Benjamin Paldacci: “I eat, drink & dream lutherie stuff, for years now. Some people call that a disease, others a curse”

Ben is one of the youngest acoustic builders in our community. He is animated, fierce and passionate. It was such a pleasure to spend time with him at the Woodstock show and to try some of his latest creations. He is in my eyes one of the very best upcoming builders around.

Guitar Connoisseur: Tell us a little bit about your life before becoming a Luthier?

Benjamin Paldacci: First, thank you for having me. It means a lot for me to be in such a magazine I admire for years, and to be able to talk about my work which is one of my favorite parts of my job! I was born in Paris, France, but I don’t have so many memories about this era of my life, because we only lived there for 2 years. After that, we moved around a lot in France because of my father’s job… but the last city I lived in before leaving France for Canada, was Lyon.

GC: What brought you to Canada and your journey?

BP: I had my Baccalaureat in 2006 (High-school diploma), and I decided to leave France for Quebec City, In Canada, to learn Lutherie in 2009. I wanted to discover a new country, with a different culture/people. As my English-level was so bad, I couldn’t expect to go to schools like Roberto Venn our Bryan Galloup, which are IMHO some of the finest schools in America. Same thing for Lutherie school of Newark, or London. I could have chosen The Bruand School at Montreal, but I didn’t know it exists when I’ve decided to send my application to the National School of lutherie of Quebec. I’ve never worked with wood before to apply to it, and I am a first-generation woodworker in my family… no need to say that it was not a comfortable trip to do, and I didn’t even know if I would stay in Canada after graduation.

GC: When and what was the defining moment where you thought “I want to become a luthier”?

BP: I remember it as clear as possible: September 23rd, 2012. I was at school, building my first acoustic guitar. A replica of a Martin OM Model, Maple, and Engelman. It was kind of a “Click”. I could not explain why, but I’ve felt in love with lutherie & the steel-string way to build. I was not like “ok, I will be a luthier” but more like “Oh god, lutherie is SO cool! I have tons of fun, I have finally found something I am great at it”. Well… when I look at this guitar, it was “just” good in terms of woodworking, but this guitar sounds great for a first acoustic one!

GC: How long have you been pursuing this career?

BP: After my graduation in 2013, May, I’ve started to build my workshop. I wanted to stay in Quebec because my life was set here. I could have decided to go and follow an apprenticeship… but I was a shy guy in my personal & professional life, and I didn’t dare to go to see another builder and ask for that. The other reason is that I had the financial possibility to start my workshop alone, and it was my Dream. So, I opened it on January, 1st 2014 after 8 months of work. I have found a beautiful House, near Montmorency Falls (one of the cutest spot of Quebec City). This is the place where I live, and I set up the workshop inside of it (I have the first floor & Basement). As the house is red & easy to spot, I’ve called my workshop “The Red House”. One of the traditions in the woodworking world is to give a name to your workshop… and the perfect one hit me a couple of weeks ago! It took a while, but I am a big fan of Jimi Hendrix. I just wonder why I haven’t found it years before! (laugh)

I have been building my instruments there for 5 years now, and this is something I Love & enjoy! It is kind of my safe space, a peaceful & warm place! I have completed 12 builds (I don’t count guitars I’ve built at School), but I have the 17th on my bench right now (plus a couple of builts planed for my dealers & customers, I haven’t started right now).

GC: Only acoustics or did you tackle electrics and bass?

BP: I like the work of old brands like Fender or Gibson, and I am inspired by the incredible work of a couple of my colleagues who build Electric instruments, but… this is not my cup of tea. I prefer to walk on the “acoustic path” because the architecture of the instrument allows me to explore more possibilities. I am not talking about Archtop, which is another different & unique world, of course. I have never built an electric instrument, but this is something I wanted to do before the School. I was a gear addict since my 19th birthday, and I had tons of boutique rigs and Custom Shop axes. At those times, I wanted to build Relic Strat and Les Paul Replicas. Not anymore.

GC: Who played a major role as an inspiration in your vision of building?

BP: I eat, drink, dream lutherie stuff, for years now. Some people call that a disease, others a curse. I am not too disturbed by the aspect of my personality, ha! I’ve always been a very passionate person. When I was young, I was a curious boy who collected absolutely everything. “Pokemon: catch them all”? It was like that. It could be stones, Football cards, Bubble gum decalcomania…

So, when I started to try to watch several Luthiers work available… I was blown away! Laurent Blondel was the first modern acoustic builder I discovered, but it was before school! I didn’t have the perception I had when I was at school, and definitely couldn’t be aware of how cool he was… but I think it influenced me very much.

Michihiro Matsuda & Jason Kostal were the first builders who were VERY important for me. Before them, I didn’t know it was possible to bring lutherie at this level, I mean… contemporary lutherie of the Golden Era, right? The way they voice their instruments, the arrangement of different parts of the instrument, the aspect of the guitar, colors & textures… damn. I was truly blown away. I knew I wanted to build Contemporary Lutherie, even if I didn’t have the know-how. Of course, it was my first contact with the “Ervin Somogyi’s Style”, who is the best influence of my life as Luthier.

I have tons of references in terms of work. I am thinking to Benoit De Bretagne, Burton Legeyt, Chris Morimoto, Claudio & Claudia Pagelli, Tom Doerr, Isaac Jang, Jason Kostal, Jeff Traugott, John Slobod, Kathy Wingert, Keisuke Nishi, Ken Parker, Lars Rasmussen, Ted Astrand, Michihiro Matsuda, Michael Bashkin, Mike Baranik, Stephen Strahm… There are too many of them and not enough pages of this Interview to put all their names on it, but they influence me for years now. They are incredible in terms of work, but as persons too! Since I’ve completed my school and even a little before it, they supported me like nobody else before & gave some of their time to me. I owe them so much.

GC: How and where did you study the craft?

BP: I studied guitar-building at the National School of lutherie of Quebec from 2009, to 2013.

GC: What roles do social media and the latest technologies play in your life as a Luthier?

BP: For a young luthier like me, Social Media is gold. I was pretty lucky to work with Facebook, Instagram, for years now. It allows us to hit people anywhere on the planet, and to stay in touch with other builders, even if we are hidden in our workshop under 20 inches of snow! It is very time-consuming and I know that sometimes, I should cut it to work peacefully without any alert to disturb me… but if a customer wants to contact me on my email box, or Facebook Messenger, I need to be available as much possible. This is part of my job, and I can’t complain. Those tools are impressive, and incredible for Craftsmen to show their work!

GC: What the pros and cons do you see with the widespread usage of social media and forums?

BP: One very famous joke from Doctors, is: “Oh yeah, you have this disease… you’ve seen on the internet, right?”. It is the same thing about lutherie, especially on Forums. Some people (and gladly there are not too many), will think that because they have seen something on a forum, they will know your job better than you. I think it is our job to sensibilize people about some things. I am thinking about the CITES act about endangered woods for example… or the way to keep your instrument in a correct atmosphere (good temperature and humidity %). The positive side is all the knowledge that is available to anyone who wants to take the time to find it. It is impressive to see some people, who can build a guitar without any books, just with the internet. It is a very useful resource for us, builders too. With brands like Stewmac, LMII, and plenty of others, we have the best tools & woods available. This is Gold!

GC: You are one of the youngest Luthier invited to the Woodstock show, Tell us how that happened?

BP: You are pretty nice to say I am the youngest, but I am 32 (laugh). Definitely, with less than 5 years as freelance-builder in his workshop, I was very lucky to be a part of this incredible show… here is how it happened,

During all my years as a student, I’ve never gone to any show. A fabulous event, which is dead now (around 2013, I think) was the Montreal Guitar show. So, I wanted to go to see other builders’ work, and I’ve heard about the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase. I came there as a visitor in 2015, and It blew me away. I was aware of the excellence in our community, but I wasn’t been able to see it with my own eyes. There, I have met Baker, the Gentleman who runs the show for 10 years now (but no show this year, 2019 is the one year off), and we’ve connected instantly.

In 2016, I have been a part of the Santa Barbara Acoustic Instrument Celebration (SBAIC) as an exhibitor, and even if I was supposed to be invited a couple of years after at WILS, Baker wanted to give priority to builders who didn’t have the luck to go to California (which is a very great move!). So, I came there as a visitor again to meet some friends & hang out. After that, Baker invited me to exhibit my work for 2017, but an unfortunate event happened… Baker & his incredible Team were pretty sorry for me, so they said “Ben, we are sorry for you! Come next year!” and well… I had the best time of my life as Luthier one year after that!

GC: What does it feel like to be in the same show as very well known and established legends?

BP: Oh, Christ… I felt like a baby (he laugh again)! When I take a look at the experience of my Peers, they all have been in big schools or (and) apprenticeships! This is very humbling that after 4,5 years in my workshop, without any working experience at big places like Santa Cruz Guitar Company or Big luthiers shop, I could be able to be amongst people I consider as the best craftsmen of our era. It was very cool to be in the show, the year they paid a tribute to women of our industry. I really loved to see builders like Kathy (Wingert) or Linda (Manzer) on a big stage, thanked for everything they’ve brought to our community, for years now.

GC: What is your most memorable moment in Woodstock?

BP: I have tons of incredible memories from this show. Definitely, the best one was when Dolphin Guitars & Miki Gakki (who are IMHO, amongst the best Dealers in Japan), wanted to work with me. To put things in context here is why: I’ve always been fond of Japan since I am 6. France has been flooded by Japanese culture for decades, and I was a Mangas consumer since I’ve started to collect Dragon Ball Cards (again, collectible-issues, ha!). When we were teenagers, my sister Fanny & I, were fans of mangas and we had tons of it (French/Belgian comics are a family-story so, Japanese too). I am a big admirer of Food, Architecture, history, and culture from Japan. Their way to be Craftsmen is incredible (respect of the tradition, especially) and I have high-consideration for them.

So, having my guitars in Japan, (one of the best markets in the world for High-end instruments) was a dream of mine. I have met So & Marr, founders of Dolphin & Miki Gakki, at my first visit at WILS in 2015. They are so passionate about lutherie, respectful & Supportive to our work! Awesome people! I have met them again at WILS 2016 and at Cremona Mondomusica 2017 (another great time with a lot of Japanese Builders who came to Italy for the show), but it was too early for me to ask to work with them. When we’ve met last October at Woodstock, they enjoyed the OM #10 I’ve brought with me, and they’ve decided to work with me… such an honor! I am a lucky guy!

GC: What are you drawing your design and inspiration from?

BP: As a craftsman, I try to find inspiration everywhere around me. Of course, in other builder’s work, but in different domains of craft too. It can be Jewelry, Architecture, Paint, Sculpture, Watchmaking, Car-designing, Haute Couture, or even Nature… The shape of an instrument, its colors & textures, are very important to me. I love Art-history, and every Era of history is incredibly rich & beautiful. I am a big fan of the Renaissance for a lot of things, but Art-Deco is full of ideas for Inlays-work too. Those two parts of history are pretty different, but you can see a lot of similarities between them!

GC: How do you see the future of hand-built guitars?

BP: Wow, that is a great and tricky question! The history of the Guitar is not as big as Quatuor instruments. It is relatively new in terms of the instrument. One of the most important things for me is to respect my colleague’s work and the tradition. There are so many things that inspire me, a steel-string builder, in the Classical-Guitar World! Even when you are watching the work of Martin in the 19th Century, this is incredible in terms of vision! It is incredibly difficult to innovate those days and to claim possible paternity about something. I am very impressed and fascinated by Michi Matsuda or Claudio & Claudia Pagelli, who is in another dimension. Their vision and boldness are amazing, and I wish I could be more like them in the future… but let’s focus on the basics first!

GC: Do you believe in sustainable wood sources and alternatives to traditional woods?

BP: Yes, since the CITES act for Dalbergias in 2017, I tried to find another way to work with woods I could find. Fortunately, we have great tonewoods in Canada, but I needed to find some “fancy” species I could use. I have seen once, guitars from Mike Baranik and Gustav Fredell, built with Higuerilla. It comes from Peru, and it is not easy to get it. So, I have bought 2 sets of it and seasoned it 2,5 years before to use it on an OM and an OO-12, Working with it is not easy either, and I think that if I’ve used it years before… it would be pretty touchy. Fortunately, these two guitars are amazing and the OM is gone at Rennes, France. I still have the OO, because I love it!

One of my customers recently ordered an OM built with Pao Ferro, a non-CITES wood from Brazil, and a great alternative to Brazilian Rosewood. I am proud to say that I haven’t used CITES wood for 2 years now. In another way, I continue to use woods like ebonies, Mahoganies, and I am loving them so much… I try to focus on the balance to satisfy my customers.

I won’t use alternative tonewood on my Fingerboards and Bridges for example, because I love ebonies, and this wood is not CITES… but when it will be listed, I am thinking about the Rock lite option, which is awesome in terms of result & Look. I love Rosewoods, and I have a great pre-CITES 2017 stash, ready to build with… but I just don’t use it those days because I think it is not great in terms of timing. PLEASE, be careful. I don’t shame on Rosewood builders or users. I just say that I am trying something else and that I am lucky to have open-minded customers, who care about that.

GC: What do you think people will say in 1000 years if they stumble across your guitar?

BP: “Oh wow! It sounds pretty opened now!” (Laugh). I just hope my instruments would still be there, after all those years!

GC: Is there a specific shape or object that keeps coming back in your designs that inspires you?

BP: Let’s take an example: The shape of my headstock. This is pretty special, and I had the luck to find it early in 2016 when I designed the SBAIC models. Of course, a lot of headstocks influenced me about mine, and I wanted something very special (and a bit extreme, to be able to not be close to anybody). As I’ve said, a lot of things inspire me intentionally or Unconsciously. It is hard to put the finger on something especially… maybe, for the headstock, it was a piece of architecture or a Sculpture from Rodin, a paint from Picasso…
I would say that it is like a recipe: You take a lot of excellent ingredients, a theme, and you build your recipe. I am a foody & I love to cook, so… I should say that it is the best analogy I could give to you!

GC: What helps your creativity; brings you back to a good place?

BP: Dreams probably are one of the best ways to find new ideas for me. I am not the kind of guy who will use Brainstorming or deconstructive technics at first (but I do). Sometimes, an idea will pop in my head. Even if it takes hours to design some inlay idea, It will take some time for me to be completely satisfied. Classical music is a great way to put myself in the mood (or some Foo Fighters song, I am an eclectic person), with a great fresh pot of coffee or Tea. I am fancy for some things, but give me a good book, a cat to cuddle, after a great & dusty day at my workshop, The Red House… I’ll be the Happiest Man on Earth.

GC: What sound makes you cringe, anxious?

BP: First, I need to admit that even if I find some noise, uncomfortable or horrible, they all sound interesting to me. I remember an Interview with David Gilmour who sampled the sound of the SNCF (the main train-company in France) in one of his last songs named “Rattle than lock”. He said that all his life, he was chasing sounds everywhere he could here some. So, I am not David Gilmour (a big influence for me though…) but I try to analyze and be aware of everything I could hear in my regular life, as luthier/musician/person.

I should admit that the most annoying & horrible sound I know, a person, is when you write on a blackboard and the chalk “scream”. Same thing with a fork on a plate. As a luthier, the buzz on a guitar. This is something that obsesses me, especially when I chase it on my instruments. Well… maybe this is a great thing, after all.

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