Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Although he has been playing guitar and other string instruments since age 12, Peter Mosco has been “tinkering” with those instruments for more than 35 years. He perused thrift shops and yard sales to find “cheap” instruments he could take apart, learn construction, fix, refinish, and reconstruct. Fifteen years ago, Mosco decided to turn the tinkering into a profession. He is one of only a handful of luthiers in Macon County.
“Luthier is such a strange word and many people don’t know what it means,” said Mosco.
Today, the word defines someone who makes and repairs string instruments. Yet, the word originated with the French word for “lute” and once only identified a person who made and repaired lutes.
“I decided to take my knowledge to a new level in 2005,” he said, “and become a luthier.” He estimates he has built at least 65 stringed instruments, primarily dobros but also mandolins, banjos, and more, during his career as a luthier.
To build an instrument from scratch, Mosco starts with the wood. He considers most hardwoods, including American walnut, cherry, oak, and more, but has even repurposed wood, from a 100-year-old table, for example.
“Each hardwood has its own voice,” he said. “It’s a never-ending quest to try new woods. Every so often a luthier will find some old wood and realize it will make a great instrument. I, personally, will never stop experimenting with all types of wood.”
After the wood is selected, it take Mosco approximately 60 hours to hand-craft the instrument using a variety of tools in his at-home workshop.
He considers himself not just a skilled artisan, but an artist as well. Some clients envision special designs and Mosco must work to incorporate them into the instrument.
“I will tackle custom work for anyone on any level,” he said.
Mosco’s hand-crafted instruments vary in price. And, although, price-wise, he cannot compete with factory-made instruments coming out of places like China, he believes his workmanship, warranty, and uniqueness are far superior.
Luthiers from across Western North Carolina converge annually in Burnsville for the Mountain Acoustics Luthiers Invitational. Mosco looks forward to this year’s event, to take place May 20-24.
Mosco also has “built a good reputation” repairing and restoring existing stringed instruments. He returns them to owners good as new. “I’ve had to take some almost completely apart to restore them properly.”
Although Mosco does own and has owned a variety of factory-made instruments over his lifetime, he said he will currently only play his own creations when he is at home or when invited to perform locally.
“It’s a humbling, rewarding experience to make an instrument – and then to play it,” he said. “Being a luthier grounds me. I used to go to work because I had to, but now I go to work because I want to. I’m happy when I’m in my shop.”