Luthier Tool Company - "Beyond the Guitar" - Interview of Ryan Thorell by Chris Klumper

September 2, 2010

This month we are featuring Ryan Thorell a builder of fine guitars located in Utah, here is a interview I had with Ryan.

 Do you play guitar?
Yes, maybe too much…

What style do you like to play?
I have always played a wide variety of music, but focused primarily on jazz. I won some awards when in high school, and started teaching and gigging when I turned 16 or so. I got a chance to study with some phenomenal players, like Bruce Forman and Frank Vignola. I continued playing and teaching quite extensively until my building career took over.

What inspired you to get started in building guitars?
I took lessons at a local store in Salt Lake where a great builder/repair tech named Tim Gonzalez worked. I started my first electric guitar at 12 years old and finished when I was 15. That experience opened my whole world at the time in the way only the best mentors can provide. It was a rare and wonderful experience that we both cherished and appreciated. Sadly he passed, very untimely about a year ago.

How long have you been building guitars?
I have been at it 18 years, however I dove fully into my own shop in 2003. When I started I was mostly building flat-tops and doing restoration work. Now I build a pretty good mix of flat-tops and arch-tops.

Did you learn on your own, books or went to a school?
I did about 8 years worth of apprenticeships and purchased every book I could find. I got very involved in building fine furniture for a while, which really developed my ability to make and use hand tools. I would say that my furniture apprenticeship was by far the biggest skill development phase that I went through. Not because furniture is so difficult comparatively, but because I worked with Chris Gochnour, who is a world class furniture maker and one of Fine Woodworking magazines top writers. The level of craftsmanship was very inspiring, and there was such a parallel in focus and attitude that I have seen in a lot of the upper echelon handmade guitar practices that I have had a chance to visit and study from, like Tom Ribbecke.

Do you have a big shop?
No. But it is very well divided and functions pretty effectively. In my most recent shop I discovered these little round things that you can put under all of your tools and redesign your shop layout very quickly, amazing! Luckily with a just guitar based shop, you only really need enough room to squeeze through, and you could always use 5 times the amount of space.

Tell me a little about your shop and the tools you use?
Well one of my favorite tools is my neck angle jig made by It is phenomenal! Extremely well designed, and very fast to set up for each individual guitar. I know it sounds like I am just pumping up the interviewer, but really it is one of my favorite tools. My favorite tools of course are all hand tools. I love backsaws, I don’t know how so people have fallen for Japanese pull saws so ardently. Backsaws resharpen so easily, they are very comfortable. I do like Japanese chisels for binding work however. Japanese water stones are very important as well, not because they work so much better. For a long time I used Arkansas stones and am still more proficient at sharpening with them (my water stones sat in packages for years until my apprentice brought on the unfortunate and shattering demise of grandfathers Arkansas stones…). But in a small shop it ends up being very efficient to sharpen tools close to where you work with them. It behooves any finish work to limit the amount of oil that is in the build work area.

Which is your favorite guitar that you build?
I can’t answer that…

Which part of the building process do you like the most?
I like a lot of things. I like buffing out a finish after all of the finish sanding is over. I like scraping back the binding and hopefully enjoying how well things turned out. Also I always enjoy the fresh experience of starting a new guitar, after being so involved in defining a guitar to its finished state. The experience of starting with raw woods, is very invigorating.

What is your least favorite process?
The bookwork.

Tell me more about your guitar’s, and why they are so unique?
I was raised around fine furniture, and have always appreciated a quality of timelessness. I think that this aesthetic comes across in the look of the guitars, as well as in the way that I shape the tone. I like clarity of voice and openness of response. I also want my guitars to play and respond in ways that answer problems that I see musicians today find themselves limited by.

Do you have anything to add for those that are interested in building guitars?
I know a lot of people that have tried their hand at building guitars, some built just one or two. Others went on with it. I have yet to meet someone who was compelled to build a guitar and did not enjoy the experience they had.

Do you have an email address or phone for those that would like to purchase your guitar?

I want to thank Ryan for his time, please visit Ryan on his web site and check out his Guitars.
By Chris Klumper