17 December 2000 -- Owner of Toronto's guitarist pro shop, The Twelfth Fret, David Wren (pictured left), and his business partner Grant Macneill have been especially busy at this time as they were moving the store to a new location for a grand opening on 28 November. David kindly agreed to talk to the Project about the three guitars he has made for Bruce Cockburn when he was an active luthier. Cockburn has been a client of the Twelfth Fret's repair shop for many years, and several of his guitars (including the 12-string Manzer-strat pictured on the cover of Cockburn's Live album) have passed through the Twelfth Fret's sales department. The Project's For Musicians section technical editor, Jon Carroll, talked with David Wren by e-mail.
Jon Carroll: How many guitars have you made for Bruce Cockburn over the years?
David Wren: Bruce had three different "Wrens" over the years. The first was a pointed Florentine cutaway (I don't think this was the one recently shown on our site); the second was a Venetian cutaway (that was burned in a studio fire); and the third was another Venetian cutaway, later painted blue (whereabouts unknown to me).
JC: How many guitars have you helped build for Bruce?
DW: When I was apprenticing with Jean L'arrivée in the early 70's we made a few guitars for Bruce. I think the first was a twelve fret classical body-sized steel string. Soon after he requested a cutaway, which at that time was a completely outrageous idea. I'd never seen that on a flat top steel string.
That first cutaway was a Florentine (pointed) cutaway that eventually Bruce sold to Gene Martynec. I think Jean then built a similar guitar for Bruce with Macassar ebony back and sides.
JC: Yes, he did. We have information about that guitar in the gear page of the For Musicians section of the Project.
In 1974 Bruce aquired this early model cutaway L'arrivée steel string guitar custom-made for him. It had a Florentine cutaway, masscar ebony back and sides, and a spruce top.Apparently it did not have pickups judging from the inside cover photo of Circles In The Stream (1977), where the guitar appears to have a removeable soundhole pickup.
DW: In the mid 70's, I was commissioned to build a guitar for Bruce. I can remember driving to Ottawa with Mike McLuhan in a blinding snowstorm to deliver it and sitting in Bruce's basement while he played it. Eventually he gave it the thumbs up.
JC: Excellent story! What can you tell me about the second guitar?
DW: The next guitar he asked me to build was a Venetian cutaway cedar top guitar with Takamine electronics in it. It was the one that was eventually burned in a studio fire.It was Apparently the studio couch that caught fire (the guitar was leaning against it). When the firemen came the guitar got stomped on and filled with water. Needless to say it did not fare very well.
JC: There was a story about that which appeared on the Humans list in 1995, told by Steve Watson. It may be a story about this second Wren:
Last Sunday, I was skating on the Canal, and when I got to the Pavillion (place with restaurants & skate-rentals & changing area) there was this busker just packing his gear up. He was talking with people in the crowd, about music and playing, and I mentioned Cockburn. The busker said that he had one of Cockburn's old guitars (I forget what make he said).
The way he came by it was this: about 10 years ago some disarmament group at Carlton was running a "celebrity auction" to raise money, and BC donated this old guitar. It was in pretty bad shape: the story went that, during a studio session, Bruce stuck a lit cigarette in the strings up in the tuning machinery, and the butt burned down enough to set fire to the lacquer. The smoke set off the sprinkler system, and in the rush to get out, Cockburn bumped into a microphone, which put a neat, round hole in the front.
A friend of the busker bid $500 for it, then took it to OFC to see about getting it fixed. They said it would cost another $500 to put a new front on, so he said "forget it", stopped payment on his cheque and gave the guitar back to the auctioneers.
A little later the busker saw the guitar (he knew what it was) in a local natural foods store. He offered them $200, and they sold it to him. He took the back off of it, and pushed the splintered wood back out and glued it so the front was flat again, then installed a pick-guard over the scar. Said it sounds great; nicest guitar he owns.
I swear I'm not making this up. Afraid I can't vouch for my source,though ;-)
JC: They say that smoking will kill you, but they didn't say it would ruin your gear too. :-) Was this your guitar?
DW: It's possible. The guitar that was in the fire had a cedar top, rounded cutaway, and I think it may have had a distinctive white/green/white marquetry line around the perimeter of the top.
JC: You said that Bruce had owned three Wrens. What's the story of the third one?
DW: Bruce asked me to replace the second Wren with a similar guitar that, after the fact, was sprayed blue by my friend George Gray (who did a lot of instrument finish work at the time).
JC: Now that we have some excellent and reliable information on Bruce's Wren guitars, let me ask you a few questions that are a bit more generic. In your opinion, does the addition of electronics impair the natural sound of an acoustic guitar?
JC: We've been really confused at the Project identifying your guitars in photos. Did you pattern your guitars after Yamahas?
DW: No, I didn't pattern my guitars after Yamahas! Ouch, that hurts!
JC: Ooops, sorry! What types of wood did you use in the construction of the guitars?
DW: Indian Rosewood for the back and sides and Cedar for the top.
JC: What was your process for the inlay work on the guitars?
DW: I used a four step process: (i) come up with a design; (ii) cut out the design from pearl, shell, wood, metal, etc.; (iii) inlay into wood; (iv) engrave.
Hope that helps!
JC: Thanks Dave.