Claude St. Denis – Transforming Wood, Steel and Passion into Music.
Canada has rich history of luthiers – world-renowned guitar makers – William “Grit” Laskin, Jean Larrivée, Linda Manzer, to name but three. Claude St. Denis, based in the Emsdale area, will soon be recognized as a craftsman of such stature.
Claude St. Denis’s turned his love for guitars into a reality when he opened his shop a few years ago. Throughout his professional working life a law enforcement officer in Ontario, he carried within himself, a growing passion for the art and craft of guitar making. In 2014, he took a leap of faith and studied with Sergei de Jonge – Lutherie, where he came to recognize a latent talent that would become the foundation of his late life career as a luthier. A rare opportunity so few get to experience – two dedicated careers in one lifetime.
Acoustic steel string guitars are a miracle of ingenious design, craft and engineering. No other instrument lends itself to such accessibility and yet almost infinite creative possibilities. St. Denis specializes in very specific workmanship, which he applies to the three designs of guitars he makes – dreadnought, standard, and 000. He only makes 3- 6 guitars per year. Each individual guitar is hand detailed and made in his shop. Claude attends to all the details personally.
This makes his guitars unique and impossible to replicate. Modern guitar making is mainly done in factory and computer assisted settings, with craftsmanship as a much lower priority. One aspect of Claude’s guitar building is the attention to fine details such as the tone wood used to produce the sound vibration out of the sound box. Steel string guitars are under enormous pressure from the tension of the strings through the bridge on the sound or tone wood. Claude’s attention to the tone woods – highly valued woods such as Sitka Spruce and Adirondack Spruce, and other rare woods, is precise and of particular importance, since these woods have very fine grains and can be sanded to a finely tuned resonating thinness. He tap tones all tops until they ring with a specific resonance, which his trained ear is able to discern.
All aspects of guitar construction from quarter sawn finely graded woods – tone wood tops, and solid backs to the bracing of the sound box, the binding by hand carved curly maple, the neck, bridges and bone saddles are done with a passion for perfection and with a deep love for each individual instrument. The constructed guitar is French polished with several coats of a specific shellac/alcohol mixture, which brings the immaculate woods to a very high gloss surface, with a deep colour and clarity.
In Claude’s own humble description – he loves building something for people that has it’s own unique voice and will grow with the player over a lifetime. Such talent and inspiration is gift that we should all celebrate.