Roger Thurman, the head of Thurman Guitar & Violin Repair, knows the ins and outs of wooden instruments. A professional luthier (another name for an instrument repair professional) since 1971, Thurman has spent decades in his shop in Kent setting up guitars, stringing violins, selling tuning pegs and Fender student instruments. Though a high-quality fix or set-up is a luxury in today’s economy, he has never thought about shutting his doors.
Since the ‘70s, Thurman’s been on the search for the ‘perfect’ sound. It was only a few years ago that he found it. The patented Thurman Multidimensional Sound Ports which feature two “three-dimensional” holes cut away on both sides of a guitar’s neck, making the instrument—he’s had it tested—nearly twice as efficient. Now used by luthiers all over the nation—and several violinists of the Akron Symphony Orchestra—Thurman’s mark on the craft proves, as he says, that “not all instruments are created equal.”
What initially drew you to the craft?
RT: It was after seeing [classical guitarist] Andres Segovia in Washington, D.C. Then, years later, I was at a social gathering with some friends, and I picked up this classical guitar my friend had and said, ‘I wonder how this is made.’ A guy there, an architect, recommended the book on the subject—Irving Sloane’s “Classical Guitar Construction”—to me. And that’s how it started. I read that book, and that was it.
All because of a book?
RT: Well, yeah! And I’m just interested in sound. I think I have an ear because of learning Vietnamese. So I think that I’ve always been interested in sound itself.
What’s this all have to do with your Sound Port guitar?
RT: I was doing a lot of research on the violin in the 1980s. I went to the Kent State Library, I went to the library at Oberlin and the Lincoln Center Performance Library in New York. And I found a most interesting book, mostly in science formulas, describing how the violin bridge worked like an oscillator. I couldn’t make sense of the math formulas, but the writer detailed why violins are asymmetrically constructed. He said, ‘If all things were equal and everything was perfectly symmetrical, it would vibrate evenly up and down in all directions and actually cancel out its own sound.’ He also said all these instruments are air pumps: the more air they pump, the more sound they make. And I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s it!”
How much of this is a result of your work on countless instruments over the years?
RT: Well, I’ve made about 17 or 18 different instruments over the years, mostly copying Martin D-28s or the Torres-pattern classical guitar. They sounded good, and you get different results—but, to me, there was always something missing. There wasn’t enough sound there.
Tell me about your process as a repairman.
RT: I’m a detailed guy. I take the time to solve problems, and I don’t give up until I’ve got it. Repair work is treacherous that way, because you’ll get an instrument in and say, ‘What is going on here?” It’s tricky like that. I’ve been doing this craft since 1971, and I’m still learning about getting fooled sometimes—or I forgot something I used to know. Sometimes you’ll get halfway through a problem and you’ll realize you’ve been doing it wrong the whole way.
Do you ever get a guitar or violin and think, What the heck did someone do to this?’
RT: Oh, yeah. I’ve seen a lot… There’s also a lot of bad guitar repair out there by people who just aren’t paying attention. Some of them do hideous things to these instruments.
Ever work with anyone famous?
RT: I worked on a guitar for one of the guys in Devo—his bass—one time. I also sold Bob Mothersbaugh a La Baye 2x4 guitar, the one that’s on some of their record covers—the one that looks like a two-by-four with a guitar neck on it. And a couple years ago I found a repair tag with [The Black Keys’] Dan Auerbach’s name on it.