String master

Woody Boyd

Photo By anne stokes

Woody Boyd has been fixing guitars for more than 30 years. His shop, Boyd Luthiery at 2014 Del Paso Boulevard, does more than just guitar repair; Boyd takes your sick guitar, diagnoses it like a well-seasoned doctor would and stitches it up like a steady-handed surgeon, all the while still keeping up with high-end craftsmanship and old-world standards. And, if you’re lucky, you leave with a gem of knowledge in your pocket, a Woodyism (e.g., “You can’t fake easy, and you can’t fake hard”).

What is a luthiery?

Luthier is Latin; a luthier is a keeper of stringed instruments, and most luthiers are focused. I do fretted instruments, as opposed to harps and pianos. For me, a luthiery is more than just a place where we build and repair. People come here just to hang, just to get educated. It’s a community. We’re the only place like this on the West Coast.

So you build guitars from scratch?

From the tree. We used to broker wood for Taylor Guitars. I know what a guitar is from the ground up. I’ve played the same instrument from the tree I’ve camped under.

To take a tree and then, six months later, be playing an instrument off that tree is something that I think very few people have ever done. And I’ve had the privilege of doing it. I can’t say anything I’ve done is groundbreaking, but I’ve done things that probably nobody else gets to do. I have some wonderful clients that I’ve known many years that bring in instruments that most people only dream about catching a glimpse of in a museum.

Where did you get your start?

I’ve been playing guitar since I was 4, and then during my junior-high years, we moved to a location where there was a mom-and-pop music store with just about everything you want, from a guitar to a clapper. It was the early ’70s. I would go there every day; they had 12 guitars, and I’d tune them all, and then eventually they had me start teaching there. They had their own luthier, and I’d study with him. I was there from the ages between 12 to about 18, and then I went into service after that.

You’ve been playing guitar for a long time.

I’ve lived this life. A guitar, to me, is on the same level as an arm or a leg. It’s just not something I can live without.

Describe your commitment.

I could probably make a million bucks with this idea, but people probably wouldn’t buy into it. Instruments like the piano and guitar, they’re ambidextrous instruments. Two years ago I started an experiment, because I believed it would be the only way I could get any better [by getting] both of my hands running at 100 percent. I’m a right-hander; that’s not going to happen. It started off one day, I made a pact with myself: I’m only gonna turn on light switches with my left hand, and then it was every other meal with my left hand, and then writing with my left hand. I use dual mouses with my graphics. What I try to do is balance it out, so I’m doing 50 percent of work with each hand. This is the only thing I’ve ever done that improved my guitar playing drastically over anything I’ve ever tried. And it’s still improving it. And I did it without a guitar.

How do you fix guitars?

Our approach is different than the guitar-repair business. If I get someone that comes in and he’s got a certain repair need, I fix the broken part, but I also need to fix the problem and not just the symptom. Ninety percent of guitar repairers out here, all they fix are symptoms. You break it, they fix it. That’s it. We go further.

Anyone ever come in with an interesting problem?

I had a gentleman bring in his guitar because all the electronics went out on it. He sweats so bad that I changed the pickups on this guitar six months ago, and now they look 100 years old, with rust over them. When he came in the first time, I said, “Look, I put stuff in, I fixed the problem. Go see your dermatologist. Go see your doctor. You need to rule us out; you’re sweating way too much.” I see guitars with people with sweat problems, but this was out of the norm.

You have live music at the shop.

On Tuesday nights, we have an artist showcase. We used to have an open-mic night, but I’m currently changing it. On Monday, you have Fox & Goose open-mic, and they’re more traditional, and on Wednesday is Old Ironsides. I took Tuesday; I was looking to do something different.

My deal is to attract the people who are tired of listening to 15 minutes of pain, listening to people who don’t know how to play. I wanted to get the few people that are really good in town. We have the best sound here; the other places won’t deny that. But if I have good sound, you have to be a good player. I can’t fix your mistakes. I can only make them crystal clear.