LUTHIER, MUSICIAN, ENTREPRENEUR
Love will make a man do strange things. Like move from the rural heaven of Mansfield, just south of Mulmur, to… Steeltown! But while Daniel and his fiancee are putting down personal and corporate roots in Hamilton, his own remain firmly planted in Headwaters. That’s where the jazz-trained guitarist first opened and now maintains a service outlet of his Cithara Guitars shop (shop number two is in Hamilton), where he custom-makes, fixes and restores acoustic and electric guitars. When he’s not at the store, he’s on stage playing and singing, be it at the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival, or a private dinner party or event (maybe yours?) Hamilton, we’re just loaning him to you, okay?
So, Daniel… you’re abandoning Headwaters?
(laughs) Never! We’re in an awesome, gorgeous spot. It’s really inspiring because the area’s so artistic, and there’s so many musicians. We’re keeping the Mansfield spot as our Headwaters hub, pick-up and drop-off and repairs, that sort of thing.
But as a young business that needed to grow, we were finding that, while we were pulling customers from Barrie to Brampton, if we wanted to get people who are south of Brampton — and there’s a lot of them — we needed to meet them somewhere closer. Hamilton made sense because they’re putting a lot back into the city and the music scene is growing every year.
Here, too. There’s a ton of live music up here, festivals and such.
That’s actually how I got started. I was about 6 or 7, and the family was at a street festival in Orangeville, the Royal Conservatory had a stage and a youth band, and they were playing the song “Wipeout,” the old surfer song…
That’s it! And I thought, okay, that’s really cool. So I took my first guitar lesson at Broadway Music in Orangeville. I believe I was the first person to ever take a lesson in the store. I also took lessons with a very, very good classical guitarist in the Hockley Valley named Daniel LaBrash. I even learned a lot of blues and rock from another teacher. That’s why I never try to classify what I play. I play everything.
You still play in the area?
I love to play in the area. One of my favourite places to play is the Black Birch Restaurant, in Hockley Valley.
That’s off the main road, in the trees, it has these huge windows and the birdwatching is crazy.
That’s the one. The people are the nicest. Another one I really enjoy is Mrs. Mitchell’s in Violet Hill. The food in both is amazing. I’m there to add that little extra bit to a perfect evening in these magical places.
The sound of a custom guitar doesn’t hurt, either. How do people find out about your work?
Getting the products out there really works for us, especially things like festivals. We’re not a Fender or a Gibson, famous brand names. People have to see my guitars, play them, and that really gets them interested. Getting your hands on it.
What makes a Cithara? What distinguishes your work from others?
It’s a combination of a bunch of things. I liken it to high-end cars. When you get to cars of a certain level and calibre, you tear down a Mercedes and a BMW, they’re the same, the same parts. It’s how it’s built and how it drives, it handles, the sound system, how you experience all that.
The same can be said for guitars. The general construction can be the same, but it’s how I shape the neck, how I contour the body, the type of pickups I put into them, how it hangs on your strap… that’s what make mine different. It’s a play thing, a feel thing.
You also mentioned to me that you build to spec, replicate anything right to the specs of the client.
We had a fellow come in who’s always played his grandfather’s old Gibson acoustic, and he’s always wanted to get into electric. But he has these great big hands and the electric necks are so small, so when he plays he gets lost on the neck, he grips it too hard and he plays out of tune. So we took the precise dimensions of his grandfather’s acoustic guitar neck and we replicated them on his new, custom electric guitar, a hollow-body. We get to do this kind of cool stuff. We also do a lot of corporate work. We’ll brand a guitar for an auction, put it in a raffle and raise money for the cause.
So you’re a hidden musical treasure up here. I bet there’s more.
Oh yes. There’s a fellow named Bruce Ley in Mansfield. He’s a phenomenal player, piano and guitar, and he has a nice studio up in the hills. I met him through the shop, working on his guitars. And Dan LaBrash, who I mentioned before, a master.
So we’ll be seeing you in Headwaters?
Absolutely. The location in Mansfield, it may be great to one day sort of move back, once the business is established, and have it as that special spot where people will come from miles around to see us.