Playable Art

“I don’t know how to play a musical instrument,” says Sue Spray, “but I know how to make a guitar that sounds really good.”

Spray also builds ukuleles and Celtic harps.

“Some of my guitars have unique, wonderful sound qualities to them. But when people ask me what particular shape it is, I have to tell them it’s a Sue Spray shape and not a typical classical shape, because when I built my first one I didn’t know there was a typical classical shape.”

Spray hosts a group called the Luthier’s Cooperative at her Vista woodworking shop. They meet Tuesdays and Thursdays to build acoustic guitars that are testaments to craftsmanship and rare woods, such as quilted maple, Indian rosewood, and European spruce. Spray calls them “playable art.” They come with a player’s warranty and a National Fine Arts Registration.

“We get together and build guitars the old-fashioned way with hand tools and master-craftsman procedures. And when we finish the guitars, we put them up for sale in an annual exhibit. When they sell [Spray says the co-op’s guitars can fetch as much as $3500 each], we donate a portion of the proceeds to charity.”

At their first annual guitar sale and exhibit at the E Street Café in Encinitas in May, Spray says the co-op donated 10 percent of the sales to the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe.

“I made the choice because I am a retired veterinarian and I feel strongly about animal welfare,” she says.

The idea for the Luthier’s Cooperative began in 2007 after Spray and a group of friends completed a guitar-building course at Palomar College.

“We decided that we wanted to continue working, so we started meeting at my shop one day a week,” says Spray. One day became two. Now, she says the group can complete up to 20 guitars in a year.

By design, she says, the co-op’s goal is not to make a lot of money. They’d like to generate enough cash to buy the materials to make more guitars, pay a little for their time, and give the rest to the community in the form of donations.

“We’re not trying to make a killing,” Spray says. “We’re just building guitars. And we need to do something with them because none of us play.”

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