Love for stringed instruments drives Cold Springs luthier
May 28, 2013
Terry James Webb loves repairing all types of stringed music instruments — all except the harp, that is.
Fortunately for Webb, the front room of his Cold Springs home is stacked with a dozen broken guitars, violins and other stringed instruments, but few harps.
As one of northern Nevada's few luthiers, Webb specializes in fixing all aspects of stringed instruments, from broken necks or cracks in the body of the instrument to worn out frets and other hardware issues. Though many luthiers specialize in repair of one type of instrument, such as the violin or cello, Webb's skills cover the entire gamut of stringed instruments.
"If it has got strings and it is musical, I can fix it for you," he says.
The Reno Tahoe Ukulele Festival and the Reno Acoustic Guitar Festival held at John Ascuaga's Nugget the past few years has provided a small uptick in business, as has the Reno Ukulele Group.
Reno's dry climate provides no small boost in business, either. Guitars and other stringed instruments usually are made in more humid areas, Webb says, and when they arrive in Reno the dry desert air sucks the moisture out of the wood and can lead to cracking or twisting in the instrument.
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"Most guitars are built in a 40- to 50-percent humidity, so there is that moisture in the air," he says. "They build them at that humidity because the wood has a little more give and will bend, but then they ship them out here and within the first year people will start to see cracks."
Webb finds much of his local lutherie work from referrals, local music stores, school districts' music departments and Reno Band & Orchestra. Working as a luthier often can be hard on household budgeting, as there's no way of tracking how many instruments might need repair on a given month.
"It ebbs and flows," he says. "I'll have months where I am just swamped with work, and then it just slows down."
Turnaround times typically average 10 to 14 days, but during slow periods musicians can expect their instruments to be fixed in four to five days. Most people drop off their instruments at local music shops, where Webb picks them up once a week and brings them back to his workshop.
Webb started repairing his own guitars at the age of 16 and has been involved in repair work for three decades. He purposely kept a lower profile over the years to keep his business modest and has avoided opening a store or retail facility. Repeat clients hail from Bishop and Sacramento, Calif. to Hawaii. Webb also is a longtime member of the Guild of American Luthiers.