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Scrap keeps guitar-maker flourishing

Mahogany, ash, walnut and maple have literally become music to the ears of Martin Maudal, a local guitar-maker capitalizing on Claremont’s bountiful tree population to bring to life his handmade creations.

Scrap wood gathered from his work for Claremont tree trimmer Chris Toovey has provided the local luthier with the makings for his guitars. Using what would have gone in the waste bin has in turn saved him countless dollars, helping to see his at-home business, Carolann Guitars, flourish.

Though only taking off in recent years, his work is now gaining the attention of local filmmakers, who are charting his work in a new documentary, not yet titled, which began filming this week.

Mr. Maudal has found added value in his hands-on work with materials that have a special connection to his community.

“There’s amazing stuff growing here in Claremont, and there is nothing like working with your hands, making something you love and having people give you positive feedback,” Mr. Maudal said.

His passion for his hobby-turned-business, with the added bonus of locally-grown materials, is not lost on his customers.

“It’s not just a musical instrument, it’s a piece of art,” said customer Carol Hart, a former Claremont resident, of Mr. Maudal’s work. “It’s a lot more than just picking up a beautiful guitar with factory parts, it’s hand-crafted and it all comes from Claremont. It’s a piece of home that will always be a part of me.”

Mr. Maudal’s business started to boom within the past couple years as wood began to accumulate by the truckload in his 10th Street workshop. His fascination grew with the expanding pile of materials.

“Working with Chris, I started seeing what these woods were all about and finding out what they can do,” Mr. Maudal said. “I was always bugging him to learn more.”

Though now a tree and woodworking fanatic, it’s funny to think that the budding guitar-maker once despised what is now possibly his favorite material. Before working on his first guitar 9 years ago, his last memory of such endeavors ended with a less than favorable experience in seventh grade woodshop.

“I was horrible at it!” Mr. Maudal said. “I had no patience with it at all.”

But his desire for a new guitar and his lack of funds to purchase reversed his way of thinking. Now Mr. Maudal simply can’t get enough.

“It’s like opening a present,” Mr. Maudal said of cutting a branch to find the intricate design of the wood inside, its swirling lines a piece of art in itself, “and the process of shaping the wood is very meditative.”

His passion for guitar-making sprung out of his love for music, an affinity passed down to him by his mother Carol Ann, the namesake of his business. A folk musician herself, his mother immersed her son in the world of musical endeavors.

“Guitars were always lying around the house,” Mr. Maudal recalled of his childhood. “I can’t remember a time we didn’t have a guitar lying around.”

With his grandfather being a woodworker, the melding of both music and woodwork into Mr. Maudal’s professional lifestyle might have been inevitable. It was while living as a musician in New York that the 2 worlds finally collided. Desiring a new guitar, but unable to afford the purchase or find one that matched what he wanted, Mr. Maudal drew himself a configuration of his sought-after instrument and placed it near the entrance of his one-room Brooklyn apartment.

“I don’t know what took me over the edge to do something about it, but I put it where I’d see it every day I walked in the door, and it just grew on me,” Mr. Maudal said.

With a plethora of New York luthiers at his disposal and tutorials online, Mr. Maudal found the task to be much easier and much more enjoyable than seventh grade woodshop. The biggest challenge was simply “keeping woodchips from flying into my food,” he joked of his small working space. Nine months later, his guitar was born and his career as a luthier began.

“It was like no song I had ever written. This [guitar] was a real thing that 200 years from now, if done right, someone could pick up and play. It was just this magic moment for me,” Mr. Maudal, a professional musician, said. “I could do this for the rest of my life.”

And so he did. He continued his creations after returning to Claremont a few years later, mostly building pieces for family members. Occasional difficulties arose with the expense of buying materials. Employment with Mr. Toovey provided Mr. Maudal with his initial idea to build from Claremont’s trees, an idea he proposed to Mr. Toovey who admitted, “I had no idea what a luthier was.” But he consented to help his friend, even going so far as helping Mr. Maudal cart his wood scraps back to his workshop. The result is a piece of art worth noting, according to Mr. Toovey.

“His work can easily be defined as fine art. It takes so much attention to detail and craftsmanship,” Mr. Toovey said.  

In addition to discovering his love for woodwork, selling his first guitar to someone other than family provided another “magical moment” for Mr. Maudal. He remembers the details well, though it happened 4 years ago: an electric guitar made from black walnut.

“He still plays it,” Mr. Maudal noted with pride of that first customer.

The milestone moment was only equaled by finding a world of luthiers like himself in the Inland Empire. Mr. Maudal and a group of local instrument craftsman, including Folk Music Center’s Richard Barnes, brought their handmade instruments together for the first time last December in a performance that showcased the artists’ instruments at the dA Center of the Arts gallery in Pomona. Mr. Maudal hopes the performance becomes a yearly staple that encourages others in the Inland Empire to find inspiration in the power of handmade masterpieces.

“To me, it’s more than just building guitars,” Mr. Maudal said. “It’s about people learning to make things with their hands and to bring pragmatic value to art.”

For more on Mr. Maudal’s latest work and Carolann Guitars, visit www.facebook.com/CarolannGuitars.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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