Innovations in Sound: Connor Guitars
By: Bronwen Prosser, March 13, 2012
Photo Courtesy STEPHAN CONNOR - Connor's design innovations come from the inside: by changing the reinforcement pattern, he also changes the guitar's sound.
Elves don’t only live on the North Pole. Tucked away in a Cataumet workshop, Stephan Connor combines his enthusiasm for music with his boundless gifts as a luthier to make guitars for some of the finest classical musicians of our time.
Connor discovered his love for the craft while in his early 20s, throwing himself into an intensive guitar-building workshop at Timeless Instruments in Saskatchewan, New York.
“These hands wanted to build. Maybe it’s something about my Swedish lineage,” he laughs.
For years, Connor built guitars in Boston while working in restaurants—until one fateful evening when classical guitar virtuoso Eliot Fisk ended up with a Connor Guitar in his hands; afterward, Fisk said it sounded better than any other guitar he had played.
Zaira Meneses, Fisk’s Mexican-born guitarist wife, also fell in love with Connor’s sound. Both musicians brought Connor’s guitars to a new level of attention in the classical world.
“Eliot was the catalyst for more exposure,” says Connor, “because he was generous with sharing his guitars. Most players don’t let other people try out their instruments.”
Eventually, Spanish guitarist Angel Romero also became a client, collaborating with Connor on a special line of instruments in his name.
Musicians from all around the world now play Connor guitars, and the word continues to spread. His most recent big order came from the Assad Brothers, probably the most revered classical guitar duo at this moment in the world.
“They were my Everest,” Connor says with awe in his voice. “It is very tricky to build for a duo. You have to get the sound right for each player individually and the right balance for them together.”
Innovations in sound
One of Connor’s biggest contributions to the field is the "sound portal" he adds near the guitar’s neck, which drastically enhances the player’s ability to hear his or her own sound.
Connor admits his innovative approach to making guitars is risky— “you get a lot of traditionalists freaking out”—but the musicians love it.
These days, Connor is playing with bracing patterns, changing the way the inside reinforcement is laid out—and changing the guitar’s sound as a result.
“When I was on my honeymoon in Granada we went to the Alhambra and I started seeing bracing patterns in mosaic designs. I think my mind melted,” Connor recalls.
Experimenting with new bracing patterns, Connor has found that each pattern creates a unique tone.
“Now when I sketch a pattern I can hear the image. Each pattern controls the vibrations of the soundboard, which in turn influences the guitar’s sound. It’s an awesome merge of art and science. ”
Passion and drive
When your work is what you love, you never work a day. Connor calls his workshop his temple and comes into a trance-like, meditative state when building.
“You can really get into it deep on the Cape, ” says Connor. “There’s something about being in a place where you can lose yourself to the art [and] be healthily obsessed. My work came up a level when I moved to the Cape from Boston.”
Inspired by the natural beauty, Connor says he feels proud of where he lives when clients come to visit.
He encourages more people to dig in and start their own business on the Cape.
“You want a rush?” he challenges, “start your own business and watch it grow. That will give you a bigger rush than any alcohol on the planet.”
And it’s true: now he gets to go out to dinner, sit in the front row balcony, and watch the world’s top classical musicians play his guitars.
“It’s so important to take your passion and figure out the puzzle of how it can mesh positively with society,” Connor says. “All you need is passion and drive. Go animal! Whatever you’re going to do: be badass. Never lose curiosity.”