Brandt's Bolero

By Gerken, Teja | Acoustic Guitar, July 2014 | Go to article overview

Brandt's Bolero


Gerken, Teja, Acoustic Guitar


greg Brandt was just another long-haired hippie kid working in a natural-foods restaurant in 1970s Los Angeles when a customer turned him on to a book that would change his life. It wasn't one of the popular self-discovery texts of the day, like the / Ching or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, rather it was luthier David Russell Young's The Steel String Guitar: Construction and Repair. Brandt liked guitars, but it never occurred to him to build one. Then he walked into a guitar shop and had an epiphany. "I thought, 'What could possibly be cooler than playing a guitar that I made?"'

He cracked open the book and has never looked back.

Today, Brandt is one of the most respected nylon-string luthiers on the West Coast (gregbrandtguitars.com). His shop in North Hollywood, now in its fourth decade, produces a limited number of top-quality guitars for some of the finest players in the business. He's built instruments for musicians ranging from Filipino classical and rock guitarist Perfecto de Castro to jazz-guitar great Barry Zweig to Hollywood studio legend Tommy Tedesco, known for his familiar riffs on such classic TV themes as The Twilight Zone and M*A*S*H. If you've ever seen the movies Goodfellas, Blade Runner, Field of Dreams, or The Mexican, you've heard the sweet sound of Brandt's handiwork-his guitars are in the soundtracks to all of them.

'There is something about a handmade classical guitar that is so intimate and delicate," Brandt says, "while at the same time, so vibrant and powerful."

WITH THESE HANDS

Brandt was only partway through his first build, at 18, when he realized that his hands already knew what to do. He quit his restaurant gig and took a job in a woodworking-supply shop, where he not only got to talk to experienced craftspeople, but also got an employee discount on tools. One of his customers was a local luthier, Bob Mattingly. "I had hair down to the middle of my back, and this guy had a buzz cut," Brandt says. "He didn't like me."

Still, Mattingly eventually warmed up to Brandt's enthusiasm and reluctantly agreed to teach him the basics of guitar building.

Meanwhile, Brandt had struck up other fortuitous friendships. His father worked in the movie industry, so Brandt was able to gain access to film-scoring sessions. At one, he met Tedesco, who ended up buying the seventh guitar Brandt made. (Tedesco would later purchase two more of his instruments.) Having a player of Tedesco's caliber as a client not only added credibility to Brandt's work, it introduced the young guitar maker to an illustrious new crowd.

"One day, Tommy called me and said he was doing a session at a movie studio with a group of guitar players and that I should come down and join them," Brandt remembers. "He left my name at the gate, and I was taken to a gigantic sound stage. As I remember, there were five or six guitar players and a 120-piece orchestra being conducted by Carmine Coppola. They were recording the soundtrack for The Godfather Part ///."

Thms out, Brandt's guitars made the cut.

NYLON-STRING LOVE

During his earliest days as a luthier, Brandt built both steeland nylon-string guitars, but he soon decided to concentrate on the latter. After all, nylon-strings were what most of his Hollywood clients were looking for, and Brandt realized this was a market that had not been flooded. "I figured that factories could build great steelstrings, but not so much nylon-strings," he says. He started building standard classicals, but also experimented with sevenand ten-stringed instruments, as wells as guitars that were geared specifically to studio players rather than typical recitalists. "A lot of the studio guys want things like narrower necks or cutaways, and I'm happy to build that way," he says.

Classical virtuoso de Castro was taken by Brandt's willingness to be adventurous. …

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