time we saw a handcrafted guitar from Thierry André, its shape caught our attention. It
was the Kouai: an electric guitar with acoustic soul. It recalled to us the
shape of a heart, a real one, as the one seen in anatomy lessons.
It may be
because Thierry’s guitars have a heart, his heart -and a waiting list of several
months, if you want one-. Because Thierry is a modern luthier, in constant
research and experimentation, able to mix in an avant-garde design the sounds
of the stringed contemporary instruments with those from so far away and exotic
lands such as Africa, the Middle East or Asia.
It will be interesting to follow the evolution of this young and authentic artist in the coming years and see which other limits and boundaries he will fly over as light as the notes that come from the silver ash bodies of the guitars he is actually building.
1. GUITARS EXCHANGE: How did you end up becoming, or start out as, a luthier?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: Most of my childhood was for me about making and building things. As far as I can remember, I always had a project going on. The type of activity I was drawn to involved both manual aspect and creative force. This focus became nurturing up to a point where the academic years that followed seemed to me irrelevant. Music then became an intuitive partner throughout this formation. At age 16, high school ended and I headed straight to the music store to buy myself an electric guitar. I wandered around for a while; playing, listening and looking at this magical object, without ever thinking it could actually be man-made. These vibrating strings where connected to the divine for sure, which was most probably rooted in Orient, hence the ‘made in China’ sticker on its peg head. Then one day, a co-worker from the train factory came by my apartment, and started talking about my divine connection In terms of parts & materials, assembly, screws, fret wire, wood, paint and clear coats. I was trembling; it all suddenly clicked and made sense. Three weeks later, I started my formation at Bruand School of luthery for a five-year deal. Then I established my workshop in Montreal in 1999. And from these early years work, I was granted by Le Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec a 3 month apprenticeship with master luthier Fred Carlson in California.
2. GUITARS EXCHANGE: What inspires you to design and manufacture a new guitar?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: There are three roads that lead to it, and they, most of the time, get interwoven also (smiles). Road one is the first I have learned. It evolves around standards that have a definite shape and purpose. It fulfills the need to play a defined repertoire. It is a more straightforward, yet difficult approach that leads one to master a type of guitar in particular. Currently I am developing both an orchestral model acoustic and a ‘standard’ electric in this fashion, in a way I can repeat. 2nd Road will come from the player who is in search for –his- or –hers- personal voice. That perspective arises up some kind of calling in me and each time I am prepared to invest myself to do my best at it. This trust someone puts in you is energy which effectively nurtures the building process itself. From a business standpoint, it might feel detrimental to see a given guitar player as a unique being with unique needs, but, for some players it’s the only road that will do. This also has influenced my artistic path and has led to the crossbreeding of the aforementioned ‘standards’. It led me to bring foreign sounds and design elements within the reach of the guitar player. I have created guitars that have sound familiarities with other stringed instruments (oud, kora, sitar, sarod, banjo, etc.).
And the third road is when I do a personal research project which is not commissioned. These are investments I do that might eventually go back to influence roads 1&2 in the long run, bringing things to a full circle. The X-braced guitar was someone’s experiment in guitar history. Now it isn’t.
3. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Do you look for a given sound for any particular reason?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: When working for someone I am devoted to bringing on his/her voice into a formal expression that is significant to both of us.
4. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Select one and talk about: soul, jazz, blues, rock, pop…or other.
THIERRY ANDRÉ: Can’t select! They are all linked.
5. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Are you a jobbing artist or a solitary artisan?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: Solo artisan.
6. GUITARS EXCHANGE: What was the last record or CD you bought? And listened to?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: John Zorn - The Circle Maker
7. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Electric or acoustic?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: Linked again (smiles)! I tend to see electric guitars as acoustic machines. At the Last Holy Grail Guitar Show I’ve had Emil Petrov ask me if he could try my Kouai electric guitar acoustically; he wasn’t interested in plugging it in, he wanted to hear it’s primary voice. It was magic for me to hear him play it. That said, if I have to choose one body, I’d say acoustic.
8. GUITARS EXCHANGE: What is the secret behind your choice of wood?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: Neck part of the guitar is more influential on it’s tone than we’d be tempted to think; some vintage archtops sound the way they do because they bear this very light maple or poplar neck. I agree this creates other problems also. In general I’ll favor long fibered woods like mahoganies and Spanish cedar, sometimes with carbon fiber reinforcement set away from the fingerboard. Lately I’ve been working with silver ash indigenous to Quebec for some projects.
...AND TWO HANDS
9. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Why should we consider luthier-crafted guitars as a viable option to guitars made by the large manufacturers?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: There are many motivational levels that are entailed in this question. For example; if we look at what we eat and the food industry we choose to promote on only one question like: -Does it do the job? Do I get my calories? Probably the answer will be yes, same as most store bought guitars will also give you your daily notes to play music with…Tone consideration aside, and looking at the guitar as a musical tool. From a guitar repairman standpoint we so many factory guitars with definite long term problems right off the shelf, that it really shovels negative energy around… musicians have to cover for their initial investment, then for an –upgrade- to it, and often, over time another problematic shows up, because of the glue manufacturers use or because of a faulty designs, etc. Then you have to get another one or get it repaired again. Who wins? The repair guy? I am sure he’d better like to shape wood or set up a guitar that works… As a guitar maker if I look at the tools I have been using everyday with repeated joy, I find they have been well thought of, are made with selected materials and show skill in their construction and assembly. I didn’t encounter any problems with them nor did they need replacement. In the long run these tools made me work more and work better, for a better dollar all around. If this holds true for a knife or a chisel, we see how an organic and sonic tool like a musical instrument can benefit from the same attentions.
10. GUITARS EXCHANGE: Who plays your guitars? Who would you like to have play your guitars?
THIERRY ANDRÉ: I build guitars and instruments for different kind of people and enjoy’em all really. It’s all about who calls me, who links with my work.
FOR SALE on GUITARS EXCHANGE: 2004 Archtop
Official Thierry André website: http://www.thierryandre.com