Seamus Cantwell -- tutorial evaluation
I sincerely hope that in recounting some of my experiences in Northampton,
MA., that this resume might inspire people who are thinking of ( at the back of
their minds ) learning about guitar-making, to go for it and "follow your
I came across William Cumpiano's website on the Internet in early 2001 and was impressed by the striking manner of his layout (and here was something I would love to do). It was obvious that someone highly professional in his work produced it and I found this to be the case when I traveled from Ireland to take his guitar-making course in October the same year. Naturally, at the time I wondered if I would get much out of it in such a relatively short time (two weeks), given that I had absolutely no previous experience with woodwork or it's associated tools. I've got to admit I was apprehensive about my ability to come through this experience successfully and, notwithstanding the investment I would have to make in this venture, I am so glad now that I have done so.
I want to point out that from the outset I was never made to feel overwhelmed or inadequate and the relaxed manner in which William took me through the stages of learning is testament to his teaching ability, beginning at first with topics and discussions on the more important aspects of wood; types; species; growth cycle; colour; engineering properties; processes of heating and bending etc.; sharpening and using chisels and scrapers and much more. From ongoing discussions combined with demonstrations I have learned considerably about glueing; which type? How much?, how little, the process of clamping pressure and distribution. I also got some good grounding in jointing the plates, tap tuning, carving, routing, fretting, inlaying and binding , again , but to mention a few. Having made a couple of faux pas here and there and on final set up, I got some great instruction in these areas including some valuable tricks. I can proudly say now that these are none too obvious. What also comes to mind is the broader instruction on, for example, the structural integrity of the combined components which go to make up the whole instrument, from the species of plates and sides etc. to plate and back and side thickness and, from the guitar's resonant frequency, compensation, string selection, nut and saddle material etc. to the precise nature of final set up and finish (lacquering) .
At the shop, beavering away quietly in the background is William's erstwhile brother Harry, (Becker) himself a great craftsman and innovator. A willing and enthusiastic sharer of his skills and knowledge and of his music. An authorised Martin repairman, he shared and demonstrated some valuable tips and trade secrets with me and he was a joy to watch and be with, a perfectionist and a genuinely lovely man.
It has to be said how William can hold one's interest as he deliberates on other topics such as; string technology; carbon fibre tops etc., and cultural topics ; in particular his deep interest in the evolution of the cuatro and his passion and interest in the musical and cultural history of his own heritage . And, by the way, most of this was conveyed outside and away from the shop ! But equally important is the fact that apart from being a good tutor he really is an interested and good listener. It would be virtually impossible not to warm to this guy!
Probably the most lasting impression I have of the overall value of having completed this course is how I've been influenced in applying one of the most important aspects of performing and achieving satisfying results at this kind of work, is having a good attitude. A good attitude provokes clear thought processes, which in turn produce excellent results. All of the newly learned skills and methods etc. will be useless in the absence of forward planning. William continually reinforces the need for constant vigilance in this regard; ever mindful of the fact that every wrong action or sequence necessitates remedial action later (if you're lucky and it's not too late) i.e. you haven't made a cahones of it. So take his word for it and do the dry run! And curiously, he instills this without your realising it. It's this marvellous ability to motivate the student to adopt a proper attitude which generates great satisfaction and in my own case, the production of a wonderful and beautifully sounding first guitar. I could not have achieved this from all the books available including William's excellent tome on the subject (which I know will now come into it's own). This one-on-one style of tutorial imparts concepts and nuances in a context which, in my opinion, can only be conveyed and gleaned in a direct contact situation. The books then serve as a valuable reference. Well! That's what works for me !
Looking back now I feel that there is a kind of spiritual dimension to working with materials from our natural environment and that it may run deep in our psyche, as music itself does. So I suppose then, there are three elements to it; the physical, mental and spiritual. But on a more personal note I wish to state that despite the intensity of it, my time in New England was most enjoyable though far too short. Because this course was so intensive, it was many months later that I became aware of the deeper significance it would have for me. Already it has helped to fill a large gap in my life and rekindled my energies and truly, this course has been very good for me personally, insofar as it has assisted in bringing me along on my own personal journey. I am now very enthusiastic about the future.
Much more could be said to laud this guitar making course but suffice it , I think , to make a few comments to round off , as it were , my conclusions. Firstly, William is so patient. I know, because I tested him on more than a few occasions. Secondly, it is a peaceful and calm atmosphere in which to work; calm, pleasant guys and great music a la CDs of many genres. Thirdly, to have benefited from the years of extensive knowledge and experience from someone so interesting, felt more like a privilege than a contract. I genuinely believe it was worth the effort and money for lots of reasons but mainly because of the confidence it has given me to pursue this craft at whatever level and pace I choose.
Finally, if anyone out there seeks a humble word of encouragement feel free to contact me on e-mail at