Take 5 – Interview with Blazer & Henkes’ Rudie Blazer

Luthier Rudi Blazer

Rudie Blazer

One of today’s most revered luthiers and restorers, Rudie Blazer of Germany’s incredible  Blazer & Henkes Guitars will be visiting Mass St. Music on Saturday, Sept. 26th where he’ll join Jim Baggett and friends for a free Guitar Clinic focusing on Building, Restoration and Repair of fine steel stringed guitars. The clinic is free, and there will be plenty of Q & A time. We thought we’d get a jump start by asking Rudie a few questions –

TAKE 5 (plus 2) with RUDIE BLAZER:

1. I’ve seen you play a great rendition of “Blackberry Rag” and “Beaumont Rag” on youtube.com. What’s your musical background?

RUDIE:  Well, when I try a guitar, like on youtube, I usually play some G runs,  and then try a fiddle tune, to hear what it sounds like. As a kid I had to listen to a lot of classical music, and then it was  the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and after some time Doc Watson, and a lot of Bluegrass. As a musician I work in the local theater, and I play in a Western swingband, using a Gibson ES 125 and a prewar J-200.

2. How did you get into guitar building?

RUDIE:  After leaving school, and doing nothing but playing guitar all day, my mother told me to go and learn a profession.  So she wrote to several German guitarmakers, and some of them wrote back.  She liked the idea of me going to a place a little bit further from home, and the place I went was a town called Bubenreuth in the middle of Bavaria, Germany,  called Oskar Teller.  A very traditional place, all those makers originally came from the so called Musik winkel, or Music corner.  One of the towns there is Markneukirchen, the place where C.F. Martin  came from.

3. How long does it take to build one Blazer & Henkes guitar, on average?

RUDIE:  That is a question that is often asked – and very hard to answer.  One must consider that there is a lot of preparing, such as buying wood, selecting it.  For instance, when we buy Alpine Spruce tops, we will drive either to Austria or Switzerland, and usually stay overnight.  Then, for one or two days, we go through hundreds of tops, and choose the ones we like.  A procedure of 3 days altogether.  We will then return with maybe 50 or 150 tops.  Then, after some years, they are glued together, usually about 50 at the time, and sand them to the desired thickness. If we add this up, it is about one week’s work for two people, and you end up with about 50 tops, ready for gluing the braces. About the same goes for the braces, necks and backs and sides.  Meanwhile, you will have to order stuff like lacquer, tuners, binding and so on – some of this is very time consuming.  So as you can see, a lot of time is involved with preparing things. We make about 20 guitars a year.  The bodies are put together in the dry season, normally I will start preparing everything for this in October.  At the end of February, early springtime, I will have them all put together. During the rest of the year, I will do the bindings and sanding.  Meanwhile, Willi will do the necks.  I know this still did not answer your question, but like I said, it’s not an easy one. But it would come out to be like 1.6666 guitar per month.

4. How have your building techniques changed over the years? Has hide glue been a part of your building since the beginning or ?

RUDIE:  Yes, it did. Actually, with our interest in vintage American guitars growing, and realizing that those guitars are the best made ever,  Willi and I have been studying them  seriously ever since.  One detail, and a very important one, is the fact that all of them are glued with hide glue.  Working with hide glue was not new to me, I have been working with it all my life as a guitarmaker.

5. The inlay work is incredible.  Do you and Willi do your own inlay and engraving work or do you have help with this?

RUDIE:   We both have our specialities, and Willi is the one who cuts out and inlays the Mother of Pearl, and he also does the engravings.  I do all the pearlwork on the bodies.

6. You’re the go-to restorers in Europe and beyond for fine vintage instruments and have collected fine vintage instruments. How has this access to some of the finest American collectible guitars influenced your building?

RUDIE:  Restoring and repairing all those great instruments was like going to university for us. I was lucky to know one of the few collecters in the 1970s in my then hometown, Stuttgart.  It is a fact that working on them, and of course also playing them, has  an enormous impact on the way we make guitars.

7. Any issues with acquiring the woods you desire for building? Any thoughts on the future of building and wood supplies?

RUDIE:  We are rather lucky to have been in business for a long time. We have aways bought more wood then we would have needed, and also, we have a great source of Alpine Spruce in front of our backyard, so to say, because the Alps are right around the corner.  So as far as wood selection for our guitars, I would not want to change anything.  As far as building and design, the changes will be very little, our biggest project right now is trying to have our supplyer for marquetry make us a backstripe that will be excactly like the ones that were used on the ’30s ’42 and ’45 style Martins.

Thank you Rudie! We look forward to seeing you on the 26th, and we’ll have more questions!

Luthier Rudie Blazer working in his shop in Tuebingen, Germany

Rudie working in the Blazer & Henkes shop in Tuebingen, Germany

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