Tahlequah Daily Press

November 8, 2012

Crafting the music

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — The guitar evolved into the stringed instrument played today from ancient cousins in central Asia and India.

Each new craftsman has changed the guitar’s style and sound by design, including local musician Scott Lawrence.

“I started building guitars to make the kind of guitar I always wanted and couldn’t afford,” Lawrence said.

After extensive research, Lawrence now creates his own guitars, known as D’Lorenzo.

“The design is about engineering a more responsive guitar,” he said. “I’m trying to make an acoustically superior instrument that has more acoustic volume, projection, sustain and tone.”

In his retirement career, the former physical therapist has made between 50 and 60 guitars. Quality of tone and the playability of the instrument are his priorities.

“The only way to make a name for myself is to not just do something different, but better – to advance the art of guitar building,” he said. “My interest is not in making a decorative guitar, so much as one full of tone that just makes you want to play.”

A trumpet needs a band behind it to make it sound right, he said, but a guitar you can get lost in for hours.

“I’m inspired by music without limits and the ability to improvise and go wherever you want to go,” said Lawrence.

He played trumpet in school in New Orleans, where all students play music beginning in second grade.

“They’ve got their own style of music, and that’s what they listen to,” he said. “They take it seriously down there.”

At 12, he received a Sears Silvertone and has always had and played guitars since.

As a youth, he honed woodworking skills, restoring and building custom furniture with his grandfather, Roy Larson, a cabinet maker in Minnesota.

His dad was in the military, so Lawrence traveled a lot. He started performing professionally at age 16, while living in Washington, D.C.

“[I like] rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “Like most kids, you stick with it or get bored and go on to something else.”

In the 1970s, he began repairing guitars for a music store in Cincinnati while attending commercial art school. This is where he gained the confidence to build his own guitars.

“A man retired from Gretsch worked there, and I learned a lot working with him,” Lawrence said.  “I was studying jazz with good Cincinnati musicians, too.”

In his 20s, he built three Martin guitars from kits.

He had custom cabinet shops and restored furniture in Seattle and Colorado before coming to Oklahoma to earn a degree in physical therapy. Today, he works in a wood shop he built from the slab up. He uses hand tools that belonged to his grandfather to craft his wood into guitar pieces. Around his shop are guitars in various stages of the process, as well as repair jobs, including an 1800s cello.

“Each guitar is an improvement on the last,” Lawrence said.

“I continue to study and do research about acoustical design and engineering, and structural engineering, as well.”

An arch top has between 160 and 180 hours into it. He actually carves out the shape rather than steam-bends it. A flat-top requires between 110 and 120 hours to complete.

“I’ve built Gypsy jazz guitars, a hybrid between arch-top and a flat-top, and occasionally I do an electric guitar just for the fun,” he said.

He doesn’t care for custom “wacky” designs.

“Those wanting a custom guitar in a wacky design, shaped like Ecuador? I’m just not the guy,” he said. “But conventional lines and high-performance features, I can do that. Custom woods, voice or tone, I can do that.”

He’s moving toward using more domestic hardwoods, like black walnut and maple, because he doesn’t want to contribute to the extinction of tropical hardwoods like Brazilian rosewood and Honduran mahogany.

D’Lorenzo guitars are priced around $2,400 for flattops and $6,500 for high-end, arch-top models. His creations are selling at shows and markets, and now he’s marketing online.

“Prices are very competitive, compared to a factory Martin,” Lawrence said. “You can buy a guitar for any budget; that’s fine for a student. But a serious instrumentalist and guitarist who is very demanding for a guitar that plays right and sounds right, and is responsive to his style, can pay up in the range of $25,000.”

At a recent guitar show in Dallas, Clint Strong, a guitarist who tours with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard sat down and played a D’Lorenzo guitar for about 20 minutes, “and a crowd gathered.”

“I’m looking for an instrumentalist to endorse my guitar,” Lawrence said. “Tommy Emmanuel and Leo Kotke, or Brad Paisley or Vince Gill, as long as they can scorch them frets.”