lu•thi•er / loo-tee-er / n. / MoonstoneGuitar_DK_0002
Origin: Fr., from luth (lute), from MF lut.
1. one who makes stringed musical instruments.
2. Steve Helgeson.

Story and photo by David Kaftal

When you walk into Steve Helgeson’s Moonstone Guitars studio, you are immediately struck by an almost impossible array of hand tools, machinery and equipment (some of his own invention), guitar parts, models, patterns, finished guitars, pieces of all kinds of stuff including iridescent shell and other colorful materials, mystifying stuff you can’t even begin to identify, and stacks and stacks of extraordinary woods. Everything is in its proper place, but the overall impression is a sensory overload of controlled chaos, a sort of primordial soup from which astounding works of art spring to life. It’s equal parts woodworking shop, artist’s studio and wizard’s den.

Moonstone Guitars are world-class examples of the luthier’s art. Steve is self-taught and has been making guitars since taking a woodshop class at CR in 1971. He’s made guitars for Gregg Allman, JJ Cale (four of them, plus a banjo neck), Prince, and members of Jackson Browne’s, Joe Cocker’s and James Taylor’s bands, plus many other notable performers. Years of experience allow him to select the tonewoods and design elements and construction techniques that will produce the exact sound each musician is going for. His palette consists of wonderful woods from all over the world. He’ll select one type of wood for the guitar face, another for the sides and back, and others for the neck and headstock and fretboard. Many of the woods he uses have exotic names — bubinga, koa, limba, bloodwood, snakewood, ziracote, cocobolo — and the appearance of the finished woods is stunning. Steve also adds minutely detailed inlay work around the sound hole (the rosette), along the fretboard, and/or on the headstock of many of his guitars (both acoustic and electric), basses, and mandolins. Visually, the instruments are exquisite works of art… and then you hear how they sound, and your mind is blown.

You can learn more about Steve’s work at a.