Douglas McLean, March 03,2020.
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.
I purchased one of Claude’s exquisite guitars about a year ago and I could not be happier with the quality of this instrument. Claude took the time to clearly explain to me the dynamics of good sound, but he doesn’t just talk the talk. The real proof is in the playing and, simply put, Claude’s guitars look and sound fantastic. As a songwriter I have owned a number of good quality guitars over the past 45 years, but I have never owned a guitar that “fit” me as well, or sounded as good as this St. Denis guitar does. Thank you Claude, for including me in your list of satisfied customers, and for the passion and care you put into making each and every one of your beautiful, custom made guitars. I hope to make you proud by writing some good songs on this one!
I had an opportunity to visit Claude’s workshop in late 2016 when I had the opportunity to play a couple of his guitars and get some insight as to how he built them. I could not believe the level of detail he put in his workmanship and the passion he had in talking about building his guitars. Then in 2017 he invited me to work with him and to build my own guitar. What an experience!! I can honestly say that I have never worked with someone with such an eye for detail as he walked me through each phase of the build. With the level of quality, it is of little wonder as to why his guitars produce the sounds and sustainability that they do.
It is an honour to be able to continue working and learning with Claude in his shop and witnessing more and more of his guitars being played at various venues in the area.
Christy Flynn-Sollman & Jamey Sollman
Claude was recommended to me 3 years ago by a friend/guitar enthusiast in the area as the man to help me maintain and service my new Gibson Hummingbird guitar. We visited his workshop and he was very generous, genuine, and encouraging with his help and advice. Our next stop to Claude was for some help with my Father in Laws 1965 D-18 000 Martin, which needed some TLC. Claude was excited and happy to help with the transformation! Understand, as a fairly intermediate guitar player, I was playing some very, very nice guitars and was NOT in the market for anything new… until we made a stop at Claude’s shop. We went just as an outing with an uncle in town who was doing some preliminary guitar shopping. Claude offered me one of his guitars he had in the shop to test – and the rest is history. Welcome “Miss Maple” whom I purchased one year ago and have not put down for any of my other collection since! It sounds as beautiful as it looks. The unexpected reward when buying from Claude is the lifetime of service and help he provides in caring for his guitars (and he always thinks of them as “his”). One of my favorite things in the world is taking the guitar to Claude’s shop, then waiting while he opens the case and gently says “Well, Hello!” to the guitar. It is obvious the love and caring he puts in his craft and watching that unfold is priceless. I sing a song with the line, “I’m holding more than strings and wood” and think of Claude every time that line appears, as his guitars are obviously very personal and close to his heart. If you have the chance to stop in and check out Claude’s space, do
it! The added bonus is that he is such a great guy and one we are very happy to now call our friend.
I have owned my St. Denis rosewood triple S guitar for three years and my appreciation of it continues to grow. Owning a St. Denis custom guitar has been an absolute delight for so many reasons. Primarily, it plays and sounds better than I could possibly describe. Secondly, the ownership experience has been amazing. Claude’s passion for guitar making literally resonates in every one of his guitars I have put my hands on (and I have played a number of them).
Having spent some time in Claude’s workshop, I can confidently say that each piece of material that went in to my guitar was hand picked and extremely well cared for. His attention to detail and meticulous craftsmanship is evident and his minimum standard is perfection.
After three years, I know that I will play and enjoy this guitar for my entire life. I highly recommend that any guitarist looking for their next ‘true love’ visit Claude and learns first hand what perfection sounds like.
Proud St. Denis owner.
Mark Hockey 25 Feb.2020
I have owned and played many guitars over 40 years. The passion Claude shows, the attention to detail, and the uncompromising quality set his guitars apart. The sustain goes on forever and the sound is out of this world. You must drop in and see him. Hearing is believing!!
I have a Martin D-35. It has been with me since the beginning. Unfortunately, time and circumstances had rendered it almost unplayable. If not for drastic surgery by Claude, it would have been reduced to firewood. With the quality of his workmanship, and frankly, compassion, he restored the old girl to her status as first love. The price was damn reasonable too.
Peter Turnbull. Burks Falls Ontario.
Bought my custom-built St. Denis guitar two years ago. The sound of this instrument is amazing and the quality and craftmanship is superb. I am only a self-taught player, but this fine guitar has truly helped me to learn. Claude St. Denis, you are a master at building guitars. You can rest assured that I will spread the good word to all the bluegrass festivals we attend. Thank you and continued success.
I heard about Claude St. Denis Guitars and after actually hearing the dreadnaught model played by local musician, Sean Cotton, I called Mr. St. Denis to arrange and appointment. I was looking for an OM sized guitar and after playing his triple S (standard Steel String) model, I was sold. At first blush I couldn’t help but notice the fine detail paid to the finish of the instrument. The feel and balance are great, and the action was excellent. I was amazed at the overall tone and natural volume. The sustain was like a big old bell. It seems to ring forever. I purchased this guitar and had a K an K mini pickup installed by Claude. This guitar has moved to the head of the class, ahead of my Martin D-28, 25 years old, and my Gibson J-50, 54 years old. I invite all serious musicians to check out the Claude St.Denis guitar lineup. I promise that you will not be disappointed.
Two years ago, I brought my Martin D-18 retro to luthier, Claude St. Denis at St. Denis guitars and he set it up, beautifully. Since then Claude has become my guitar Tech. And has completely rebuilt my 1972 Harmony. Claude did such an incredible job on my harmony and has unparallel attention to detail in both guitar repair and guitar building. Since I have met Mr. St. Denis, I have had the pleasure of playing a dozen St. Denis guitars and every single one is a masterpiece. If you are ever in central Ontario please take the time to stop by his shop for a tour.