A guitar is an heirloom – a treasure and a testament to a musician; meant to be just as beautiful as the music played on it. So for a guitar that both sounds and looks equally radiant, today our featured TopShelf Luthier is Chris Alvarado and the unrelenting beauty of his Driftwood Guitars.
Before The Days of Driftwood Guitars
Chris Alvarado’s journey is as unique as his guitars. Unlike many other born-and-raised musicians, Alvarado led a long and musicless life before returning to his first love after a chance encounter with another recruit unit while stationed at an Air Force base in Alaska. While searching for a new hobby to pass the cold days in the last frontier, he stumbled onto an idea when this colleague showed off an electric guitar he’d made one weekend.
“I kind of said out loud, ‘I can build an acoustic guitar.’”
From there, Alvarado began experimenting, learning, and creating a successful and exceptional line of guitars. Before long, his work would lead him to Duke Bardwell (Elvis’ bass player), and towards custom guitar work unlike any he had done before. This collaboration was a challenging one but would become a cornerstone for how Alvarado does business today.
“It was the first time I had communicated with a client on that level; we talked on the phone almost daily while I was building it, and we became good friends,” Alvarado recalled. “That relationship made me want to build something extra special for him.”
The success of this event would raise Alvarado’s acclaim to national recognition and set the bar for the incredible works Alvarado would continue to achieve to this very day.
The Alvarado Process
Chris Alvarado finds his sound by listening – whether it’s to the musician and their eclectic stories, or to the wood itself to understand what shapes it’s most suited to become; Alvarado creates by customizing to the needs and circumstances of each instrument and player he encounters. Everything from the soundboard wood to the rib rest bevel is carefully considered and then handmade and assembled to give clients a guitar that is completely curated to each of their own distinctive personalities and needs.
The most impressive of Alvarado’s custom initiatives are the inlays in his guitars. With images ranging from Johnny Cash to the Nashville Skyline, the beauty of these instruments are an orchestra of sensation spanning from your ears to your eyes, and down to your fingertips. Alvardo claims he gets to know each client on a gut level, “drilling down to the thing that gives their lives meaning.” For all of this, he avoids automation everywhere possible. This can come at the cost of time to him and Driftwood guitars; Alvarado dedicates three days to shaping the braces (also called “voicing” the guitar) where factories spend only thirty seconds.
But to Chris, this is a necessary part of his process:
‘“Not only am I voicing that particular guitar, but I’m voicing it for that particular client,’ he says of his precision. ‘I know what kind of music he’s going to play, what kind of strings he’s going to put on it, and whether he’ll play it in Florida or Minnesota.’”
The Love of Listening
Guitarists sound best when they’re listened to – that may appear obvious but it’s the key ingredient that gives Driftwood that special look and sound people seek from shore to shore. Chris Alvarado’s immense talent, coupled with his sincere dedication to the craft ensures that each and every guitar he creates are only similar in one facet – they are and will continue to be beautiful and resonant instruments for years to come.