Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A burning passion: Fire Chief Amesqua makes beautiful mandolins


The Capital Times

When Madison Fire Chief Debra Amesqua took up the mandolin a few years back, she wanted a quality instrument, specifically a 1923 or 1924 Lloyd Loar Gibson F-5 archtop.
She couldn’t find one for under $125,000, so she changed her plans. She transformed her basement into a shop, bought a mandolin kit from supplier StewMac and replicated the F-5 piece by piece.
Now Amesqua is working on her sixth instrument and plans to keep churning them out, one by one, for the foreseeable future. She doesn’t do it for the money. With about 200 hours invested in each instrument, untold thousands of dollars on tools, hundreds of dollars for just the wood for a single mandolin, she’s not likely to break even anytime soon. The most she’s fetched for one of her works of musical art is $3,500.
“I don’t have to make any money on it,” she says. “I’d be starving to death if I did.”
But if one wants to know why she does it, one just has to observe her child-like enthusiasm as she moves from machine to machine, and the loving caresses she lavishes on her latest creation, a honey brown beauty with a stunning tiger-striped sugar maple grain.
“That’s a spectacular back on this instrument. That is absolutely gorgeous,” she beams.
She gives it a strum, and it’s obvious from the deep, resonant twang that this is no off-the-shelf model.
It takes a lot of work. Amesqua sees it as a defining endeavor that intertwines her love of music with her considerable technical talents.
She enjoys playing her creations, seeking out venues such as bluegrass festivals and jamming with a group that plays traditional Irish tunes on Wednesdays at Brocach pub on the Capitol Square. But she calls those musicians “way out of my league.”
“I’m a builder, not a player,” she insists. Read full story...

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