With deliberate, booming intonation, Steve Pierson spoke to friends and passersby about the merits of his “artistic guitars” at an art walk outside the Mission SMAart studio on 24th Street.
Under the name Crude Luthier, he crafts electric guitars from reclaimed materials with the help of digital manufacturing tools like 3D printing and laser cutting.
Luthier, Pierson explained, is the word for people who make and repair stringed instruments, like the oud and lute of old from which the term luthier is derived.
He had displayed a variety of the colorful guitars on a table in the parklet. Two were painted by his friend and artist Kaytea Petro. A third was painted by his daughter and conjures an unidentified flying object sucking up a cow from Area 51, the highly classified air force base in Nevada. The two recently drove by it together.
He said the artists he collaborates with have complete license to paint anything they want, emphasizing anything. One memorable guitar was awash with vaginas, he said.
If he’s not collaborating with an artist, he likes to show off the reclaimed wood. He is partial to redwood from his old deck, red wine vats from Sonoma County, and the torn down polo fields in Golden Gate Park. The latter “is magical wood,” he said, “It just sings.”
By embracing technology alongside his luthiery, Pierson is taking full advantage of what he calls the “golden age for independent artistic guitar makers.”
“At the technical end, I computer design, 3D print, and fabricate as many of the parts as I can, including the … magnetic pickup part that makes the electric guitar an electric guitar,” he said.
“It’s fun,” he added, “and it lets me do things like laser etch an inlay here and then fill it with resin glitter.”
Pierson provides a special touch you can’t find elsewhere, down to the distinctive sound. “These do not sound like a Fender or a Gibson, they sound like one of mine,” he said. “They are all unique. I can’t play the same thing twice or build the same thing twice.”
He also adds messages inside the guitars, finding mirth in Joan Baez’s discovery that someone — probably a repairman — had secretly placed a message inside her guitar reading, ‘too bad you’re a communist’.
His previous collection’s message was “Fuck Trump” and was popular with customers. “Last fall, I declared that collection closed,” he said with decisive gestures.
“I consider an instrument to be a shamanic power object, and everything you put into it is an active ingredient. Everything,” he said. The current message inside his guitars is “love and understanding.”
Pierson sells guitars on consignment through local independent music stores, but said he more often receives business online and through social media. His customers are “friends of friends, repeat customers, or people who’ve seen my work somewhere.” He typically charges $1,100 for a guitar.