HOUSTON — You might have heard of a Gibson, or a Fender. Those are well-known guitars from long-time manufacturing companies.
It’s considered a rare art form these days to create a guitar, by hand. There’s one maestro however, right here in Houston, to whom musicians around the world flock: Stephen Marchione.
Marchione builds them from scratch in his three-story workshop in Montrose.
“It’s an heirloom. This is made for generations of use and enjoyment," he says.
Each guitar takes about 300 hours of precise work and attention to detail.
Shop foreman Alan Bienlein is one of only two people who help construct them.
“If it’s not right, he’ll reject it,” Bienlein says laughing, referring to Marchione’s goal of perfection.
The process starts with raw wood. Some of it is imported from Europe and air-dried for 10 years. The team uses maple, spruce, mahogany, rosewood, and Ebony for the fingerboard.
While crafting his string instruments, Marchione is always tapping the wood to hear for the quality of sound.
“You’re not looking for a specific note. You’re trying to make that piece of wood sound as good as possible,” Marchione explains.
He says it’s simply not possible to have that quality sound, when guitars are made in bulk, without a personal touch, carving them.
“You see a lot of factory guitars, where instead of having these nice, even-domed shapes, they’re irregular.”
The walls of his workshop display templates that he uses for designs. They’re essentially designs of his 30-year journey, for the perfect sound.
The master craftsman grew up in Houston, where he learned to play guitar. He realized early on, though, he’d rather create the instrument.
Picking up one of his newest masterpieces, he says, “It has the tonal characters that you want from a flamenco guitar, which is a lot of bass and a powerful treble.”
He says many of his original designs often come to him in his dreams…literally.
Some of his customers include rock legends like Paul Simon, and Houston-born jazz guitarist, Mike Moreno.
Seeing the finished product -- glued and lacquered — is an extremely gratifying feeling for the small team behind Marchione Guitars.
Bienlein, the shop foreman, says it’s a labor of love.
"When the person that's buying it, comes here and plays it…wow, I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
“I love it. I don’t want to do anything else,” Marchione says.
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