RED WING — “Sometimes the instrument speaks to you,” said Chris Silver.
Silver, a guitar player by night and high school principal by day, was one of three guitar players who put a series of instruments through their paces Wednesday during the Student Guitar Show at Minnesota State College Southeast in Red Wing.
“There’s some stellar students that have come out of here,” Silver said.
For example, he still recalls a particular mandocello — a large mandolin — made a few years ago that sticks out as one of the best instruments he’s played from the show. “It was a world-class instrument.”
For example, that mandocello, for most people, might have inspired the playing of some Irish music. “It inspired me to play some jazz-funk tune.”
Mike Cramer, who works as a software developer by day but plays guitar at night, played alongside Silver during the show. The show, an annual event at MSC-SE allows the students who are part of the luthier program to hear their guitars played by professional pickers. When Cramer picks up a guitar, he strums it to hear its tone. It helps him decide what music will suit it best.
“I’ve already got a good idea what I want it to sound like,” Cramer said. “The good ones are the ones that help me achieve that. There’s been guitars, I don’t want to give them back.”
Playing for the students, letting them hear what their instruments can do, is what Cramer said he loves most about coming to the show and performing, something he’s done now a handful of times. “This is a milestone for these folks going through the program,” he said.
One of those students, Giju Chang, came a long way to learn to fix and build guitars. A native of South Korea, Chang said there are no luthier programs in his country. So, when he wanted to learn the craft, he got on the internet and searched. There, he found three good programs in the United States, but the program at MSC-SE and living in Red Wing sold him on coming to Minnesota.
When he returns to South Korea next week, Chang said, “I’m going to set up my own shop.”
He also said he was grateful for the feedback from the musicians to help him build better instruments. All three guitarists who came to the show played instruments made by Chang.
Guitarist Phil Heywood said his favorite instrument this year was one made by Chang, but several of the guitars produced a “dynamic” sound.
While both Silver and Cramer said they have felt like buying guitars right from the show, Heywood said he already owns one guitar that feels like it was made just for him. That, he said, is what these guitars can be for other guitarists.
For Silver, the program is keeping alive a lost art at a time when some of the best guitars are being made. As for his part, he loves bringing joy to those students as they hear their instruments played.
“I love the expressions on their faces,” Silver said. “The fun part about this program is that student who goes the extra mile.”