The President Carter Legacy Collection
World Tree is proud to present The President Carter Legacy Collection: a unique collection of 12 stringed instruments made from a renewable timber resource, Empress (Paulownia), grown by President Carter on his farm in Plains, Georgia.
Watch the video below to see the first time President Carter is serenaded by one of the instruments from the collection.
A legacy to honor
The President Carter Legacy Collection was made by some of the finest luthiers in the United States, Canada and Switzerland, from Paulownia wood harvested on President Carter's farm in Plains, Georgia.
It was created to honor the former president's ongoing commitment to building a sustainable future and to promote farmed Paulownia as a renewable, lumber resource. As the guitar industry faces increasing shortages of traditional tonewoods, Paulownia is primed to become a viable alternative for the future.
Having been played by musicians around the country for President Carter's recent birthday, the collection will now be auctioned in 2021, with the proceeds going to Farm Aid and the Boys and Girls Club of Georgia.
“It is my hope that these instruments bring happiness to all who both play them and hear them and that they inspire us all to pursue a more sustainable future.”
- President Jimmy Carter
"If you have a voice and an instrument, you are welcome in my home."
- President Jimmy Carter
For Jake Maclay, luthiery was a calling. He still vividly remembers the day when he was cooking in his family’s restaurant in West Virginia when the idea came to him, almost out of nowhere.
“When this career path came to me, something just went off in my head,” he said, still sounding a bit surprised himself. “It was like this light came on, like this is what I want to do.”
Though he only played the guitar casually, Jake said he is “sort of obsessed with music” and something about crafting stringed instruments spoke to him.
“Although I wasn’t a great player, I still had a deep connection to the instrument and just have always been fascinated by them,” he mused.
He went home and discussed the decision with his fiancé, who wholeheartedly supported the idea. Within two weeks, the couple got married and moved across the country to start their new life.
Jake applied to Robert-Venn School of Luthiery in Arizona – a cross-country move for him – and entered a months-long intensive program. He knew immediately he had made the right decision; it just felt right and he did well. But the ancient art still had some surprises in store for him.
From Arizona, he moved to Santa Cruz, California, where he worked in a guitar shop.
Jake initially had no intention of building ukuleles; he didn’t know anyone who made or played them.
When the ukulele department director left the shop where Jake worked and offered the position to Jake, he accepted. He figured it was a rarely-offered chance to run a department, and it would be a chance to train for acoustic guitar building.
The ukuleles also spoke to the craftsman in Jake, who also saw “a chance to build complete instruments from start to finish, which is extremely rare.”
But after building a handful of the instruments, he “started falling in love with the ukuleles.”
In the past, Jake explained, people would go to the store to maybe get a cheap ukulele. But his experience building them in California was different and changed his perspective on the instrument itself.
“We were building nice ukuleles, they were all hand-crafted, and I was the builder. I was putting all my love and energy into building these things,” he said, the appreciation of a craftsman for art coming through in his voice.
The love affair flourished. Today, Jake creates exquisite ukuleles in his shop, Hive Ukuleles.
Jake was honored to be asked to contribute a ukulele to the Legacy Collection and be among so many esteemed luthiers.
“This was a nice opportunity to give back a little bit but also to be a part of the project with other luthiers I respect,” Jake said.
When it comes to former President Jimmy Carter, Jake is a bit young to remember his administration. Still, he does know the “rock and roll president” is friends with the Allman Brothers Band and other famous musicians, a fact Jake -- also an Allman Brothers fan -- can appreciate.
It’s an immensely rewarding experience given that his ukulele will be played by Jake Shimabukuro, who he met briefly at a concert nearly a decade ago.
“It’s nice when you can put the instrument in the hands of somebody who can make the instrument reach its potential,” Jake said.
After spending several years studying theology and philosophy, Beau felt called to something beyond the path he was already on. As he put it, “I wanted to do something creative, I didn’t really want to go on the academic route.”
Although his deeply artistic background includes painting and calligraphy to sculpture and photography, Beau had never before worked in wood. After several years traveling the world, he eventually found his way to Sydney, Australia. There, he found the Gilet Guitars School of Luthiery, where four luthiers created about 35 guitars a year. The factory also taught students three days a week. In 2003, Beau began to study under master luthier Gerard Gilet himself.
Beau discovered he was good at mastering the exacting details of luthiery while expressing his passion and creativity. He arrived at the school early and stayed late, completing small tasks around the shop like sweeping up sawdust and sorting wood in exchange for his wood and tools. Before long, he was working at Gilet Guitars full time and teaching other aspiring luthiers.
Beau contributed two instruments, a ukulele and a guitar, made from Paulownia for the Carter Legacy Collection. He especially admires the former president's continued commitment to the environment and the world view that led the former president to plant 15 acres of Empress Splendor trees.
As a luthier, Beau especially appreciates the vital role Paulownia plays in creating a sustainable future.
“Climate change will not only change luthiery but change how everything works in the world,” he pointed out.
Being a luthier, Beau said, acculturates one to the necessity of conservation. Often, they work in wood that may not be available in the future. Keenly aware of that fact, Beau explained luthiers are “are kind of like hunter-gatherers in that we use absolutely every little bit.”
“Literally, nothing goes out the door unless it’s dust, and even dust I save to fill up gaps and such,” he emphasized.
Beau knows crafting instruments for a former American president isn’t an opportunity many Australians receive. He is humbled to be an (albeit small) part of Carter’s sweeping legacy. The ukulele Beau crafted is played by Eddie Vedder, a long-time champion of the humble but extremely versatile instrument.
Today, Beau is based in Grand Junction, Colorado, where Beau Hannan Guitars & Ukeles is based. In addition to the handful of ukuleles and guitars he crafts each year, he also designs custom boxes. His global travels and time spent studying philosophy, art history, and martial arts influence and find expression in each of his pieces.
In the early days of guitar repair there was an obvious gap between the modern approach for making guitars and the techniques needed for repairing them. Out of necessity Bryan pioneered tools and techniques that have become staples of the industry. Today Bryan is recognized as s fearless innovator in Lutheire, pushing the boundaries of the guitar as a musical instrument to make it the best it can be. This has lead to inventions that the industry are adapting to include the Galloup Instrument Making Software that is changing the way major manufactures approach guitar making.
Bryan’s custom line of guitars are a testament to his commitment to excellence and uncompromising attention to detail. The Galloup Tone Wood Library is stocked with the finest tone woods in the world. Each sample has been dynamically tested with the Galloup Wood Management™ Software to generate his proprietary Galloup Rating™ which guarantees sonic excellence and engineered reliability. The development of this approach was founded through decades of research and development to deliver a world class concert level guitar to last and inspire for a lifetime.
Jason, still smiling at the memory, said, “That’s not something that happens very often with high-profile people.”
The former president impressed Kostal, who said although he didn’t feel positioned to comment on the political aspects of Carter’s career, “As a human being, there are few finer individuals than President Carter.”
“I have watched for the last four decades as he has continued to work within his community and the global community to make the world a better place, and I respect that immensely,” Jason said, his voice quiet with awe.
But Jason’s interaction with Carter didn’t just end with a friendly chat. The Legacy Collection guitar Jason crafted for the charitable auction was a tribute to Carter’s military service and a bit of an inside joke.
Jason, a U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduate, couldn’t resist poking a bit of fun at Carter, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1946. The two military schools enjoy an ongoing, centuries-old rivalry that culminates annually in a much-anticipated football game.
When asked to create a guitar for the Legacy Collection, Jason seized the opportunity to honor the former president’s naval service. The Legacy guitar’s rosette are blue and gold in honor of the U.S. Navy’s official colors.
However, taking it one step further, Jason said he also decided to “secure my place in West Point history” with a coded message to Carter. Immortalized in the guitar’s decorative inlay, a Morse Code inscription states, “Beat Navy.” Carter couldn’t help but chuckle at the luthier’s sly ribbing.
“In true Army fashion, I had to extend a ‘Beat Navy’ to President Carter,” Jason said. “It was kind of a way to laugh and enjoy that connection together.”
That’s not Jason’s only nod to the national rivalry. The Paulownia used to make the guitar oxidizes to gold when finished. Jason added ebony binding to it – an unmistakable nod to West Point’s black and gold colors.
The guitar, which has already been played for Carter,will also be played by the Indigo Girls.
Jason believes his ability to bring beauty and music into the world is a gift. He initially entered lutherie while looking for a hobby in graduate school. After asking a local luthier to teach him the craft, Jason immediately fell in love with the power of creating something beautiful with his hands. Although he never intended to build stringed instruments for a living, after a brief stint in the corporate world, Jason opened his own shop, Kostal Guitars.
Today, his guitars reflect a deep respect for the privilege of providing a musician with the instrument of their calling and his own background as an efficiency expert. The combination allows him to produce about 25 guitars a year by himself at his shop.
It was a way for Drew to embrace the opportunity to build a guitar for a former president who he is too young to remember but deeply admires all the same.
“I’ve had a deep respect for him for a long time,” Drew said, the admiration evident in his voice. “For everything from his advocacy for social justice and for peace, both on a local level and what we can do in our own backyards, like the work he did for Habitat for Humanity, as well as globally.”
But it’s Carter’s legacy of environmental advocacy that has directly impacted Drew’s life. The luthier was a canoe guide in the canoe wilderness area for three years, working with a Christian group that helped inner-city youth experience the vast wonders of pristine wilderness untouched by modern machinery.
“So I have a long, deep-standing connection to that,” Drew smiled.
Drew’s mother also admires Carter, so the young guitar maker grew up aware of Carter’s consistent advocacy for social justice, global peace and sustainability.
When selecting material for his contribution to the Legacy Collection, Drew sought out wood from the legendary derecho – the former president’s guitar would have timber naturally felled on Independence Day from an area he helped preserve. Of course, the tree isn’t from the Boundary Waters exactly, since those are protected, it’s at least from the same ecosystem.
“This tree is about as close as you can get to the Boundary Waters without being in the Boundary Waters,” Drew smiled. “I’m pretty sure this tree has very close relatives that are in the Boundary Waters.”
Like many luthiers, Drew’s journey into the craft of stringed instruments was guided by several teachers. His interest in the craftsmanship of instrument building was piqued during his senior year of college when he took a course called “The Physics of Sound.” After that, he enrolled in the Red Wing Guitar Repair and Building program, a journey that eventually led him to hone his craft and develop his building philosophy under Dana Bourgeois of Bourgeois Guitars. After two years under Jim Olson, he opened his shop, T. Drew Heinonen Acoustic Guitars.
The Indigo Girls will play Drew’s Legacy Collection acoustic guitar.
Eventually, he began an apprenticeship under master luthier Sergei de Jong.
As he came into his own as a luthier, Bernie knew he wanted to craft instruments for people in northern climates, where the dry, cold air will crack guitars and acquiring instruments can be difficult.
“There are a lot of indigenous and people who really don’t have access to good instruments,” Bernie explained. “And so I started making guitars for people in the north.”
Bernie was drawn to creating instruments for northern people partly because of his work as a conservationist in the area. He has spent the last 30 years working for the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum of Arctic governments. Bernie was the executive director or the organization’s sustainable development working group that produced policy recommendations about climate change.
It’s work former President Carter would undoubtedly appreciate given the famous forward he wrote for a photography book, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, that advocated for preserving the planet.
Bernie’s stringed instruments have found their way into the hands of an Athabaskan Dine, members of the Inuit and Mati tribes in Yellowknife, Canada, musicians in Norway and Finland. At the request of a Norwegian organization, he even built a guitar for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Seeing his instruments played by their recipients is profoundly fulfilling for Bernie.
“There’s a real bond between them and the instrument; it’s neat to watch,” Bernie said.
Bernie’s Legacy Collection contribution, a mandolin with the former’s president’s name on the twelfth fret, will be played by Sierra Hull. He’s thankful to have the chance to craft an instrument for former President Carter.
“He just seems to be a very decent man, and his efforts with Habit for Humanity and his love of music is pretty clear,” Bernie reflected. Considering the former president’s life and career, Bernie said, “Well done. What a career.”
Bernie was also eager to try working with Paulownia for the first time.
“This was a wood that was sustainable, that was light, and it was strong. And those are all great ideas for guitar makers,” Bernie explained. This is particularly true given that many materials used in luthiery are restricted under the CITES Conservation Treaty.
Lutherie isn’t Bernie’s full-time career, yet though he does have Funston Custom Guitars and has lightly considered starting a lutherie school.
The craftsmen behind the collection.
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