Dana Bourgeois ’75
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 72, No. 2, Winter 2001
Self-taught luthier Dana Bourgeois ’75 built his first guitar in his Bowdoin dorm room in 1975. Twenty-five years later, Dana's guitars are widely recognized as individual masterpieces of the art, science, and magic of lutherie, and he is regarded by many as one of the best guitar makers in the business. But Dana didn't achieve overnight success.
Dana's love for guitars was born in front of the television in 1964 when The Beatles captured his attention rocking the country on The Ed Sullivan Show. That interest grew in the pages of a wellknown book, Classic Guitar Construction, by Irving Sloan, and began to mature in Dana's own imagination. He worked on his first guitar in his dorm room and in his grandfather's machine shop, receiving advice from his father, an amateur woodworker. "It took more time to learn the techniques than to apply them," Dana remembers. As his guitar-playing friends discovered his burgeoning skills, they began bringing instruments to him for repair.
A year out of Bowdoin, Dana had opened his own repair shop in Brunswick. As he continued to repair guitars, he built acoustic guitars on the side, and that year joined the Guild of American Luthiers. In 1978, he left his job at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and pursued his luthiery skill full time, operating his business from his house and also running a local folk club. Among the musicians who played at the club was guitar guru Eric Schoenberg. Their meeting led to work for Dana at The Music Emporium in Cambridge, Massachusetts, co-owned by Schoenberg, with whom Dana eventually co-founded Schoenberg Guitars in 1986. By that time, Dana was an authorized C.F. Martin Guitar Company repairman and had taken on his first apprentice.
A few years later, Dana sold his interest in Schoenberg guitars to pursue other projects, among which was authoring an article entitled "Voicing the Steel String Guitar." Dana received great attention when he delivered a lecture of the same title at the Guild of American Luthiers Convention in 1990. Dana's article on voicing (adjusting an instrument for production of the proper musical sounds) is considered by many to be the definitive published explanation on the subject, and is still used as text material by a number of guitarmaking schools.
Dana's guitar making expertise culminated in the 1993 opening of Dana Bourgeois Guitars (DBG) in Lewiston, Maine. "The thing that I always wanted to do," he says, "was take the proven concepts that made traditional guitars great and add to that certain modern concepts and make a better guitar-a blend of traditional and modern." However, success does not come without its share of setbacks. In an unfortunate turn of events, a distribution fallout with his international distributor led to the close Dana Bourgeois Guitars last year.
But, "it ain't over till it's over," as the saying goes, and Dana celebrated his 25th anniversary of guitar making in 2000 by opening a new shop. He punctuated this rebirth with the publication of "Still Voicing, Still Dreaming," the sequel to "Voicing the Steel String Guitar," updated with the past ten years of his building experience. He recently entered into a new venture that will put him back in a state-of-the-art production facility, and return his guitars to international circulation in 2001.
Dana Bourgeois guitars have been enjoyed by thousands of musicians of all ability levels, including some well-known professionals such as Ricky Skaggs, Ry Cooder, Vince Gill, Lee Roy Parnell, James Taylor, and Guy Clark.