Luthier Scot Moon takes abused guitars and shows them the light.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
When I first met Scot Moon eight years ago, he was working out of a small in-law unit behind his house in Monterey. I had become fed up with the disparaging looks and reluctance with which the resident-technician at one of Monterey’s larger music stores confronted my cheap, secondhand guitar, as if to say, “This is a Mexican Stratocaster, not a Stradivarius!”
I explained the problem to my music teacher and he told me that he took his guitar to a guy named Scot Moon. I looked Moon up in the phone book and made an appointment—the only way he does business. (Since I first met him, he’s upgraded to a workshop on Garden Road, a place with more space and natural light.)
The place was packed with stringed instruments of amazing variety, most of which were in some kind of distress. In addition to several violins and maybe a balalaika, there were dismembered guitars lying in metal braces on the carpeted counters, guitars that seemed to have washed up on the beach, and other guitars that looked like they’d been used offensively. Against the wall opposite his workbench, was the finished product: orderly shelves of anonymous cased instruments waiting to be picked up.
Over the course of our next few appointments (in which we dealt with a particularly problematic, plywood twelve-string of mine), I learned that Moon was a good talker and that each appointment came padded with about a half-hour of conversation. Moon never made me feel like it was a matter of condescension to work on my cheap guitar—even if I had set it on fire after the last time I practiced.
Once, after we had finished discussing some technical problem, he showed me a photo album of comparatively sparkling new axes, ones with unique body styles, intricate nacre inlays, and symmetrically-patterned wood grain that, under a coat of lacquer, held light like a cat’s eye stone. These weren’t restoration jobs. These were his guitars he had built, and they are the reason that Moon is known by his proper title of “luthier” and not just as a “guitar tech.”
Having played lead guitar since the fifth grade, Moon logically started his career as a musician. He missed a considerable amount of high school to play professional gigs, and later played with his brother Gary in their band, Moonsparks. But when Moon enlisted in the Air Force during Viet Nam, he left his home state of Ohio to learn Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, and Gary went on to join Three Dog Night and later, Night Ranger.
After his time in the service was up, Moon studied under Grammy Nominee Bill Eaton at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, Arizona. Then he returned to Monterey County with Roberto-Venn School instructor Alexander Lofton, and opened a custom guitar shop in Carmel. Now known as Moon Guitars, the company has existed in one capacity or another until the present, but now only comprises Moon and his father (who helps out part-time).
“The guitars I build [both electric and acoustic] are done on a commission basis,” Moon says, “so instead of making a standardized line, each one starts out as raw pieces of milled wood, and slowly comes together according to the client’s specifications.”
Moon also refuses to work with commercial hardwoods and uses only air-dried woods that are sonically superior, rarer and correspondingly more expensive.
“I want to use the best materials possible,” he says, “woods like Maccasser ebony, rare rosewoods, flame-figured and bird’s eye maple.”
Ornamented with abalone and fossilized walrus ivory, and held together with elaborate binding, the finished product is something Moon hopes will create a new standard of functional perfection for all of those who pick it upto play.
Unlike many of his peers in the Luthiers’ Guild who went on to become big industry names—like Bob Taylor of Taylor Guitars and Richard Hoover of Santa Cruz Guitar Company—Moon says he “decided to keep the operation small.”
It was a decision that put him on what he says has been a hard road. Known in the industry as simply, “Moon,” he builds his guitars at a rate of about three per year, fitting as many repair and restoration appointments as he can in between.
The last time I visited Moon, a lacerated Korean guitar that had been salvaged from the Marina dump and a D’Angelico Hollow Body—easily worth $10,000—lay side-by-side on his work bench. If the D’Angelico needed a manicure, then the other needed a sextuple bi-pass.
Remembering how he handled them both with perfect reverence and discussed their respective needs with unwavering sensitivity, I realize now that as long as these instruments were in his custody, they would, for a short time, be equals.