Guest article by Sam Small
A guitar is a complicated weapon of music-making. It has to be light enough to wear around your neck, but strong enough to bear the enormous string tension that can range from 70 to 150 pounds.
So, you masters of the zinging strings, how is your neck relief? Is your truss rod in good order? Is your action too high? Is your intonation accurate? Is your bridge at the right height? If you answered no to any of these questions, then you need guitar service in Austin.
Let’s say you’re playing your new guitar in your bedroom, dreaming of adoration from hundreds of thousands of fans. But all you can hear are buzzes and pops from your wooden friend. Maybe the problem isn’t you. Maybe it’s the aforementioned mysterious adjustments and measurements. You might need a luthier.
“Luthier” comes from a French word, luth, which means “lute.” There aren’t many lutes in the Austin music scene, but the name has stuck. Today, lute-makers, or luthiers, service every stringed, fretted instrument, including violins, banjos, ukuleles and mandolins.
One such hero is Danny Shoemaker, who runs Straight Frets on the tree-lined street of Kinney Avenue in the Zilker District of South Austin.
How Straight Frets Started
College beckoned the young Shoemaker, first at Florida Southern College for classical guitar performance, then at Florida State University. He received a master’s degree from the renowned pedagogue, Bruce Holzman. But luthier was in his blood. As a technician, repairman, player and teacher in Atlanta for almost 10 years, Shoemaker repaired anything that had frets on it. And now he’s doing it in Austin, Texas.
Shoemaker took his first guitar apart at age 14, just so he could put it back together. He built an electric guitar, then a classical guitar. He was soon adjusting action and intonation on handmade classical guitars.
Straight Frets Guitar Service in Austin
If you bring your guitar into Shoemaker’s shop, count on a holistic approach. As each player is different, so is their instrument. Straight Frets attempts to adjust each guitar to the player’s style. Are you a thrasher? Or a delicate picker? Either way, your guitar needs to be adjusted accordingly. As Shoemaker says, he is “making people happy, one guitar at a time.”
Shoemaker’s workshop is in constant use. Julio is the other individual you might see at work. He repairs electronic instruments and equipment. He is a real whiz with electronics, especially the legendary Leslie speaker cabinets.
Now here’s the inside and exclusive news. Teaming up with a guitar fiend who is also an investor, Shoemaker will be making special guitars ranging from $3,500 upwards to $5,000. I want one. Or two. Watch for these guitars at the Arlington Guitar Show in the fall of this year.
Advice for Musicians
Shoemaker works on about 400 guitars a year, so he’s in a good position to hand out tips. “Keep your strings fresh and frets polished. The grime that builds up on the bottom of strings is what cuts into your frets. Also, knowing how to make truss rod and intonation adjustments on the road can make that concert have that special magic that can be heard from the audience.”
If you are starting on the path to guitar immortality, what should you do when buying your first guitar (apart from practicing six hours per day)? Shoemaker says, “Read forums, Internet reviews, talk to your friends and purchase a guitar that inspires you to play. A guitar should fit your hand, and even your frame, like a glove. I used to run a guitar program at a private school consisting of 5th to 8th graders. I used to have them play Strunal 7/8 sized guitars. Two of them I still have. They are an excellent choice for kids that age, or even smaller women with petite hands. The neck profile and size of the guitar body can drastically effect the learning curve.”
Man Behind the Strings
Shoemaker is obviously his own luthier, so what does he like? “Well, there’s nothing like the guitar quality of late 50s, early 60s,” he says. “I’m a big fan of Tom Anderson guitars, and although I haven’t owned one, I used to work at a guitar store in Atlanta that sold them and they really fit my hands just right. John Suhr is quite fantastic also. I need to stop here, because this could go on and on and on!”
He also teaches eight to ten students a week, mostly on Saturdays. Half are classical students. The other half are singer-songwriter types who want to expand their horizons with finger-style playing, improvising and theory.
Shoemaker isn’t the only luthier in town; practically every music store in town has one. But he is a special spirit in the stringed cacophony that is the Austin music scene. Come see him with your guitar or any other wooden fretted string machine. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. The shop is open on Saturdays, but call ahead for an appointment (512-626-4694).
1003 Kinney Ave. — Website
@theAustinot wants to know:
Where do you go to get your guitar serviced in Austin?
Sam Small and his wife made the permanent move from London to Austin in 2014. Sam is a writer of songs, articles and screenplays. He also runs a small recording studio in South Austin.