging processes of wood and string tension. Kerfed lining (kerfing) forms a surface for gluing and reinforcing a guitar's soundboard, sides and back. Each lining is kerfed (slotted) to allow easy bending to fit a guitar's curved sides.

Hauver builds five models of guitars in his shop. The most popular six-string he builds is "The Charley Patton," which he builds in two models: the "Jumbo," based on the guitar Leadbelly played, and the smaller "Barbeque Bob" model, which is grand-concert size.

The 12-string "Barbecue Bob" is the same design as the 1920s Stella guitars.

"Jumbo" (6- or 12-string) is based on the same body dimensions and bracing pattern of Leadbelly's famous Stella 12-string.

Another model is the "Mustachio Grand Concert," with the same size and shape of the 1920s Galliano. A Pyramid-style bridge is also available.

"The Gambler" is based on the "Barbecue Bob" and has an imitation mother-of-pearl fingerboard and decalcomania of playing cards.

Hauver builds 10 to 15 guitars a year, but his orders are increasing.

While a luthier is, technically, an artisan or a craftsman, Michael Hauver is much more than just a craftsman. He is an artist. Guitars are built to produce sound, but they are also built for their appearance.

He indicates the guitar models in his shop, lined up on their stands for display.

"One of the features of a Stella guitar that I like is its balanced sound," he said.

"Another is its shape. It's not the bulky, almost square shape of a dreadnought. It has curves, like a woman."

Michael Hauver can be reached by calling 304-876-8181 or by e-mail at

Harry Nogle is a feature writer for The Herald-Mail Company.

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