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Thread: RIP: John Morton. Metal luthier master

  1. #1

    Default RIP: John Morton. Metal luthier master

    In case any of you knew John, he passed away a couple of days ago. He built beautiful metal resonator mandolins and guitars. He played guitar and clarinet. (he often played with my choro jams and was in my band for a while). He was a master luthier and also an encyclopedia of rare 20s jazz. He will be sorely missed by those that knew him.

    When he built my 8 string bandolim, he asked me what kind of neck I wanted. I handed him my Collings and told him to copy it. He did. His bandolim is a superb instrument that plays as smooth as silk. He built his first one for Dudu Maia, who still uses it extensively. Linda Binder in Milwaukee also has one, as do a number of other players, who I forget at the moment.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    He was an early supporter and long time participant in the Centrum Choro workshop.

    He was a friend to everyone he met. Always with a laugh about something.

    From his web site:
    John Morton is a machinist by trade, but traveled other roads as well before arriving at his present occupation as a builder of metal stringed instruments. After several years as an engineering student, he dropped out and veered between many types of work. 1976 found him building a house and shop in the woods, where he made some banjos from scratch, hardware and all. He later came to focus on the clean and exacting work of the metal shop, and underwent machine shop training. He found his way into the marvelous shops of Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in 1982. Seeking more variety, John later spotted an opening in a machine shop at the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley, where he was to spend 23 years in support of engineering research. Development work and functional design projects took him on detours through the fields of woodworking, sheet metal fabrication, welding, soldering and general tinkering, to arrive at a place where he is now able to build most of what pops into his head. Music has always dominated John's off hours, so not surprisingly he has landed at the convergence of music and metal work.

    In 1992 an acquaintance turned up with a broken National Duolian guitar. This afforded an opportunity to dismantle it and derive a method for building metal resonator instruments. There followed a lot of experimentation with materials and techniques, and some interesting and sometimes violent sessions on the lathe before he could make the cones reliably. At this writing (2015) he has made around 130 guitars, tenor guitars, ukuleles, mandolins and Hawaiian lap guitars. And one resophonic banjo.

    Perhaps the most rewarding moment of the instrument builder's work is when music first emerges, to reveal what has been coming together over the weeks and months. But another favorite time is at the very beginning, when the project is all in his head and has the potential to go almost anywhere. The artistic and musical choices at this stage draw upon the history of music and design. They offer a chance to pay tribute to the builders and players of the past, while opening a place for a new voice and a new member of the family of instruments.

    His gallery of work can be seen here (not sure how long his site will remain up):
    Al in PT

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  3. #2
    Moderator MikeEdgerton's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    Howell, NJ

    Default Re: RIP: John Morton. Metal luthier master

    RIP, beautiful work.
    "Bargain instruments are no bargains if you can't play them". These are the words of J. Garber.

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  5. #3
    Registered User
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    Sep 2002
    Humboldt County, CA

    Default Re: RIP: John Morton. Metal luthier master

    It was sad news when I heard this the other day. John was always very welcoming at jams when I was first learning mandolin in the Bay Area 20 years ago, and more recently, when I'd see him at Weiser every summer.

  6. #4

    Default Re: RIP: John Morton. Metal luthier master

    Aww, man. Always an inspiration to me, as a machinist and luthier myself (but never yet both at the same time). His instruments all look very timeless and original at the same time. A real master.

  7. #5
    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Vancouver Island

    Default Re: RIP: John Morton. Metal luthier master

    I only just saw this, and am very sorry to hear.

    I knew John mainly from seeing him several summers (around 2003 to 2010) at the BC swing workshops. He was a solid player on both clarinet and mandolin, and always glad to sit down with people and play together, in any style. A very friendly and helpful person. And a genius builder and metal worker: I didn't really know his instruments, but heard lots of high praise for them from owners.

    Here's John playing clarinet in a roda at Sinja's house in Vancouver in 2015. Celso Machado was along that day, plus several more of Vancouver's choro regulars. I think it's the only time John came, and it was the last time I saw him.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Thanks for letting us know, Al.

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