I thought it’d be fun to show some photos of the ups & downs I’ve experienced while trying to build instruments over the last 30 years. If it’s a pic that shows the lengths I went to for a tiny detail on a mandolin, or an embarrassing old picture that somehow tells party of my story, it’ll end up here.
This photo was taken in the summer of 1989. I’d worked full time at Larrivée guitars for about a year at this point. In in my spare time I’d managed to build an electric bass, and a white electric guitar from rejected parts and finish and assemble them. The unfinished guitar in the foreground was my first serious attempt at designing an electric guitar of my own. The D-09 dreadnought on the left was my first good acoustic that I bought by banking extra hours at the Larrivée shop.
In 1994 I left Larrivee guitars and returned to my hometown, I moved back in to my parents’ basement and started trying to build instruments on my own. what you see here was my entire tool and parts collection at the time. That’s a freezer lid they’re laying on and was all I had for a bench. On the right is the first Wiens F5 mandolin mold.
Wiens F5 #1 in the white in the summer of 1995. It took alot more work than I would’ve imagined. I remember thinking to myself I wouldn’t make another one.
Visiting the “new” Larrivée shop in East Van in 1995 to buy some wood from the boss. I made regular trips back then to stay connected and learn from my luthier friends. Fresh Sitka Spruce rounds had just arrived, so I hopped up on ’em for a quick photo.
This Electric 5-string bass was the first commissioned Wiens instrument. It was inspired by the Ken Smith basses I was seeing at the time. My dad took this picture of me the day it was completed in August of 1996
By the spring of 1997 I had taken over my parent’s basement with my guitar making. These are the first Wiens Dreadnought builds. Looks like I’ve got my plans rolled out on Mom’ s ironing board, and I believe that’s the start of a banjo on top of it.
Summer 1997. Playing the first Wiens Rosewood Dreadnought. Two more guitars can be seen behind me almost ready for strings.
Fall 1997. The first Wiens F5 mandolin production batch. I think only one of these was ordered and the others were built to hopefully sell . Coming from a production mindset, I never made just one of anything back then, and I was riding a good wave of energy.
That same first batch of Wiens F5s further along. Spring 1998. Almost ready for staining and finish.
In 1998 I began building a line of original guitar designs. Three individual guitar sizes and a bass. Here I’m preparing a top to complete a “concert” size box. One the wall behind me you can see my F5 mandolin side bending jig.
The first batch of Wiens guitars getting their finish. From L-R are two Concert size, a rosewood and a Koa, a mahogany parlor, a huge cutaway bass made of bubinga and a rosewood auditorium. 1999
In 1999 the first of my new line of guitars were completed and I held an open house at my favourite coffee house, “Swing Street” and invited all the local players. Three players that had ordered and waited a year took delivery of their new guitars that night.
By 2001 I’d made at least 3 F5 body molds, each designed to be a little better than the last. In 2002 I finally spent some real time and built a jig system based on the one I’d seen at the Gibson factory. It keeps everything where I want it during the glue ups with no surprises. Yes that’s a dishwasher in the background. The mandolin in the jig was born in the kitchen of a house I was renting at the time.
A few of my earlier mandolins suffered from sinking tops and needed re-topping. All of them from Engelmann Spruce which is too soft for mandolins in my opinion. Those were painful lessons and tons of work. While many builders get great results with it, I never use Engelmann Spruce now.
Here’s Wiens F5s #9 & #10 in the process of being re-topped in 2005.
2005. This is #76547, a March 31 1924 Loar which had recently been uncovered after many decades in storage. After a setup, a new bridge and a month of playing, this Virzi-equipped instrument woke up from it’s slumber and started to sound fantastic. Just having it around made a big enough impression that I actually scrapped all my patterns I’d been using to that point. I spent months making all new drawings, templates and molds to base all future Wiens mandolins off this instrument.
The very first Virzi equipped Wiens F5 built in 2005…An extremely creative year for me. I had the March 31 1924 Loar in the house at the time and was able to compare measurements directly from the original.
My version of the Virzi , which I call the “Wienzi” gets it’s own labels inside, just like the Virzi’d Loars did back in 1924. “Might as well have fun with it” I always say.
Matching stamps for the “wienzi” itself. Just like the Virzi’d Loars.
As part of a running joke, I had a bunch of variations of the “Wienzi” made up into stamps in 2005. How much I like you determines the one you’ll get. Click on the image and look closely.
Luthiery finally led me to England in 2007, where I delivered a Wiens mandolin and also enjoyed the sights and history.
In the fall of 2007 I got to spend a couple months with this June 1923 Loar F5 #73682. I found this stump at the beach with the number “23” on it and thought I’d better get a picture.
Taking too much work for too little money, women problems, and the global financial crisis all came to a head for me in 2009. That couch full of mandolins was only part of my workload at the time, yet I was broke. A few angry clients were tired of waiting and began a lynching campaign which still lurks on the web to this day.
Bridges! I’ve always been dissatisfied with the commercially available mandolin bridges. As far as replicas of the old Gibson ones, nobody seems to get the details right. So in 2010 I finally tooled up to make my own. Here’s a comparison between an original Loar bridge and a Wiens mandolin bridge. Notice the patent stamp on the left (bass) foot.
When making replicas of old Gibson Pickguards, one wants to get the details right. This shows the evolution of my replica patent stamp that I use to finish off the look. Finally got it exactly right in 2011. It’s indistinguishable from a period pickguard patent stamp.
I love this photo of Craig Korth delivering a bandsaw I bought from him in August 2014. After 20 years of doing luthiery on my own, working with cheap rickety bandsaws that were always too small, I finally had something big enough to do all the jobs I needed to do. It’s a Delta 28-350 20″ built in 1969, the year I was born. It was in service at the Trail B.C. high school for 40+ years before Craig got it. Click on the image to see it better.
2015. Enlarging a soundhole on a Dreadnought with a pocket knife just like Clarence White supposedly did on his Iconic D28, later owned by Tony Rice and dubbed “the antique”.
I was actually doing this while a famous client watched. She had a flight to catch in an hour, so no pressure right?. I was drenched in sweat from nerves but it worked out fine and I was told later that the guitar had improved and was less boomy sounding.
The scary summer of 2017. The house that I’d called home for most of my life was sold out from under me by my siblings.
With no affordable place to buy or suitable place to rent, that fella you see there is homeless with no idea if he has to give up his life’s work or what’s gonna happen. This pic was taken the day I put my tools into storage and drove off into the sunset to start again somewhere else. Definitely an “adventure in Luthiery”.
After looking for over year I finally found a place to live. Bought my first home in the small town of Hanna Alberta and moved in Oct 4th 2017. Now to pack all my stuff in there, set it up and try to continue making instruments in the new surroundings.
I Traveled to Germany in 2019 to deliver a mandolin and celebrate the 65th anniversary of Ahrend Orgelbau- A Pipe Organ workshop in Leer, Germany. Mike Marshall and Caterina Lichtenberg performed as part of the presentation and later I got to hang out and get to know them. Mike pulled me out of my comfort zone and made me play music with him in front of people!