JACK ARMBRUST (J.E. ARMBRUST)
LUTHIER AND BIRD CARVER




* * * Deceased December 15, 2011.  A void that can never be filled...  Requiescat in pace, Jack... * * *

John Wilson's tribute to Jack, "King of the Garaj Mahal"



     Jack Armbrust started crafting guitars back in the early 1960's while in his 20's.  Mostly self-taught in the luthier's art, through a lot of trial and error and sweat and sometimes even a little blood, Jack has created many works of absolute beauty over the years.

     In the early 1980's, Jack got away from guitars and started carving duck decoys and later, various songbirds and owls and hawks.  His birds have won him numerous awards in some of the most prestigious carving competitions in N. America.  He has been commissioned, on occasion, to carve birds for fund-raising functions by Ducks Unlimited and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, amongst others.  These birds generally fetch upwards of $1000.

     Jack retired from his "day job" (actually, he worked shift-work all those years) at UCAR in 1999 after over 30 years of service.  Right off, he started giving classes in duck decoy painting (yes, Jack is also a very talented artist with oils, water colours and acrylics) but found that too stressful and had to give it up.  Jack then decided to take a break from bird-carving and got back into building guitars in the fall of 2001.

     November, 2006, due to health problems, Jack decided to hang up his lutherie tools and skills for good.  End of an era...

     This is a guitar story that had to be told.  In 1977 Jack built a D-style full-bodied florentine cutaway guitar with spruce top, Indian rosewood sides and back, mahogany neck with ebony fretboard, and a mother-of-pearl dove inlaid into the headstock.  Danny Kozar, a local jazz guitarist and music teacher, bought the guitar shortly thereafter.  This guitar ended up for sale in a local pawnshop sometime in the early to mid 1980's.  Chuck Kelford, a local C&W performer, bought it and later resold it.  Where that guitar had gotten to nobody knew until fate stepped in and played a hand.  Read about this guitar's amazing journey as described by its late owner's wife.

      Below are some examples of Jack's art.

     This guitar features cocobolo sides and back.  The neck is mahogany.  It has a Sitka spruce top, ebony fretboard and bridge.  Jack uses nothing but select quarter-sawn lumber for his guitars.  Nut and saddle are from a cow's leg-shank bone.  Inlays are hand crafted from mother-of-pearl blanks.  The head-plate is 2-piece bookmatched exotic wood with Jack's stylised initials inlaid in mother-of-pearl.  All binding is wood, hand-crafted by Jack as is the eccentric rosette.  This guitar's sound has great volume and its tone is full and musical, reminiscent of the best Martins (tm) and Taylors (tm). A joy to play.

                
(click on any "thumbnail" to view full-size picture)


     Jack completed the guitar pictured below in February/03.  He used highly figured maple for the sides, 4-piece back and 3-piece neck. Note the beautifully contrasting wood strips inserted between the pieces!  This guitar also features a Sitka spruce top with ebony fretboard and bridge.  The nut and saddle are of moosehorn.  Its sound is rich, full and warm, quite similar to the Gibson J-45's(tm).  When you look at the back of this guitar in the right light, the figuring of the maple gives a striking 3-D optical illusion effect.  You'd swear the wood has hills and valleys and ridges!

                
(click on any "thumbnail" to view full-size picture)


     A few years ago, a friend of Jack's gave him part of a black-walnut beam from a 100+year-old cottage from "up north" that had been torn down.  Jack salvaged enough wood from this beam to fashion this guitar.  The grain of the wood in the 4-piece back is wild!  The neck and sides are of the same wood.  The top is Sitka spruce with ebony fretboard and bridge.  The nut and saddle are of moosehorn.  The body style is slightly narrower at the waist than the two pictured above.  The only thing that Jack doesn't make himself on his guitars is the fretwire, the tuners and the strings.  He even makes his own threaded adjustable truss-rods!  This guitar has a warm soft mellow tone that tugs at one's heartstrings.

                
(click on any "thumbnail" to view full-size picture)


     Jack had always wanted to tackle building an "F-style" Mandolin.  This type of mandolin is quite similar to a violin in construction.  The 2-piece bookmatched top and back have to be carved to a graceful curve, slightly thicker at the center and tapering off to about 1/8" at the edges. Jack just completed this superfine instrument in April/03.  The top is Sitka spruce, the back and sides of highly-figured maple.  No shortcuts anywhere in the making of this beauty!  Painstaking effort in every detail.

                                       
(click on any "thumbnail" to view full-size picture)


     The scroll on the top left bout is in itself a very intricate piece of workmanship.  And then there's the 3-ply wood binding that has to be fitted to conform to those curves, a task that is enough to try the patience of the best of us.  It's beauty and workmanship rival instruments that typically sell for US $5000 and up.  Add to that the fact that it sounds great and that's about as close to perfect as you can get!

                        
(click on any ";thumbnail" to view full-size picture)


Click here for MORE INSTRUMENTS

     I will add pictures of more of Jack's fine instruments as they come available so please bookmark this page and come back often.  In the meantime, you can go to the next page to view some of Jack's award-winning birds.  Just click here.


     In closing, let me say that I have known Jack for over 35 years and have had the great honour of being the first to play each instrument at its completion.  Each one has been unique and a work of art in its own right.  I am privileged to own 2 of these fine guitars custom-built by Jack, a D-28 style (Indian rosewood sides and back, German spruce top) built in 1976 and a slim-line cutaway (mahogany with red cedar top) completed October/02.  I have owned an all-tube Gibson clone GA-16T guitar amp for which Jack built the cabinet and now have another all-tube amp, the "Little Wonder" designed by John Lansky with a cabinet again crafted by Jack.  You can check these out here, along with the beautiful slim-bodied cutaway guitar that Jack custom-built for me in 2002.

     Playing it all by ear,
Andre.


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