WATERVILLE — Making fine stringed instruments such as the guitar and the violin is as much a passion as it is an art and a science.

And a business.

That was the message Saturday at Common Street Arts from violin maker Harry Richter, of Waterville, and Dennis Patkus, of Fairfield, a guitar maker. Both men have studios at Railroad Square in Waterville and both men not only make their instruments, they also repair others.

“There’s no real magic or mystery to it,” Patkus said of the detailed work it takes to make a guitar from scratch — slices of selected wood, tools, glue and above all else a keen eye, a sensitive touch and intuition.

The men showed an audience of about 20 people, both young and old, the craft of being a luthier — building and repairing stringed instruments. They had long tables displaying guitars and violins from the raw materials and the tools of the trade, to the finished products as audience members lounged on couches, comfortable chairs and bean bags.

Before and after the demonstrations, musicians — Elaine Malkin and Gail Lipfert, both of Canaan — performed traditional Maine and French Canadian songs on guitar and violins made by Richter and Patkus.

The art of luthiery dates back to 15th-century Europe and involves knowledge of the wood used to make the instruments, the tone of the wood and the craft of finishing the final product, said Serena Sanborn, the education and outreach coordinator for sponsor Waterville Creates.

She said Saturday’s program was called Dwell: At Home In the Gallery, the theme being a conversation with guitar and violin makers; and visiting community members were asked to donate musical instruments for use at Waterville Senior High School.

“The idea behind this is during January and February, when we’re all kind of isolated in our homes, is to come and hang out,” Sanborn said. “It’s a place where people can come and play board games, play records, do jigsaw puzzles; and we have solar lamps so you can get full spectrum sunlight.”

All the programs at the gallery are free, she said.

One attendee Saturday said he is a woodworker who always wanted to make his own guitar, and that he learned a lot from Richter and Patkus.

“The presentation was great. I’ve been thinking I wanted to try building a guitar, and they gave me a lot of information on how to start,” said Skip Mulch, of Anson, who moved to live full time with his wife from Amesbury, Massachusetts. “I make custom furniture with natural edges. I strip the bark off and keep the edge.”

The information Mulch said he got Saturday included the different types of wood used in making the instruments, making different sounds, shapes and sizes when the pressure of the strings is applied.

Patkus said a guitar can produce many different sounds, based on the type of wood selected. Richter said the violin remains much as it has been for the past 300 years.

“It’s all about controlled vibrations,” Patkus said. “I’ve never made two guitars exactly the same.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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