During her 34 years, Maegen Wells – twice – fell in love at first sight.
At the age of 7, she first picked up an acoustic guitar with nylon strings and strummed the soundtrack to “Grease”. She was in love.
And in high school, the first time she moved a chisel through a piece of wood, she was punched.
For the Forestville luthier, those two moments sparked an explosion of energy and unlocked the music within her, she said.
That’s why she sculpts and assembles one-of-a-kind archtop guitars and custom mandolins in her Forestville workshop, located under towering redwoods near the Russian River.
“I want to make guitars that release the music that lives in all of us,” Wells said. “Music that we forget we have inside or music that has not yet been unlocked. That’s it.”
Small music store in England
When the Michigan native was 9, she and her family of four moved to England when her father’s business moved her.
There she took her first serious guitar lessons, every week in a small music store. She learned from a journal filled with songs she wanted to play, from “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple to “Eleanor Rigby” by The Beatles.
At home, Wells did extra chores to save for a bright red electric guitar. Feeling out of place after her family’s big move, she latched onto her guitar for more comfort. That hole-in-the-wall guitar store where she befriended the staff also became her happy place.
“My guitar has become my best friend,” Wells said. “It was sort of my anchor.”
Then, in 1998, Wells and her family returned to Midland, Michigan, where she fell in love a second time. This time she fell harder and harder.
At Midland High School, Wells, then 14, took her first carpentry course. As sawdust filled the air and rested on shiny chisels and large table saws, there was Wells, who was learning to use a chisel to slowly chop wood.
“Woodworking has changed my life,” Wells said. “You never think you’re going to have a second love. It was the only thing I had fallen in love with, other than the guitars.
For Wells, working with wood means taking risks. It takes courage and overcoming uncertainty.
“When you use a wood lathe, the wood is turned quickly and you drive a very sharp chisel into the wood as it turns,” Wells said. “You are using a scary tool and machine. I think there is a lot of fear you have to face in woodworking.
This is one of the reasons she loves the job.
“There is nothing more rewarding than overcoming your fears,” Wells said.
A luthier is born
In November 2005, a few weeks after her 18th birthday, Wells was sitting in her Michigan bedroom strumming her Taylor acoustic guitar and noticed that the tuners on the back of the headstock read “Taylor.”
“I was like, ‘My God, it must be the best feeling in the world for Bob Taylor (co-founder of El Cajon-based Taylor Guitars) to see his name on every guitar and on every musical tour in the world,’ “Wells said.
His “luthier’s bulb” came on. It was then that she decided to become a professional violin maker.
Over the years, she has taken every opportunity to learn the trade.
She had to learn the basics first. To do this, she worked alongside a guitar repairman in the basement of the Mid-Michigan Music store. She polished guitars and did random chores in exchange for lessons in how to play a guitar well.
In 2006, she moved on to the Galloup School of Violin making in Michigan, which focuses exclusively on professional violin making. Then she took a job with Reverend Guitars, an electric guitar company in Detroit. She worked on 20 guitars a day, put them together and put on the strings.
And finally, in 2008, after meeting longtime luthier Tom Ribbecke at a guitar show in Miami, Wells moved to Healdsburg to begin a five-year apprenticeship with Ribbecke.
“I was in his store five days a week for 10 hours a day,” Wells said. “This is where I learned to make archtop guitars. I learned to do everything from scratch. No computers or technology, just scissors, tweezers and glue. I learned from one of the best.
Now, in his studio at his two-story home in Forestville, Wells spends nearly 300 hours on every one-of-a-kind archtop guitar – the six-string, hollow-bodied steel instrument with a distinct arched top and the rich sound you get. hear in a song by Chet Atkins or a jazz guitar solo by Wes Montgomery.
Archtop guitars, which are considered pretty niches, are traditionally much larger than those made by Wells. But Wells’ specialty is making a smaller guitar without “stealing its voice and sound.”
“I make my guitar tops a lot thinner, which makes the sound more resonant and more responsive, acoustically,” Wells said.
Her days consist of hours of gluing, sanding, sculpting, drying and, most importantly, testing guitars, she laughed.
Wells generally works on four guitars at a time. The wood she uses is very varied, from redwood, ebony, maple and mahogany to walnut, sapele, spruce and koa. Each guitar sells for over $ 10,000.
When it comes to woodworking, Wells uses his intuition.
“I feel the wood through the tool,” Wells said. ” How’s it going ? Are we done? Have I gone too far? It’s a conversation. I let the wood tell me what he wants me to do.
Orders are pouring in for Wells’ designs, and she typically has orders booked two years in advance. However, the luthier opens a waiting list each October, on his dog’s birthday, Lutherie, to take orders for the following year.
“I don’t care who you are, if you’re famous, how long you’ve been playing or how well you play,” Wells said. “If you take one of my guitars and you don’t want to put it down and you feel like it’s unlocked that music inside of you, then I’ve done my job. “
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