Playing guitar can be a passion; building one can become an obsession.
Justin Giuffre, 35, of East Taylor Township, has been a musician nearly all of his life. But it wasn’t until seven years ago that he wanted to become a professional guitar builder.
“I’ve grown up playing music,” he said. “I have played in bands since my early teens.”
Giuffre plays upright bass with the Whiskey River Panhandlers, an American folk band.
In 2005, Giuffre traveled to Quebec, Canada, to spend four weeks under the tutelage of luthier Sergei DeJonge.
DeJonge has a reputation for building the highest caliber of concert classical guitars for the performing professional.
DeJonge remembers Giuffre as a little more advanced than some students he has taught.
“We get some people who have never picked up a tool in their lives,” DeJonge said. “With the help of my daughter and my apprentice, we provide one-on-one instruction throughout the course.”
Anyone wanting a DeJonge classical guitar should be prepared to pony up $8,500.
Giuffre earned a certificate in luthiery under DeJonge’s guidance.
When not making guitars, Giuffre, who has an associate degree in computer-aided drafting, works for defense contractor
Navmar Applied Sciences Corp. at
1778 Frankstown Road in Johnstown.
He also owns Giuffre Guitars and Luthiery, located at Art Works in Johns-town at 413 Third Ave. in the Cambria City section of Johnstown.
“I build each guitar by myself, but definitely pull inspiration from other builders, musicians and artists,” Giuffre said.
He constantly is working toward becoming a successful guitar builder.
“I’m finally getting into the groove of balancing guitar building with my day job,” he said.
Giuffre specializes in acoustic guitars.
As a luthier, Giuffre takes special orders to accommodate the various sounds a musician may desire.
“I try to take their idea and do my best to match it,” Giuffre said. “Each guitar takes approximately 100 hours to complete.”
He prefers to use Indian rosewood, but wood selection depends on the sound a musician is looking for and what aesthetics that musician prefers.
“Every single guitar built is different, even if it is made from the same woods,” Giuffrie said. “I have experimented with different shapes, bracing patterns and wood selections.”
The building process begins with wood selection for the top, back, sides, neck, fingerboard and accents.
He then sands the raw wood to desired thickness.
“I bend the sides of the guitar by soaking the wood and hand bending it over a hot bending pipe,” Giuffrie said.
He then joins the back and top from the book-matched wood and rough cuts the top and back. Rough braces are cut from either pine (top) or mahogany (back).
The back and top of an acoustic guitar have a slight radius to them, so he must shape the bottom of each brace before gluing it in place.
“After the braces are glued in place, I carve them by hand, giving them the contour to help shape the sound of the instrument,” Giuffre said.
He then “closes the box,” which means bringing the sides, top and back together.
The neck construction starts with a neck “blank” that is either one piece or two. If two, there are several cuts that need to be made for the headstock and heel of the guitar. The fingerboard is cut to the correct thickness and fret slots are pared.
“The fingerboard is married to the neck and the carving begins,” Giuffre said.
There are a few measurements crucial to a guitar neck.
After achieving the measurements, Giuffre takes off all the excess wood. After the body/neck joint is routed, the neck is glued and the finishing begins.
“I finish my instruments with French polish, which is a traditional furniture makers’ finish,” he said.
After finishing, he glues the bridge to the body.
“This is crucial because the bridge dictates the scale of your instrument,” Giuffre said. “If the scale of the guitar is off even a fraction of an inch, the guitar will never play in tune.”
After some final touches, Giuffre strings it up.
“I hope I gave birth to something someone, somewhere, will create a bond with,” he said. “The most difficult part of making a guitar for me is the finishing process,” he said.
He often returns to a finished instrument to fine-tune it.
“Usually I have to tweak the rosette around the sound hole because I changed my mind halfway through it,” he said.
Of all the guitars Giuffre has made, he has yet to sell any.
“I haven’t really pushed it because I’m trying to perfect a couple things,” he said. “With any of my stock guitars, anyone is welcome to take them for a spin.”
Giuffre describes the sound as a 60-year-old guitar in a new guitar’s body.
Other than building guitars, he also repairs them.
He relishes having a studio workshop at Art Works because it gave life to his guitar shop.
“There is great foot traffic and advertising,” he said. “The building and its tenants also produce a creative energy and support that is amazing.”
Giuffre’s major influences are builders such as DeJonge, Jeff Traugott and Kathy Wingert.
“My biggest influences of all are my wife of 12 years, Sonya, my parents and brothers,” he said.