At school they used to threaten him when the results were bad; “You wouldn’t want to work with your hands, would you?”. Like working with your hands is of less value than with your head. But the job of a guitar- and lute-maker is especially suited for both, says Jan van Cappelle (30), under a shelf filled with jars – shellac, linseed oil, bone glue and mahogany pigments. “What’s in your head, will come out through your hands.”
Through trial and error, and a burn-out, the creative learned to follow his own path. This already started at fourteen, at a campsite in Voorthuizen. “I was bored, but brought a book about guitars. There were some scraps of wood under the caravan. That would become my first instrument.”
Since a couple of years he has his own workshop. At a stonethrows distance of Huis Doorn – where ‘Kaiser Wilhelm’ would live out his days chopping wood – Jan saws, bends and glues trees into music. Brandname: Javaca.
Sometimes they are the result of a long study. ‘Stradivarius for example, already made beautiful guitars in the 17th century. Through the museum in Cremona I got a form-drawing from that age. I reconstructed his model M.750. In a few weeks there will be a lecture about this at Cambridge.” Because you learn a lot from recreating and restoration. He made an exact replica of the lute depicted in Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen’s painting of the “Kana Wedding”.
Jan likes to share his research about instruments, the head-work, through his blog “The Dutch Luthier”. Earlier he wrote a short manual for making a so-called Danelectro-guitar out of reclaimed wood. ‘It is ordered from all over the world.’ This is in line with his vision: ‘Don’t import endangered woods but use all the beautiful wood that is already here.’ He works, in a project with other builders, on a replica of an English Panormo guitar from 1825, also from reclaimed woods.
Jan also likes resourcefullness: he made a thickness sander out of an old dryer motor and an Ikea rolling pin. Out of old Ikea-shelves he made his new bandsaw. One of the workbenches was made from the hardwood sides of an old trailer.
There is no favorite corner in the workshop. But he is lyrical about his tools, like grandpa’s old chisel. ‘By Nooitgedagt of IJlst. Rockhard Swedish steel that needs almost no sharpening.’ At the moment he is building a rare guitar out of oak, reclaimed church benches from the local St. Martinus parish. ‘Oak has long been deemed unfit by guitar makers. But I found out that it is possible to use, when you look for creative solutions. That’s a philosophy I would like to share.’
Photos and text: Niek Stam