Toronto's Linda Manzer counts Pat Metheny among her loyal fans
The smell of wood greets you as soon as Linda Manzer opens the door of her Cabbagetown home. That's as it should be for a world-renowned luthier, whose main floor is comprised of a three-room studio and office filled with the trappings of her craft: stacks of aging spruce and cedar, guitars in various stages of development, tools, photographs of her famous clients.
She's relaxed and generous with laughter, but weathered hands hint at the intensity required to make $18,000 guitars that are so popular her waiting list has been closed. Manzer's instruments have been purchased by Bruce Cockburn, Carlos Santana and Gordon Lightfoot, but her biggest client is elite jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, with a collection of about 20.
If he pulls out an acoustic at tonight's Four Seasons Centre show with the Gary Burton Quartet at the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival, it's bound to be a Manzer.
"Her guitars are beautiful and artistic, but also durable," said Metheny in a phone interview. "You can bang on it 120 nights in a row for two, three hours a night and it can really withstand that." Toronto native Manzer, 56, started down this path as a teenager after seeing Joni Mitchell play a dulcimer at the Mariposa Folk Festival.
"I wanted one, because Joni was my idol; wasn't she everyone's?"
After assembling a dulcimer from a kit - it was cheaper - Manzer had a "this is incredible to create something" epiphany.
A songwriter, self-taught guitarist and "bad folk singer," she dabbled in painting and photography before persuading master luthier Jean-Claude Larrivee to take her on as apprentice.
"As bizarre as it sounds now, he didn't want to hire a woman in 1974, because he was concerned it would distract the other guys."
Manzer struck out on her own in 1978. She kept the first guitar she made. She thinks the second was the one that went to master musician Santana. It's hard to tell from the sketchy handwritten records she kept. "I didn't want to number (the guitars)," she explains. "I felt I was trapping them or something. Now I'm irritated with myself for not keeping better notes."
She met Metheny in 1982 after sending a letter backstage at his Convocation Hall concert.
"It got my attention immediately; it was kind of not like any other guitar I had played," recalled Metheny of the first time he tested a Manzer. "All the notes from bottom to top related to each other, like a piano. Most guitars are clumsy at that kind of thing, but all her instruments have that. She has a very special magic touch."
To celebrate their collaboration and friendship, the pair launched the Metheny-Manzer Signature 6 Limited Edition last fall. The $32,000 six-string guitars, which feature pearl inlays of Metheny's doodles, are made of Indian rosewood and signed by the guitarist.
"We worked to design and capture the essence of the very first guitar I made for him in 1982, which he has played pretty much every night for the past 27 years," said Manzer.
A third of the 30 collectibles have sold; Paul Simon bought the first one.
Manzer, whose work is in the Canadian Museum of Civilization's collection, attributes her success to "confidence and good intuition. I listen to what a player wants and try to nail it. A guitar to start with is usually quiet; they come alive when they're played."
Linda Manzer's website.
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