As many islanders know, we have an abundance of talented artists in residence. Painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, photographers, woodworkers, musicians and more. However, one genre isn’t something you come across often, the luthier.
Bainbridge Island’s own luthier, Alan Simcoe, has been creating and repairing beautiful stringed instruments (professionally) since 1993. Alan’s interest dates back to his early teenage years when he purchased his first electric guitar. Wanting to know just how the instrument worked, he immediately took it apart and reassembled it. A few months later, he sanded and refinished it. As he told me, “There was some interest there right from the start in how guitars were made and a desire to tinker with them.”
Alan went on to receive a Bachelors in Music in classical guitar performance. To assist in financing that degree, he worked on repairing instruments, specifically guitars. He went on to teach music at a community college in Bend, Oregon, before deciding to relocate to the Seattle area 1991. Although he loved the city of Seattle, he and his wife wanted a more family friendly environment to raise their children and ultimately decided on Bainbridge Island as their new home.
After getting settled on the island, Alan opened a music teaching studio, where he primarily taught guitar. As the business thrived, Alan decided to expand his repertoire to include building and repairing guitars.
Alan specializes in the Torres/Hauser tradition of nylon string guitar construction. As a 19th century Spanish guitar builder, Antonio Torres synthesized and incorporated much of the current European guitar designs of that time period. He is largely credited with developing the designs used in today’s modern guitars. Hermann Hauser built guitars in pre-WWII Munich. As Alan explained, “The story goes that after doing some repairs to a Torres guitar that Andres Segovia was playing at the time, he (Hauser) completely changed the way he was working and became the chief proponent of the Torres style for the next 15-20 years or so, really putting the Torres style guitar on the map.”
Using the Torres/Hauser techniques, Alan creates light and nimble instruments made from a variety of woods, such as European spruce or Western red cedar for the tops and Indian rosewood and other hardwoods for the sides and back. If the client is looking for a specific look or sound, he’s happy to suggest different types of woods depending on their needs and wants. The designs and materials allow Alan to create instruments capable of great clarity and flexibility of sound.
“I, myself, was never attracted to the heavier, sometimes bigger Ramirez style guitars. All my heroes played Hauser or Hauser derived guitars, so it was natural for me to start there when I began building,” Alan said. “It’s still my favorite guitar sound.”
In addition to being a talented luthier and teacher, Alan is an accomplished musician. In 2016, he formed his band, The Cuban Heels, a Latin/Brazilian jam trio, and later brought on the talented singer and flute player, Shannon Dowling. Due to the pandemic and an arm injury that Alan suffered early in the lockdown, The Cuban Heels shut down all performances and rehearsals. This summer they began playing again, performing duo shows with Alan and Shannon, or Alan and bass player Neil Conaty at Eagle Harbor Wine Co. and at the Red Cedar Café, which Alan is part owner of.
Because of his arm injury, Alan was unable to play or work on guitar making during most of the pandemic lockdown, using that time to heal and listen to music. As he explained it, “to acknowledge that music is a deep human language that has not only metaphorical, but direct connections to the world around us. The ‘Music of the Spheres’ is not just a pleasant thought. It’s a wonder to me that it does not occupy a more central position in peoples’ lives both as listeners and as performers.”
In addition to Alan’s custom handmade nylon string classical guitars in the Torres/Hauser tradition (specializing in Concert, Recital and Parlor models) he also builds ukuleles, Portuguese cavaquinhos, lutes, citterns, viols, bandolims (Brazilian style mandolins) and other instruments.
Alan’s guitars can be found on his website, Luthier Alan Simcoe | Custom Handmade Classical Guitars for Sale (simcoeguitars.com) or at Village Music here on Bainbridge Island. In addition to guitar lessons through Village Music, Alan also coaches theory, improvisation, and interpretation for community players of any instrument.
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ABOUT MARGARET MILLMORE. Margaret Millmore is a supernatural fiction author and blogger, living on Bainbridge Island with her husband, Bryan. Her first published works were flash fiction, The Welcome Home and Untitled – Luke N. Goode, which were featured on Bay Area artist, Kenny Mencher’s blog. In 2011 she published her first full length novel, since then she’s published a three book series, another novel and her current series (via Next Chapter Publishing – formerly Creativia Publishing) What Haunts Me (Ghost Killer Book 1); The Edge of the Cemetery (Ghost Killer Book 2), which was awarded the August 2016 Book of the Month award by Long and Short Reviews; and What Hunts Me (Ghost Killer Book 3). The majority of her books are set in San Francisco where she lived—previous to island life—for over 26 years. Her preferred writing genre is supernatural fiction, with the exception of her time-travel novel, The Dragonfly Door. In addition to her novels, Margaret writes a blog, called The Island Wanderer – which focuses on people, events and businesses on Bainbridge Island: https://theislandwanderer.com/blog/. All her books can be found on her website and her Amazon Author page.