Globe Article Pic
 
  • Globe Article Pic
    Aaron Green, who has been making guitars in his Waltham studio for more than a decade, trims the interior lining of an instrument's rib assembly. Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
  • Aaron With One of His Guitars
    Green with one of his finished products, which sell for as much as $15,000. (and up).
His Craft is Music to the Ears
Boston Globe West - People section
Author: Susan Chaityn Lebovits
Date: Sep 9, 2007

Around the corner from Brandeis University and up the street from the Watch City Brewery, Aaron Green crafts some of the world's most sought-after classical and flamenco guitars. His customers span the globe from Japan to South America. He is back-ordered for two years.

Green makes about a dozen guitars a year. Some of his prominent patrons include legendary composer and producer Al Gorgoni, who played guitar on "Brown Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison and "The Sounds of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel, and has worked with other artists such as Ray Charles and Bob Dylan. Emmy award-winning musician Frederic Hand, whose work can be heard on the scores of numerous films including "This Boy's Life," with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro, is also a customer.

"Aaron consistently builds guitars that combine exquisitely beautiful tone along with a very robust sound," said Hand.

Green, 33, works in a 750-square-foot Waltham studio divided into four rooms: one with power tools, two for his workshop, and one that is humidity-controlled and used for storage and critical glue-ups, such as bracing the tops and backs of the guitars.

On a day last month when sun shone through the studio's large windows, Green wore black running shoes, a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, and one small silver hoop earring. His soft-spoken demeanor seemed a bit incongruous with his 6-foot-2-inch solid frame.

Green said that, while power tools are a fine way to get to a certain point quickly, they don't come close to the degree of accuracy that he gets by hand.

"Part of what I love about my work - particularly in this day and age where everything is obsolete before it ever really hits the ground - is that most of the tools I use will never be [outdated]," said Green. "I can go to a museum and see someone's tools from 300 years ago and they're pretty much what I'm using today."

Green's studio is spotless and impeccably organized. Dozens of clamps of every size and shape line the walls. These days, he buys more materials than tools, as he's trying to acquire a lifetime supply of wood as fast as he can.

Green concedes that finding good suppliers willing to put up with his particular requests and pickiness is a challenge. He's been known to order 20 European spruce guitar tops, then return every one.

Green recalled that, during one business trip to Spain, he and his friend were sent to a supplier north of Madrid where they sifted through 300 sets of rosewood; Green didn't see a single one to his liking. He said that after a leisurely lunch and some wine, he asked to look at the wood once more. This time the shopkeeper took them to a different room where the wood was of a different caliber.

"I suspect that he thought as Americans we wouldn't know what we were doing," said Green. "I wouldn't part with the good stuff either unless I knew someone was going to do a good job with it."

Green settled into his third-floor studio workshop a little over a decade ago. Now he's able to spend the entire day working on his craft, but it wasn't always that way.

"I had a lot of odd jobs in the beginning," Green said. He worked in a halfway house for the mentally ill, had an early-morning paper route, was a sales clerk at Lechmere, the now-defunct retail store chain, and made chocolate in a candy shop. "The thing I am most ashamed of is my month as a telemarketer," he said.

Green first wrapped his hands around a guitar at the age of 4 when his father, an engineer, brought one home as a gift for his mother, a nurse. "I remember I was completely blown away by that thing," he said.

While he played the guitar, he never had the desire to perform but rather was drawn to building the instrument. Green searched out music shops to learn how this might be achieved, but had no luck until he saw a flier in the street advertising the New England Folk Festival Association's three-day weekend event in Natick, where he grew up.

It was there, at age 16, that he met his mentor, Alan Carruth, a luthier or stringed instrument maker, who currently works and teaches in Newport, N.H.

"I pestered him for three days straight, and he took me on," said Green. He then spent every Friday for the next three years in Carruth's basement studio, which was then in Dedham.

Green still remembers the day when he asked Carruth why old violins sound better than new ones. "[Carruth] pulled out a piece of paper and started drawing frequency charts of the various resonances in the instruments," said Green. "It went right over my head."

Carruth said Green always accepted constructive criticism and worked hard to improve.

"I was always impressed by his use of color and proportion in design and trim work," said Carruth.

Green joined the Boston Classical Guitar Society and became their calendar editor for a few years, which brought him in contact with experts in the field like flamenco guitarist Dennis Koster, who still gives Green a player's insight as to what works, what doesn't, and what needs to be tweaked on his guitars.

"What he's listening for can be incredibly small details, like how the harmonics ring on a certain note, or how one note doesn't sustain as long as the other ones around it," said Green.

David Newsam, assistant professor at Berklee College of Music's guitar department, purchased his concert guitar from Green. "The guitar has a beautiful warm tone that sounds clear and elegant as a solo instrument, or in chamber settings with other instruments," he said.

Other patrons of Green's include local flamenco guitarist Juanito Pasqual and Eliot Fisk, who received an award in June 2006 from King Juan Carlos of Spain for his service to the cause of Spanish music.

Hand said that over the past three decades, as concert guitarists play in larger venues and perform more frequently with orchestras and chamber ensembles, they require more volume from their instruments. Green's instruments, he said, are modern in their increased ability to project, yet aesthetically reminiscent of the great guitars of the past that have so deeply inspired Green's work.

Carruth, reflecting on his 16-year friendship with Green, said he was satisfied with his pupil's success.

"It's said that it is a poor teacher who is not surpassed by his students," Carruth said in an e-mail. "In that sense, perhaps, I can lay claim to being a good teacher - at least in this one case."

For more on Aaron Green log on to http://www.aarongreenguitars.com.


J. Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 118 No. 2 7:01 - Dennis Koster - Mozart Fantasy On Guitar