Luthier Focus: Lame Horse Instruments
In this week's luthier focus we are focusing on our dear friends and master luthiers, Chris and Jeremy Jenkins of Lame Horse guitars. This father and son duo build incredible ornate and complex guitars, both sonically and visually.
Lame horse Instruments are known for their distinctive sound, unique aesthetics, attention to detail and special touches. For example every guitar made features a small Zuni good luck charm, fastened on the inside of the instrument. These are hand carved by pueblo Indian's in Western New Mexico and are meant to be carried around for good luck. - "I figured if you're a guitar player you could probably use all the luck you can get. And maker. Probably maker more so than the player"- Chris Jenkins
Alongside this there is a disc cut out in the shape of the state of Texas, inlayed in the interior of the guitar. Texas can be recognised by the shape of its state and having being born in Texas and still based there now, this seemed relevant to Chris and Jeremy.
As well as this Lame horse instruments non-traditional features which are thought to increase the longevity and personalisation of each guitar. Knowing that the playing action on all finely made acoustic guitars changes over time, effected by string pull, humidity, lack of humidity, temperature variations, all Lame horse instruments are equipped with a system to rectify this. These adaptations allow the player to quickly and easily adjust the playing. This means that the action can be adjusted while the guitar is strung up and under string tension, therefore the player is able to play the guitar in-between adjustments and work out what is perfect for them. Aswell as this there is a rear access panel on all Lame Horse guitars which makes it very easy to visualise and work on the inside of the acoustic guitars. Installing or changing electronics is a breeze. It provides a pallet of artwork for Chris and Jeremy whilst giving the opportunity to show off the interiors of their guitars.
"Not having an access panel is like buying a new automobile and welding the hood shut"
Originally Chris trained in accounting and worked for an accounting firm, which lasted for about 2 months. Following this, he went back to college to train as a veterinarian, a career which instead lasted for 40 years. He took a specific interest in veterinary practices for horses and owned one himself- which has something to do with the name of his business now.
In terms of guitars, Chris was a guitarist in a garage band during high school, in which he played a 1962 Fender Stratocaster. But he in no way deemed himself to be a particularly successful player. To add to this, Chris had an accident with a table saw which left him unable to play guitar and a one-handed surgeon (with an assistant) for a number of months.
It was in fact his son Jeremy, the other half of Lame Horse instruments, who had musical talent which directed Chris towards the lutherie path. Jeremy played a Korean, Ross bass guitar which became unusable when the truss rod popped out the back of the neck. Instead of buying a new bass, Chris insisted that they handmade a new one. In 1994 they purchased a book called "build your own electric guitar" and aside from this there was no internet and very little information of guitar making available. Owning only a craftsman router and a sabre saw, Chris made a whole new bass, rather than just repairing the neck. At this time Jeremy didn't have too much involvement in this build, as he was still at school and pursuing other interests.
Following this Chris continued to make a few basses and electric guitars, but deems his process to be merely "construction". However, during the mid 90's Chris attended Charles Fox's lutherie school for a week in Hillsburgh. Here he got to watch Charles Fox in action. Chris bumped into Harry Fleischmann there and in commuting to and from classes together, learnt and absorbed a lot of information from him as-well. Chris describes this as like going to two classes, as he found both Charles Fox and Harry Fleischmann to be incredibly inspiring and integral to his foundation of understanding in lutherie. In 1985, Chris came away from this experience with the confidence to try and build his own acoustic guitar. Which he did immediately on his return, and later sold for $1000. From there onwards, Chris continued to handcraft guitars whilst working full time as a vet.
There seemed to be very few parallels between Chris' career as a veterinarian and lutherie work, which he deemed to be very positive as it meant he could move between the two with entirely different stimulation, and if one was proving to be particularly difficult or frustrating, he could swap to the other.
Nonetheless, Chris does believe that building guitars did make him a better surgeon, as he had to be more meticulous and precise, as the wood wouldn't join/form itself in the way that tissues and muscles would.
Ervin Somogyi and Fred Carles are just a few names that inspired Chris. Both of these builders have a very distinctive style and this is something Chris felt strongly about, creating something which is unique and can give him his own voice through the craft.
Chris' son, Jeremy Jenkins was working as an invitation designer in Austin Texas for a few years and when ending this job, got a call from his father saying that he was looking for an apprentice. Jeremy moved back home to work alongside Chris. His previous experience included a theatre tech course but he didn't have much understanding of tools and woodwork. As mentioned earlier, Jeremy didn't have a huge input in the bass guitar build which his father made for him. In retrospect he doesn't believe he had the patience at such a young age, however now absolutely loves the craft, the community which it immerses him in and is incredibly grateful to have "fallen into it".
Jeremy was originally more involved in the music scene, and therefore did have a deep appreciation for instruments. Alongside this he worked in film and production. Whilst making films he found 'Lame Horse' branded stationary in his dad's cupboard. This was from a computer service named this which Chris started in the 80's, where he stored all of his veterinary notes. Jeremy therefore decided to change their film production name to "Lame Horse Entertainment", in order to make the most of this branded stationary. Therefore, once Chris and Jeremy were trying to decide on the name for their joint company- they went back to a name that they had both previously used and called it 'Lame Horse Instruments'.
Saddle Pal Acoustic Guitar
The first ever saddle pal was designed and made for a poet, play write, singer, songwriter, historian and all round creative man, Andy Wilkinson. He asked Chris to make him a guitar "that's small enough to pack on my saddle, with a sound as big as Texas"... and that's what he got.
After noting the success of this guitar, it became the first Lame Horse Instruments model. It's the oldest and dearest model, unchanged since 1999. It is 12 frets to the body. Like all Lame Horse guitars, it has adjustable playing action, and rear access panel.
Elko Acoustic Guitar
Dubbed the Elko model because the first one was made for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering Charity Auction in Elko, Nevada, this slotted peghead, 12 fret guitar is about the size of a classical guitar. Cowboys love it, and so do all kinds of other players.
The Elko is a small, classical guitar-sized instrument with a 12-fret neck to body join and a slotted headstock. This model is decorated in Turquoise right through from the tuner buttons and binding to the rosette and back bracing.
LH 14 Acoustic Guitar
LH 14 simply stands for the Lame Horse 14 fret guitar. This model's shape was inspired by the Gibson pre WWII L model, which is roughly a 00 size. Whilst coming up with this model, three prototypes were made. The first consisted of Gibson's bracing pattern and the other two were Lame Horse variations of this, which they thought would sound good. One of these particularly stood out and is still the design they use to this day.
The vintage styling is a departure from Chris and Jeremy Jenkins' more radical Saddle Pal and Elko designs and harks back to the Gibson, Kay and Stella guitars of the early C20th.
The LH-14 is the first Lame Horse instrument with a 14 fret neck and features a proprietary neck adjustment system which allows you to raise and lower the action instantly.
As well as these acoustic guitars Lame Horse offer a Gitjo- a guitar banjo. Many guitar players desire the resophonic sound that a really good banjo produces and a 6 string banjo proves far easier to play for a guitar player.
For more information on Lame Horse Instruments, please don't hesitate to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7835 5597.
Have a great weekend and play lots of guitar!