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The Accidental Artist: Nurse by trade, surfer by choice Kyle Catterlin finds a niche in custom guitar building

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Kyle Catterlin didn't necessarily know how to build a guitar when he set out to construct his first instrument less than a decade ago. What he did know was how he wanted his guitar to sound. It turns out that was enough to set him on his way and launch a small side business that has established Catterlin as a talented, if relatively undiscovered luthier, which is a fancy name for a guitar builder.

Working out of his garage - well half of his garage, the other half is reserved for his wife's Volvo - Catterlin slowly and deliberately crafts a handful of instruments each year. The custom and handmade guitars are built to Catterlin's exacting standards and the specifications of his customers with clients choosing everything from the color and type of wood to the decorative inlays. The result is an instrument that is an expression of the owner and the artist. Catterlin, who works as a registered nurse at St. Charles when he's not moonlighting as a luthier, estimates that he puts 200 to 240 hours into each instrument. As you might expect, the guitars don't come cheap. The base price for a Catterlin original is $3,500.

At the moment Catterlin has several guitars in the works including one for himself, but he says business is slow due to the down economy.

"No one is buying high end guitars," said Catterlin, who sees guitar making as a potential source of retirement income once he's ready to exit the full-time work world.

For now, it's as much a hobby as anything - something to occupy the mind of the longtime Santa Cruz resident and life-long surfer and keeps him from lamenting the waves he's missing.

"I started this as a zen replacement for not being able to surf everyday," said Catterlin, whose workshop features more surfboards than it does guitars and whose only previous experience as a craftsman was building model airplanes as a boy growing up in Northern California.

However, he was no stranger to the instrument. Catterlin grew up in a musical family where singing was part of daily life. By the time he was in high school, he had discovered the guitar and was playing in bands. He built his first guitar for his longtime friend and collaborator Bill Sampson, another Santa Cruz area musician. Catterlin said his friend initially doubted Catterlin's commitment to building a guitar from scratch, but was pleasantly surprised when Catterlin showed up on his doorstep with a finished instrument. Since then, Catterlin has completed 20 instruments. He has three more in the works at the moment and estimates that he finishes three or four per year - a pace that Catterlin said he is comfortable with.

Catterlin bends his own sitka spruce tops, cuts his own headstocks and handcarves his own fretboards. He even mixes his own shellac finish.

"These are the things that make the instrument unique. It's not just cranked out," he said.

Through it all Catterlin is guided by his own sense of style and, most importantly, sound.

"I'm a touchy feely guitar builder," said Cattlerlin. "I build (guitars) because I get the sound out that I want."

Catterlin then reaches for an unfinished guitar and presses it to his ear and taps it with his right index finger.

A rich thump resonates from within the body of the unfinished work. It's a glimpse of things to come.

Satisfied, Cattterlin puts the instrument back down on his workbench.

Only 100 hours to go.

Catterlin Guitar Co.

http://www.catterlinguitar.com/


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