Danny Davis is an artist/artisan who creates custom guitars and mandolins in his Huntsville studio. Davis’ understanding of acoustics and mechanical systems comes from a thirty-year career with NASA developing space launch systems.
Written by Suzanne Conway
photos by Steve Babin
EVENT: How long have you been making guitars and mandolins- and what inspired you to begin?
I have been making guitars since the early 1990’s. I began because I wanted a nice guitar but I
couldn’t afford one. I considered making one, and I came across an advertisement in a magazine that read “make your own guitar”. I ordered the book which had references to companies that sold tone woods and parts. So, I made my first guitar. After, I began making guitars as a
hobby. Eventually, people began buying the guitars. So, upon retirement, I got serious about building up my shop and tools. (My first mandolin was a wedding gift for my son, who is a great mando player.)
EVENT: About how long does it take from start to finish to make an instrument? Are your clients involved during the entire process?
It takes about 12 weeks to make a guitar and about 14 weeks for a mandolin. I work with my customers to learn what is important to them. This includes the tone they are looking for, the feel of the guitar and the aesthetic. Learning the customer is the most important part of the process.
EVENT: Your instruments are truly pieces of art! Do you feel being a luthier is a fusion of art and science?
Instrument making is certainly a physics-based endeavor. The frequency response of the instrument is critical to the generation of the proper tone and resonance. All structure can be designed to have certain stiffness characteristics that can be modeled and measured. Engineers and scientists use these structural design principles to make every machine we use. The guitar is no different. I make the body of the instrument to be resonate with the frequencies of musical notes.
I also inlay artistic elements on the fingerboard and peghead of the guitar. The art design is the most challenging part as each client perceives beauty differently. Many of my inlays celebrate the customers family, faith or other values. All inlays are sketched and then hand-cut from Mother of Pearl slabs. The pearl is then inlayed into the wood, usually ebony.
EVENT: What is one of your favorite memories of listening to an instrument that you created?
My friend, Gary Nichols, a Grammy winning artist, performed in our studio for a segment on Samantha Brown “Places to Love” TV show. His performance was great, and he bragged about my guitar he was playing. The spot was seen by thousands of people and I was very proud. I was also sold out of guitars within a couple of months!
“I love making instruments not only for the satisfaction of working with my hands but also working with my heart to create a unique and meaningful design.” -Danny Davis