Luthier finds his calling in guitar work
by Kristin Finney
January 26, 2014 11:55 PM | 701 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HAHIRA — The first three songs Scott Dorscheimer ever learned on guitar were Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” Eric Clapton’s “Layla” and The Allman Brothers’ “Sweet Melissa.”

He started when he was 18 when, watching a friend play guitar, he was struck by a desire to pick it up himself.

He took a couple of lessons and learned a few chords, teaching himself after that.

Dorscheimer’s father was an electrical engineer who built cabins in his spare time with Dorscheimer growing up helping him saw, cut and nail them together.

Once he got into guitar playing, Dorscheimer’s mind returned to all that woodwork and he started wondering how hard it would be to build a guitar from scratch, piece by piece.

On a visit in Bozeman, Mont., a chance conversation about guitars at a pub in Big Sky introduced Dorscheimer to the manager of Gibson Guitars in Bozeman.

Two weeks later, he hooked a U-Haul up to his truck and moved to Montana, going to work for Gibson.

“Gibson builds all their acoustic guitars out there. The weather is really conducive for the wood out there because of the humidity. It’s a dry air.”

He ended up staying there for a year, long enough to learn a few things about guitars, and long enough to discover that what he was seeking wasn’t something you could find in a factory, not even one that created guitars.

He met the guys at Gibson who did custom work by hand and started talking with them. Two of them had gone to a luthier, or guitar building, school in Phoenix, Ariz., and Dorscheimer decided that was where he’d head. He even wrote a check to the school, a check he still holds onto today. But, like the oft-quoted line from John Lennon, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

A conversation with two professional luthiers convinced him that guitar building was a long, hard road to make a living.

“You’ve got to pay your dues. There’s no other way around it.”

Dorscheimer ended up moving back to Atlanta and going to college, majoring in political science and business administration, but he didn’t give up on guitars. He kept working at it, at first ordering guitar making kits that came with half of the steps done. He’d take baby steps with each one, learning a little more each time, slowly working backwards to get to the point where he was starting from scratch.

“The only way to do this is to get in there.”

He ended up going into insurance, something that his stepfather did, sticking with it for 15 years, building guitars on the side.

“There would be times when I could build more and other times when I wasn’t able to build too much because of circumstances: money, machinery and time.”

Insurance brought Dorscheimer and his family to down to Hahira, but he slowly started feeling burned out.

When his father died — the father who showed him how to work wood, showed him how to take dissimilar parts and build something accordant out of them — he started thinking about his life, about the years, about his love and hate, tug-of-war relationship between his desire to build guitars and the circumstances of life.

“It made me take a step back ... It was a kind of a wake-up call.”

So, here’s a question: you live in Hahira and you want to pursue your passion of crafting acoustic guitars from scratch. Where do you go to develop your craft?

If you said the local barbershop, you’re right.

Dorscheimer mentioned to his barber, Jimmy, one day that he built guitars and Jimmy sent him to see his cousin, Mike Daugherty, who’s been making violins since the 1980s.

Dorscheimer and Daugherty started hanging out, talking with each other about projects they were working on.

Eventually, Dorscheimer ended up making a guitar in Daugherty’s shop as a kind of joint project.

“He’s helped me learn to hear the right tones in the wood before I build it, making sure the tones match.”

Now, Dorscheimer splits his guitar building between Daugherty’s and at home in a side room of the house outfitted with saws and clamps, soaking the wood in his bathtub to make it more pliable.

He also works with wood in other ways, building chairs, belt buckles and rustic decor.

It’s been a long road for Dorscheimer to finally arrive at focusing on guitars, but he has no regrets about it. If anything, it’s taught him patience.

“If I can just sit back and let things happen, it’s amazing how thing truly fall into place.”

Last year, he got up the courage to take his guitars to the Naturally Acoustic Guitar Show at Lake Oconee. There, he was able to meet his peers, his fellow luthiers, and compare techniques. Dorscheimer was nervous, but everyone was encouraging, offering feedback and advice, which he sums up in four short lines, four short lines that sketch out his past and his future in the same way you might sketch out the design of a guitar’s peg head, or the layout of a cabin.

Good work. Rough at some spots. Great at some things. Keep going.

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