Great Acoustics: This Custom Style 21 Cowardin 000 celebrates a decades-long friendship

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Excerpt from the May/June 2022 issue of Acoustic guitar | By Greg Olwell

Barry Lawson was in his 20s in computer science graduate school when he befriended a 40-something computer programming professor, Jack Cowardin. The latter worked in the moonlight as an instrument repairer and builder, and the academic side of the relationship blossomed into a musical friendship based on their shared love of guitars, mandolins, and bluegrass.

As often happens among guitar buddies, Cowardin began working on Lawson’s instruments and serving as an advisor and stooge. Eventually, Cowardin settled as Restoration Music, in Richmond, Virginia, to concentrate on building and repairing string instruments, while Lawson continued his college career.

Not long ago, the young player commissioned Cowardin to build an instrument to complement his 1938 Martin 000-18. From the luthier’s stash, they chose a piece of red spruce for the top and some rosewood beautifully crafted Brazilian back and sides. Lawson wanted an understated 000, so he opted for a Style 21, which traditionally represented Martin’s less expensive rosewood models, instead of the more common Style 28 models.

Following the long history of luthiers leaving small messages inside instruments they built or repaired, Lawson asked Cowardin to leave a special message inside. And as a surprise, Cowardin dropped a nod to an untraditional song they performed together in a string band. He inked the first two lines of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” along with a personal note, “To my great musical friend, Barry Lawson,” signed and dated by the creator.

“For me this build is about our 25 year friendship – playing in bands together, going to festivals, seeing it through a divorce, me through the loss of my father – not about the guitar itself” , says Lawson. “There are so many personal elements to this guitar…I will cherish it no matter how it sounds.”

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Acoustic guitar magazine.


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