Guitar Making and the Creative Process

[Note: Before my present life as producer of the nationally syndicated Art of the Song Creativity Radio, I had a career as a luthier (guitar maker). I’d built over 80 instruments including guitars for Steve Earle, Trisha Yearwood, The Mavericks, and Tish Hinojosa.]

I had never really thought of making guitars as a truly creative act. After all, it was a very linear process of cutting out pieces of wood, shaping them, and gluing them together––a craft. If one knew the sequence and followed instructions (there are many books that describe the process), then one could build a guitar, right?

Last week I had a meeting with my mentor, Jim, who is working with me in a leadership training course. He asked me how the process of building guitars was like being a good leader. This sort of stumped me at first. Then he asked me to describe the process. I started by describing the conversation with the client for whom I was building the instrument, and that the interesting part was designing the “perfect guitar” for that person. It was about finding out what the client wanted in terms of sound, feel and look. Sometimes the client could articulate exactly what he or she was looking for in the ideal guitar, and sometimes it was more a process of me asking a lot of questions and using my experience and intuition to design the instrument. I began to realize as I was describing this process to my mentor that this “design phase” was indeed a very creative, intuitive (right-brain) process. Once the guitar was designed, it was more a matter of following the steps in a logical (left-brain) sequence. Jim responded, “You mean it’s the soul and the brain working together?” “Exactly,” I said.

scalloping2What this has to do with leadership I’m still not exactly sure, but I did have an aha! moment. For the first time, I truly understood that the creative process is a “whole brain” process… a mixture of right and left brain thinking. You can’t have the one without the other. Building a beautiful and great sounding guitar (not a cookie-cutter factory instrument) requires both the design phase and the assembly. I almost forgot to mention the very intuitive processes of shaving the braces and tapping the top until it sounds just right, and the shaping of the neck until it feels just right.

This understanding of creativity is borne out through the many Art of the Song interviews we’ve had with songwriters who say that songwriting involves both the inspiration (receiving the idea) and the crafting of the song (editing). In the past I’ve thought of the inspiration as the creative part and the crafting as not creative.

The creative process is literally an integration of both left and right brain thinking, a holistic combination of the analytical and the spiritual. I guess I knew this on some level, but relating it to my guitar making really drove the concept home for me.

How does this sit with you? Do you think creativity is a “whole brain” process? I’d love to hear your thoughts…


~ by John Dillon on April 7, 2009.

One Response to “Guitar Making and the Creative Process”

  1. […] Guitar Making and the Creative Process […]

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