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Les Stansell
Pistol River, Oregon, USA

This is a magical craft.. it entices for years and finally, succeeds in converting all who attemp it. We cannot all do everything we want to do all of the time...but with planning and perserverence, we can achieve our dreams. Les Stansell had a dream for 20 years, a dream to build musical instrument by hand,..slowly he cultivated his skills...and as you might surmise from the interview below...Les Stansell is now living his dream.

Where and when did you learn guitar building?

Northwest School of Instrument Design, Seattle, 1978-79. Anthony Huvard was Founder, Director, and Primary Instructor of this full-time apprenticeship for custom instrument building. The focus, of course, was on the classic guitar.

What made you want to build guitars?

There was music in my family. I grew up around a lot of live recreational music. After 3 years in the Army (1972-75), I attended Southern Oregon State College as a Music Major, and although school was good it just did not seem to be going anywhere in particular. I saw an advertisement for the Northwest School of Instrument Design in "Frets" magazine and immediately I knew I had to look into this.
I applied, was granted an interview, had to travel to Seattle for the interview and was so impressed when I saw what was happening there, I knew this is what I absolutely had to do. Luckily for me, I had taken the time between my application and interview to construct a dulcimer. I gathered some information, built some jigs, scraped a few hand tools together and built the thing. This, I believe, had a lot to do with my being accepted into the program.

Why do you want to build only Spanish/Classic guitars?

Initially, because that is what I was taught at NWSID. Although my appreciation for the beauty and genius of this design grew out of that experience I also believe it is a much more versatile guitar, as far as application to differing styles of music, than people in general realize...but that is changing.

Where have you been for the last 20 years and why haven’t we heard about you until now?

I have been living in Pistol River because 20 years ago we (Mary and I) had a choice. Raise our family (Laura and Jennifer) in the city or move back to the South Oregon Coast where I grew up. For us it was a "no brainer".Although I built guitars and dulcimers for a few years when we moved back to Pistol River, it was not enough to provide the income necessary to build a house and shop and do my part in supporting our family.Essentially I put guitars on hold and began working as a carpenter. This eventually led to me getting my contractor’s license, over the years I have been building custom homes and designing and building custom cabinets and furniture.

Les is an avid windsurfer too...when he is not in the surf, he lives in the 'Garden of Eden'...where he grew up as a boy

I see you like to use alternative woods. Tell us about that.

Instrument builders have used alternative woods for many years. I don’t believe it compromises in any way the integrity of the instrument. It simply gives people more choices. Although I do enjoy using traditional woods I have to say Myrtlewood is my choice as far as alternate back and side material and that is because I happen to live on the Southern Oregon Coast where climate and soil conditions produce premium instrument grade myrtle.

In your opinion, what constitutes a hand-built guitar?

There is a fairly wide gray area when you try to define a line between hand-built and machine built. I suppose definitions vary greatly among builders. You could easily take it to extremes and say an instrument has to be built entirely by hand from start to finish to be called "hand-built" but that is just not practical. As long as quality is not compromised, quite a lot of rough in work can be accomplished (much faster with more consistency and accuracy) with power tools. This helps the custom builder to stay competitive.
I call my guitars hand-built because although I use power saws, sanders, routers, trimmers, etc., the final fitting and assembly always comes down to chisels, scrapers and the human touch.

Myrtlewood and Figured Maple dulcimers,...made years ago,..long before it was considered politically correct to explore the use of indigenous hardwoods

Alternative hardwoods, premium air-dried spruce, and meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail put Stansell instruments in a special class.

Why should I pay more for a hand-built instrument?

It all depends on what a person wants from their guitar and how much they are willing to spend. If you are looking for a guitar that is customized to your physical size and style of playing, if you want to be able to choose the woods that are used in your guitar, if you want a one-on-one relationship with the builder, if you want an instrument that looks and sounds great and continues to sound better with age, if you want an instrument that appreciates in value… then maybe a customized hand-built guitar is for you.

Hand crafting an instrument allows the builder to excercise tremendous control over all elements of design... factory instruments are limited to 'cookie-cutter' motifs, If it is a true 'custom' instrument you seek, find the right hand craftsman to create it just for you

Stansell Interview continues... I Directory of our featured builders.

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