Lutherie is the craft of building, restoring and repairing stringed musical instruments, specifically those with a neck and “soundbox,” such as guitars, mandolins and violins. A master of this timeless craft is known as a luthier. Danny Molter is a local luthier who embraces this craft with a distinctly modern sensibility while retaining the key characteristics which define its heritage.
Molter Custom Guitars was founded almost 25 years ago by Michael Molter, Danny’s late father. Michael Molter was a woodworker and professional musician whose career in lutherie began almost by accident when a friend, knowing of his woodworking prowess, asked him to build a custom guitar. This hobby became a passion, and was ultimately passed from father to son. As time passed, father and son continued to develop and improve upon a construction method which relied completely on traditional by-hand techniques, while incorporating modern hardware and electronics where applicable. Danny continues to employ this process today.
With pride, Danny refers to his creations as “playable works of art.” The building process begins with intensive discussions between Danny and the customer about the guitar model, its component woods, overall décor and custom accessories. From start to finish, the entire design and construction process takes approximately 5 months. Danny recognizes that his method requires a patient customer, but says, “Taking my time is critical to maintaining the level of craftsmanship I demand of myself.”
Generally, a guitar’s distinguishing tone is determined by the size and shape of its body (consisting of a back, sides and top) and the woods (known as “tonewoods”) used in its construction. Tonewoods are varied and unique, and can be rare and costly. Generally, the darker woods (including mahogany, koa and ziricote) produce deeper, richer sounds; the lighter woods (including spruce, myrtle and maple) produce brighter, crisper sounds. While certain selections are prevalent in many models (for example, using sitka spruce for the guitar’s top), tonewood combinations for the back, top and sides are virtually limitless, providing guitarists with many options for instrument sound and appearance.
Danny’s work is distinguished from other luthiers and mass-manufacturers by his knowledge of and passion for wood varieties. One of his favorites is “sinker redwood,” reclaimed boards which had sunken while being transported via river-floatation, and over the years have absorbed various minerals and tannins, resulting in unique grains and unique tones. He relishes the challenge of transforming wood from its raw form into a finished instrument.
“I once acquired a 9-foot mahogany plank, and thought to myself ‘There’s a guitar in there somewhere, and I just have to find it,’” he says with a smile.
Each of Danny’s guitars is a personalized, one-of-a-kind creation. He reluctantly and modestly admits that he continues to be inspired by customers who acknowledge that his guitars are the “best they’ve ever heard.” When it comes to guitars, he says, “I’m not here to reinvent the wheel, but that doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying to perfect it.”