The Craftsmen Behind the Music

These Rhode Island artisans make instruments sing.

There’s an orchestral bass from 1610 on the table at Zachary S. Martin Luthierie’s Pawtucket repair shop. Martin’s restoring the centuries-old piece to musical glory, as he does for musicians nationwide. The process takes multiple years and he revels in it, working with his own hand-made tools while reimagining. “I can see the original maker working by candlelight on a dirt floor in the 17th century,” the soft-spoken Martin says, adding that when the musician returns to pick it up, his greatest joy comes from “standing back and listening to the player strike that first note.”


Shady Lea Guitars in South Kingstown's Pump House teaches the art of guitar making and makes its own line of instruments. It’s also a haven for artistic souls who come to play, listen and enjoy pot luck at its popular open-mic nights the last Saturday of the month. “We love teaching people how to make guitars,” says Dan Collins, who runs Shady Lea with Ariel Bodman, an opera singer who met and fell in love with Collins when she sought out an instrument to accompany her singing. “Sharing with people is better than building. Every night, we’re part of their lives.”


Bill Paukert makes electric guitars at his Unified Guitar Works in Warren. His instruments are made largely of metal and wood, “something that is unique in the electric guitar world,” he says, with current models offered bearing brand names Maven, Arbiter and Zephyr. “My guitars are a hybrid of a lot of things, but not to the point they don’t sound like what people expect an electric guitar to sound like,” says Paukert. “It’s a new take on what they’ve heard before. I embrace the classic aspect but elevate it to something new.”


Former trial lawyer Dennis McCarten owns McCarten Violins in Hope Artiste Village, a business that started as his hobby in the early ’90s. His full-service stringed instrument shop opened in 2006, with McCarten selling, renting, building, repairing and servicing while using the same analytical skills of a lawyer when engaged in the creative crafting process. “It is a total escape from the world,” he says. “When you get a violin in need of help, you triage the problems and figure the best way to repair it so it’s done efficiently and correcty. At the end of the day, they have a nice violin instead of the junk they brought in.”



Leave a reply