In 1971, while working on a doctorate in psychobiology, I purchased the Whole Earth Catalog. They had two pages devoted to guitar making, including a feature on the book “Classical Guitar Construction” by Irving Sloane. This was essentially the only book at the time on how to make a guitar. I purchased it and devoured every word, many times over. Irving went on to write several more books including “Steel String Guitar Construction” and “Guitar Repair”.
In 1981, I met my wife, Robin Phillips. Robin was looking at some books on my shelf and when she got to “Classical Guitar Construction” she exclaimed, “I know him! I grew up across the street from him”. Robin recollected watching Irving build guitars through his basement window. She also remembered him serenading her when he finished a new guitar. Fast forward a couple of years and I get a call from Irving! He had been living in Brussels and had returned to visit his old neighborhood in New Jersey. He visited the library and ran into Robin’s mom, Zelda, who worked at the library. Zelda told him that Robin had married a guitarmaker and gave him my contact info.
So I finally got to meet Irving and Robin had a nice reunion with him and one of his sons. He soon invited us to visit a home he had kept in northern Dutchess County in NY. It turns out he was single again and Robin and I suggested that he ask Robin’s mom to have dinner with him. Well, they did go out and ended up falling in love like a couple of teenagers and eventually married. They had many good years together until Irving passed at the age of 72 from kidney cancer.
(photo courtesy of Jay Hostetler)
Irving was a true Renaissance man. A graphic designer by training, he designed record album covers, product packaging, books, etc. He did professional quality product photography, made fish prints, made jewelry, and became expert at the process of lost wax mold making. At the time he returned to the States, he had designed a very high quality tuning gear and began making gears for classical guitars and upright basses. He eventually licensed the guitar gears to Stewart MacDonald and the bass gears to David Gage. Using his lost wax mold technique, he developed a line of small planes for violin and cello makers that are still very popular. He sold these and other tools he designed under the name “Ibex Tools” which were distributed by Metropolitan Music.
I was very fortunate to have had Irving as part of my extended family for many years. I don’t think there is a guitarmaker in his 50’s or older who does not owe a big debt to Irving Sloane and the influence his books had on all of us.
Here are some additional links, if you are interested: