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Guitar Heaven At Havn Guitars

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - August 5, 2013


Erik Baker makes fine instruments at Havn Guitars in Canterbury.

“A guitar is basically a box. It has sides, a top, and a bottom,” says Erik Baker.

That may be the bare bones of guitar construction, but the craft of making fine guitars goes way beyond the simplistic when it comes to the instruments made by Baker, the owner of Havn Guitars in Canterbury.

Baker has been making guitars in his home-based workshop for more than 10 years and those who know a wonderful guitar when they see or play one respect his work.

“I grew up in Belmont,” Baker comments when asked how he came to the craft of guitar making. “Later, I was working in a Massachusetts boat yard doing electrical and woodworking. A friend was building a house in Canterbury NH and I helped him with that. That is how I learned to build things.”

It was at that time that Baker and his wife, Rachel, realized how much they loved the Lakes Region and Canterbury in particular. Rachel also is originally from the area and she has fond memories of visiting the elderly sisters at Canterbury Shaker Village as a child. They decided to move permanently to the village.

Baker found work as a carpenter and Rachel became the librarian in Canterbury. A few years ago, they purchased a very old (at least 200 years of age, according to Baker) Cape-style home in Canterbury. It is now a beautifully restored house, although for Baker it is a work in progress. The permanent home gave Baker the workspace he needed to spread out and do more guitar crafting and repair work.

“I do a lot of guitar repairs for people. I mostly repair frets, which wear out over time. Most repairs are guitar neck oriented.” Baker picks up a guitar to point out the areas that require the most work due to wear over the years.

He goes on to explain that he just finished a day of displaying his guitars and talking to the public at the Canterbury Fair. The late-July fair is a busy event and Baker finds it a great place to show off his handmade guitars and talk to guitar lovers. “People get to see my guitars, to pick them up and play them and ask questions.”

Clearly, those who attend the fair are happy to find such an unusual vendor as Baker/Havn Guitars. Hobbyist guitar players and more serious musicians love to sit and play a Havn Guitar and discuss the craft of guitar making and to ask questions of an expert.

Because guitar making is such an unusual craft, many people want to know how Baker learned to make the instruments. “It was a progression,” he says. “As a kid, I liked musical instruments. Once I started doing carpentry and making cabinets, I discovered I love to do finish work such as inlaying of wood. I find finish work very appealing.

“When my son was born, I decided to take guitar lessons. I had an electric guitar but I wanted an acoustic. At that time I discovered there was a guy teaching guitar making classes at the Vermont Instruments School. I took one of his classes and that was what got me started in guitar making.”

Making a guitar has a steep learning curve, according to Baker. “The angle of the guitar neck is specific, as is fret placement. Basically, as I mentioned before, a guitar is a box with sides, a top and bottom. The rosettes and trim work add to the finish beauty.”

The Havn Guitar standard model and starting point for many of Baker’s guitars is called a Medium Jumbo. This a popular size for fingerstyle but can also perform adequately for flat-picking. The shape of the instrument can be altered to fit the need and desire of the musician. Jigs in his workshop allow Baker to build a variety of shapes and sizes.

According to Baker, a new shape that has proven to be popular with musicians is the Parlor guitar. The instrument has a smaller body size but can still sound as rich and full as a larger guitar.

In order to make a guitar, Baker uses paper patterns for the basic shape — one pattern is for the body and the other for the neck. Guitars are cut from those patterns with many revisions along the process.

“I use a variety of hardwoods for the back and sides of the guitar,” he says. “Mostly I use exotic woods that are all quarter-sawn and straight-grained. The straight-grained woods are good for bending and for sound.”

Indeed, parts of the guitar wood must be bent and Baker points to a compact, tall machine that he uses to bend the wood. “I thin out the pieces of wood and wet them. Then they are put into the press where they sit to dry out overnight. It takes a matter of minutes to press the wood but it has to sit overnight in the form to dry.”

All handcrafted guitars are built to the specifications of the musician/customer. Guitar styles include several models of steel string, electric, and lap steel guitars.

Part of Baker’s guitar making skill is in the ability to craft an instrument that offers a rich and balanced voice with appealing design features.

“Quality of sound is the guiding principle of my design. Each piece of wood used in the building process is chosen specifically to find the balance between bass, mid-range, and treble. Special attention is paid to the responsiveness to touch and the clarity of sound of each instrument.”

Thus far, Baker has made about 11 guitars as well as making countless repairs to existing guitars. It takes about 200 hours, on average, to make a guitar. It is an exacting craft and many weeks go into the process of making a beautiful, working finished guitar.

When one considers the number of people who own and enjoy playing a guitar, there is a definite need for guitar repair. Baker explains his guitar repair service: “I service guitars ranging from simple set-ups to repairing damaged parts. All repairs that I do require an inspection of the instrument and then an estimate on cost.

“Most of my customers are local people who find me at Canterbury Fair. I am also a member of New Hampshire Made and we participate in their Open Doors event each year.”

When not making guitars, Baker continues to work as a carpenter. He says that, through the recession, he stayed busy doing repairs for homeowners who put off selling their homes.

One might assume the name Havn Guitars comes from the heavenly beauty of the handmade guitars. Baker laughs and shakes his head. “No, it is actually my mother’s maiden name.”

With two growing children and a busy carpentry business and a very old home that Rachel and Eric say always need something done for repairs, it is a busy and satisfying life. Throw guitar making into the mix and Baker seems to have found his most unusual but rewarding life’s work.

“I just want to keep making guitars,” he says. “And to keep my business going. I keep moving forward and I just love building guitars.”

See more of Baker’s guitars at Havn Guitars is located at 72 Old Tilton Road in Canterbury. Tours and appointments are available by emailing or calling 603-783-0060. 

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