AU music instructor carves his own path with handmade guitars
By Evangeline Reid | December 02, 2022
What makes an instrument more than just the sum of its parts? Richard Larsen, an instructor of classical guitar, is continuously exploring that question.
Larsen has hand-built more than 40 classical guitars since 2018, each taking about 150 hours to create.
“I put on some music in the workshop and get lost in the process,” said Larsen. “I feel like the more I immerse myself, the better the outcome.”
The process begins with selecting the materials. Sourcing woods from all around the world, Larsen works closely with the intended user on every element of the guitar—considering comfort, aesthetic preferences, and function. These decisions, including what type of wood is used for the soundboard, can make a big difference in the end product. Larsen, for example, prefers playing a cedar for its warm, punchy, Spanish sound.
To fashion the shape, he painstakingly bends each side and braces the back before fitting the neck, attaching the fret board, assembling the body, and polishing the finished product. He describes the process almost as alchemy.
“What basically starts as pieces of wood comes together into an instrument,” he said.
Larsen has spent more than 20 years performing and teaching classical guitar, both as an AU instructor and at his own lesson studio. His intimate understanding of the physics behind guitars informs how he teaches students to play. He also shares his knowledge of building a music business with them.
Building guitars was a later addition to a well-established career in music for Larsen. He began playing piano at age five and picked up the guitar at 13. In college, he joined a rock band, playing the electric guitar as the band recorded albums and toured in the Minneapolis area, before ultimately switching to classical guitar.
As a performer and teacher, he has repaired many guitars over the years—even creating a replacement soundboard for a factory-built guitar that arrived broken. After becoming frustrated with the sound and options of the instruments he could buy, Larsen started studying at the Chicago School of Guitar Making in 2017 and built his first guitar. He debuted that guitar during a performance in AU’s Ethel W. Tapper Recital Hall in 2018.
Today, Larsen has a year-long waiting list for commissions, as well as a list of rave reviews from celebrated guitarists, including Gigmaster’s Top National Guitarist Jim Perona and the award-winning Rene Izquierdo. He’s even created classical guitars with the necessary electronics to plug into an amp for two members of the instrumental progressive metal band, Animals as Leaders.
The Schingoethe Center of Aurora University has showcased how these hand-crafted instruments come together in an exhibition titled “Sound Carvings,” which is on display through Dec. 9.