GUITAR-MAKER STRIKES A CHORD WITH VALLEY MUSICIANS

MASTER BUILDER GREG BRANDT DESIGNS FOR INDIVIDUAL NEEDS

by Fred Rubin, reprint courtesy of Sun Community Newspapers

One balmy March day in 1981, I was cruising down Riverside Drive headed
for my (then) home in Chandler Estates, when a garage sale caught my
eye and I pulled over. I soon realized that although several people had
pooled their belongings, there was nothing of interest to me.

I was about to walk away when out of the blue, one of the participants
- a craggy, artistic looking guy - asked me, "Do you play the guitar?"

"Yes, I do," I replied, somewhat astonished.

"I make guitars," the guy countered. "Want to see one?"

Moments later I found myself in the cramped apartment/workshop of Greg
Brandt, who proudly showed me a stunning, hand-crafted, steel string
guitar made of fine Indian rosewood and spruce.

It was, he explained, the fifth guitar he had made. I played it for all
of ten minutes ... and I was hooked. I left a short while later, guitar
in hand, having shelled out $500.

Surely, I thought as I drove away, this must be a record for money
spent at a garage sale in the San Fernando Valley. To this day, even though
I own six other instruments, I still play Greg's guitar and marvel at
its beauty and tone.

I recently caught up with Brandt at a new location, a vastly improved
workshop in Valley Village. In the 26 years since we met, he has
hand-built 150 custom guitars (mostly classical) and has become one of the
most respected luthiers in the Los Angeles guitar community.

We sat down among the sawdust, chisels and stacks of fine woods, and
spoke about his early beginnings and path to becoming a master craftsman.

"I credit a lot of things to serendipity," Brandt said of his journey.
"I had no experience with tools, and had never built anything more than
a shoeshine box in junior high. But one day in 1977 while working at
'Our Contribution,' a natural food restaurant across from Valley College,
a customer showed me a book he had found, "How to Build a Steel String
Guitar", and it tweaked my interest."

Brandt went on to relate that two weeks later, while he and his Dad
were waiting for a fast food order in a Venice restaurant, he noticed a
guitar-shaped sign across the street. He was drawn in to investigate and
soon found himself in a store "where a guy was building a guitar."

As Brandt recalled, "A puzzle piece fell into place in my brain and I
realized ... people make guitars." Also, being a "picker" himself, he
thought, "it would be outstanding to play a guitar that I built on my
own."

At first, this was his only motive. With little more than a how-to
book, a Dremel tool, and a chisel, Brandt set out building his first guitar
on a coffee table in his living room.

Then, halfway through the process, he had an epiphany. "I was looking
at my hands and I thought, my hands really know this work." He realized
even before he had finished his first instrument that he would be
making more. That knowledge made it easier for him to let his first guitar
go when someone offered to buy it.

Following that, Brandt wisely took a job at a woodworking supply store,
where he acquired superior knowledge of tools and hardwoods. There his
life took another serendipitous turn when he met Bob Mattingly, a
master guitar maker who took Brandt on as an apprentice. He built two more
guitars with Mattingly, and then, with better tools, expert instruction
and more experience, Brandt's craftsmanship set him on the path to the
reputation he holds today.

"Greg's guitars are the best," said George Doering, a famed studio
musician and owner of two Brandt guitars. "Whenever a nylon string guitar
is needed for a session, I'd be nervous using any other than his. It
always sounds just right in the whole mix. I just used a Brandt guitar on
the soundtrack for The Devil Wears Prada."

John Pisano, the acclaimed studio musician who runs the popular
"Tuesday Night Guitar Night" at Spazio jazz club in Sherman Oaks, is also a
fan and benefactor of Brandt. "Greg's guitars are very special
instruments for me," Pisano noted. "I think he's one of the most promising guitar
builders there is. He keeps getting better and better."

Pisano used one of Brandt's guitars on Diana Krall's "Look of Love"
album, which recently went platinum.

Being a master builder has also led Brandt to do repair work on other
instruments that he didn't create. About 15 percent of his business is
in repairs. Often, such restoration work leads to sales - as was the
case with Andy Griffith.

Aside from being an internationally known film and television star,
Griffith is also an exceptional guitarist. Some might remember him picking
on his front porch in the classic "Andy Griffith Show."

One day while bringing a repaired instrument back to Griffith, Brandt
showed him a junior-sized, soprano steel string guitar he had crafted.
"Honey," Griffith called out to his wife, "How much cash do we have in
the house?"

Griffith proceeded to buy that guitar and order several more as gifts.
Besides Brandt's nylon-stringed classical guitars, these pint-sized
versions are so popular that he sells every one he builds.

Due to Brandt's painstaking care and the quality of his materials, he
only builds eight to ten guitars per year. He keeps no inventory and
builds each one specifically for the customer.

Clients should also be prepared to pay considerably more than I did in
1981 - about nine times more. This is, after all, Brandt's livelihood.

As Brandt personally reminded me, "Even my Mom has stopped asking when
I'm going to get a real job."

Greg Brandt can be reached at (818) 980-9348. Visit his website at
www.gregbrandtguitars.com.