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June 2009


     In June of 2009, Jo-Anne Spence asked me if I could find some information as to her late husband's (David Spence) guitar which had been built by Eugene Clark in 1964, a guitar which she'd kept all these years after her husband's untimely demise back in the late 1960s.  She expressed that it was sad that this hand-built quality guitar was gathering dust when it should be in the hands of somebody who would play it and appreciate it.  She hoped to find a going value for the guitar so that she could put it up for sale.


     After an extensive search on the internet, I found that Eugene Clark was still alive and residing in Tacoma, Washington. He was conducting seminars on French polishing at the university there and was quite renowned for his technique in that as well as a famed luthier from the days in the early 1960s when he built flamenco guitars in New York and later, in California.  I found his personal contact information and gave that to Jo-Anne.  She decided to try to contact him by phone.  Meanwhile, I took quite a few detailed pictures of the guitar and gave copies of those pictures to Jo-Anne.


     When Jo-Anne phoned Eugene Clark and told him about the guitar and that she hoped to sell it, he replied that he remembered her and her late husband David as well as the guitar.  He asked her to ship the guitar out to him as he felt sure he could find a buyer for it.  He also stated that he could give the guitar a going-over and service it to ensure it was in tip-top condition.


     I've been playing the guitar since 1964 and have owned and played some fine instruments including Gibsons and C.F. Martins.  As well, I've had a life-long luthier friend, Jack Armbrust (deceased, Dec.15, 2011) who described and demonstrated to me the guitar-building process in all its stages and intricacies over the years.  I own two of his guitars.  As a result, I know more than a little about guitars.  When Jo-Anne showed me her late husband's guitar, I could tell right away that it was a quality instrument built with fine woods and expertly crafted.  My research on the internet proved me right.  Although not in pristine condition, the guitar was in amazing condition for a 45-year-old instrument and although in need of new strings, was still very playable.  The frets showed no apparent wear, the body had no dings or scratches, the spruce top was virtually spotless.  The neck was still straight and true and showed no sign of pulling away from the body at the heel.  The only faults I could find were a small piece of binding (about 1.5” long by 1/32” wide) missing between the book-matched rosewood plates on the headstock and the clear pickguard starting to lift in places.  Strictly cosmetic things with no effect on the playability or sound of the guitar.  The friction peg “violin” tuners, although stiff to turn from lack of use, were still workable.  All in all, a near perfect instrument in terms of physical condition and playability which belied its 45 years.



            

            


     Jo-Anne packaged the guitar with painstaking effort to ensure it would not get harmed in shipping and sent it off to Eugene in July 2009 with instructions to him to let her know when he received it so that she would know it got there safe and sound.  When Eugene received it, he telephoned Jo-Anne and told her the guitar got to him unscathed.  He added that maybe he would replace the friction tuning pegs with modern mechanical ones which he claimed would make the guitar more desirable to potential buyers.  When Jo-Anne told me that, I had serious doubts because the collector value of a vintage instrument lies largely in its being in as original a condition as possible.  Any changes or modifications lessen the value, sometimes drastically. But I held my tongue, thinking that here was the luthier who had built this instrument, a luthier with a sterling reputation who knew what Jo-Anne expected from him, therefore he knew best.  Still, I had my doubts...


     Six months later, Jo-Anne hadn't heard anything further from Eugene so she phoned him.  He explained that the guitar was suffering from mould infestation ( I had inspected that guitar thoughroughly and there was no sign whatsoever of mould infestation, no odor or anything.  The wood was dry as was the “alligator”case. The guitar had been kept in a closet off of Jo-Anne's living room all those years) and he was trying to cure that by inserting an open container filled with (hydrochloric?) acid inside the guitar so that the fumes from the acid would kill the mould.  When Jo-Anne told me this, I thought, “If indeed the guitar has mould in it, why not just rub the inside of the guitar with a cheesecloth impregnated with a chlorine bleach solution?  Surely that would kill the mould in a hurry!”  But I held my tongue again, not wanting to upset Jo-Anne.  Meanwhile, doing searches on the internet, I found a dealer in California, Dan Zeff, who was selling quality flamenco and classical guitars online.  I contacted him and described Jo-Anne's guitar.  He replied that he was familiar with Eugene Clark's guitars and was sure he could find a buyer for it.  When I told him about the guitar being in Eugene's hands and the circumstances outlined above, he said he didn't want to get involved and in the middle of any kind of possible legal hassle.  He added that if and when Jo-Anne got the guitar back from Eugene, he would gladly list it for sale.  Eugene's guitars show up but rarely for sale but when they do, they fetch prices anywhere from $3000 to $8,000!  Not paltry sums to be laughed at!


     Time went on.  I saw Jo-Anne once a month at the Fonthill Coffeehouse and always asked her as to the status of the guitar.  Her reply was always the same, no news.  Finally, in late 2011, I suggested she get on Eugene's case and press him for updates as to the progress of his work on the guitar.  She subsequently phoned him and got the same reply, that he was trying to get rid of the mould inside the guitar but that he had potential buyers...  He added that he'd been experiencing some health problems (Eugene now being in his late 70s) and also that he'd gone back down to California to become a member of some monastery or other etc., in short, weak excuses for not having carried through on his promise to “service” the guitar and find a buyer.


     Anytime I saw Jo-Anne, I suggested to her to consider that should anything happen to Eugene, should he suffer a stroke or dementia or at worst, should he die, what would become of her guitar?  I didn’t mean to cause her anxiety but at the same time I felt that Eugene had had the guitar more than long enough to have effected any necessary repairs and either have found a buyer or arranged to ship the guitar back to her.  On top of that, I felt that it was incumbent upon Eugene to keep her updated and to ask for her approval before doing any significant (and possibly costly and value-lessening) work on the guitar.  Furthermore, as previously stated, I felt the guitar, as it was before she sent it off to Eugene, was in excellent condition except for the slight, very slight cosmetic flaws, that little piece of missing wood spacer on the face of the headstock which was hardly noticeable and the pickguard which was coming unglued in spots.  It was, in my opinion, in a great condition to be sold as it was at the time with no work whatsoever.


     A full four years later, Jo-Anne finally pressed Eugene on the issue of his not following through on his promises and told him she has a lawyer friend (Mike Sands residing in Oregon who had already planned a trip to the Tacoma area) who will show up at his door at the end of August, 2013, to pick up her guitar regardless of the condition in which it now may be.   Eugene got really curt with her and harangued her as to her delinquency in the care of the guitar and her complete lack of appreciation for his fine work, his artistry, etc., and told her she would have to pay for his labour plus the cost of a guitar case that he provided ($125 US) because he threw away the original case in which the guitar had been stored for years, claiming it too was mouldy and stunk up his house.  He added that the fret-board is off the guitar so she'll just have to find somebody else to re-attach it!  If the guitar had a twisted or bowed neck, I could understand having to remove the fret-board in order to try and straighten the neck, but I saw (and my experienced fingers felt) no indication of such a problem when I inspected and played that guitar four years ago!


     Giving Eugene the benefit of the doubt, sure, he is an old man pushing 80 who may be experiencing health problems accruing from his advanced age, and his intentions might be honourable, but it is he who urged Jo-Anne to send him the guitar with the understanding that he would look it over and get it “up to snuff” and then find a buyer for it.  Jo-Anne took him at his word.  It is my feeling that before doing any work on the guitar, he should have notified Jo-Anne as to the nature of said work along with a detailed breakdown of any costs and should not have proceeded with such work until he received explicit consent from her.  Failing that (as he has), he has no right to charge her for any costs.  He took it upon himself to discard the original case therefore it is incumbent upon him to replace it, again at no cost to Jo-Anne because she did not approve of the disposal/replacement.  Furthermore, he should re-attach or replace the fret-board at his own cost because again Jo-Anne was not consulted and had no knowledge of that work, even if it was necessary (although, having inspected and played that guitar, I can attest that such work was not necessary at all!



     On June 4, 2014, Jo-Anne received a letter from Eugene sent to Mike Sands (Jo-Anne's lawyer friend) along with pictures of the guitar as a work in progress.  The letter outlines the work Eugene claims needed doing along with the problems he incurred trying to effect such work.  Reading that letter and seeing the pictures, I was appaled!  Eugene has effectively destroyed what was a fine guitar.  Removed the fretboard, sanded off the finish, routed out some of the binding and purfling, in short, just butchered that guitar!  Unbelievable!!!  I can only surmise that the man has gone into his dotage at his advanced age (80 years old) and doesn't know what he's doing anymore.  How else to explain what he has done to that guitar?  At this point in time Eugene notified JoAnne athat he would finish the repairs and sell the guitar for her on the condition that he would keep 50% of the selling price for his work and for selling it!!  At this stage of the game, were he to completely rebuild and refinish the guitar, it would not be the vintage instrument she had sent to him in 2009.  The really sad thing is that Eugene is apparently living in a state of penury so even if Jo-Anne were to pursue the matter in a court of law and sue Eugene for damages, a suit I'm certain she would win, as goes the old adage, “You can't get blood from a stone!”  How tragic!  Poor Jo-Anne has no recourse but to swallow her losses and wax philosophical in trying to deal with this whole mess.  Unbelievable !


     

     



     In Ausust 2014 Mike Sands informed Eugene that he was in breach of a contract signed by both him and Jo-Anne the previous year and demanded that he ship the guitar back to Jo-Anne.  Eugene has agreed to this but what he will ship back is a useless instrument in pieces, destroyed by him, a guitar which could have sold for at least $3000 and probably more in the shape it was in when Jo-Anne sent it to him but which is now worth virtually nothing.  Criminal!



     Mike Sands and his wife Jane spent Thanksgiving with his sister-in-law and her husband in Sequim, WA and on their return stopped in Takoma and knocked at Eugene Clark's door hoping to get the guitar back off of him.  Eugene had been told to expect their visit on that day but refused to answer the door.  Mike subsequently sent Eugene a registered letter demanding the guitar back by December 14, 2014 or legal action would be taken.  Still no response from Eugene.



     As stated, Eugene didn't respond to Mike Sands and Mike, knowing that Eugene was living in penury, decided it was useless to pursue the matter any further.  Jojo also gave up any hope of getting the guitar back.  This was in early 2015.


     I then asked Jojo to sell me the guitar for $1 and then sent Eugene a couple of registered letters over the next few months, appealing to his better nature as a luthier of sterling repute, pleading with him to send me the guitar back and that I would pay him (a one-time offer) of $500 to pay for his labour.  No answer.  I sent another letter to him hinting that if he didn't comply, then he would be facing legal action.  Again no reply.


     In the interim, I found a dealer of flamenco and classical guitars in California (Steve Stein) who had owned and sold 4 of Eugene's guitars over the years and knew Eugene.  He informed me that Eugene was a tough guy to deal with, a man with an inflated sense of his artistic worth.  He related a couple of "horror stories" about others who had experienced similar problems with Eugene.  He suggested that I instruct Eugene to send the guitar to him, that he'd pay for the shipping and appraise the guitar and buy it from me (as agent for Jojo) on the condition that Eugene would then receive a fair price for the work he'd already done on the guitar.  I followed his instructions.  Again, no reply from Eugene.


     And then just before Chritmas of 2016, I got an email from Steve Stein informing me that Eugene had died a couple of weeks previous and that Eugene's daughter Sarah was handling the estate.  He gave me her email address.  I contacted her in late December.  She replied that she was in the process of assessing her late father's holdings but was sure that Jojo's guitar was in there with all the "stuff".  She asked me to send pictures of the guitar (which I'd taken in 2009) and documentation (ie. letters sent by Jojo to her father and his replies). From that, she was able to determine which guitar was Jojo's and promised to send it back to her.  And then, nothing...  After a couple of months, I emailed her again asking about the status of the guitar and she replied she was taking care of things and that the guitar would get sent.  Again I waited patiently.  I didn't tell Jojo about any of this because I didn't want to get her hopes up for nothing.


     Then in early July of 2017 I got an email from Mike Clark in California, Sarah's brother, Eugene's son, informing me that Sarah was suffering from stage 4 cancer of some type so he had taken over the handling of his late father's estate.  He sent me a picture of the guitar that he thought might be Jojo's.  It wasn't.  I sent him the same pictures I'd sent his sister and he replied right off that he recognised it, having personally handled that guitar when the family was sorting through his father's things after his death.  He assured me that the guitar would be shipped back in timely fashion as soon as he was sure it was coming back to the rightful owner.  As much as I'd been trying to keep all this from Jojo so as not to have her crushed with disappointment again should things go wrong, I decided to have her call Mike so he'd know she was the rightful owner.  She spent 20 minutes on the phone with him, calling from my house.  I took a picture of her talking on the phone and sent it to Mike so he'd know all was above board.  So, all was fine.  The guitar would be shipped at his expense.


     Well, July came and went as did half of August.  I emailed Mike and asked what was going on.  He told me his sister Hannah in Tacomah was supposed to package the guitar and send it.  A couple of weeks later, still no guitar.  Again I contacted him and he replied Hannah had had car troubles and also was having a hard time finding suitable packaging for the guitar.  By now Jojo was starting to despair again and I was also having doubts, thinking maybe that whole Clark clan was like the proverbial apple that doesn't fall far from the tree.  And then Friday, Sept. 15, I received an email from Mike informing me the guitar had been shipped on the previous day.  And then on the morning of Sept, 20th, I got a call from Jojo.  The guitar finally had arrived at her door.  She refused to unwrap the packaging until I could come to her place early that afternoon.  Wonder of wonders, Jojo has her late husband's guitar back after 8 years, the worse for it's misadventures but at least basically intact (although minus its French polish finish, fretboard and a bit of binding on the right upper bout) and repairable!!!





September 20, 2017


      A couple of weeks later, Jojo brought the guitar to the 12th Fret in Toronto in hopes that they could perform the repairs and restoration of the guitar.  They informed her that the job would probably cost her more than the guitar was worth.  That's when I suggested she ask Bob Roberts (the man who built that superb 1940 Gibson L-00 copy for me recently) to take on the job.  Jojo was a bit reticent but finally agreed when I told her she really had nothing to lose.

     When Bob got the guitar, the first thing he did was to replace the missing binding.



     He then made a new ebony fretboard for it.  Flamenco guitars are quite similar in construction to classical guitars.  The main difference is that flamenco guitars are of a lighter construction, ie. thinner tops and braces, so that they project more easily.  Bob noticed that Eugene had sanded down the top to the point that it was too thin in spots.  Bob worried that if he were to string up the guitar in that state, it might implode or explode.  He then somehow managed to add a thin spruce laminate to the inside of the top between the soundhole and the bridge along with a couple of braces to reinforce the top.  He then noticed that the action would be too high further up the neck so he removed the frets from the fretboard and tapered the thickness of the fretboard, thinner near the nut and increasing in depth toward the body. He then reinserted the frets, added a bone nut and applied a few coats of hand-rubbed French polish to the whole guitar.  Bob completed the repairs/restoration on Feb. 12, 2018 and did a wonderful job of it! The guitar looks as new, is very playable and sounds great, much better than it did when I played it in 2009! A miracle!  After all of these trials and tribulations, Jojo has decided to keep the guitar in memory of her dearly beloved late husband David.



          


          


André Germain

agjg55@gmail.com

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