Craftsmen of Sound

By Kevin Tiongson

There’s a fascination among guitarists, and musicians in general, with handmade equipment. The common, mass-produced products don’t have the same soul, character or quality, which is the reason boutique manufacturers and guitar makers called luthiers are able to thrive.

Bruce Roper and Ian Schneller are two Chicago-based luthiers and music equipment makers. Roper repairs and builds guitars, performs as part of the folk trio “Sons Of The Never Wrong” and teaches the Chicago Luthiers Workshop in Roscoe Village. Schneller is a high-end guitar maker, building amplifiers and speakers under his brand “Specimen Products” and teaching a class of his own called the “Chicago School of Guitar Making” in his workshop in Humboldt Park. The speakers that Schneller builds are unique, called Horn Speakers. They use technology that dates back to original speaker designs and are much more efficient because they need less input.

Both Schneller and Roper make their guitars in-house, using sustainable woods and long-lasting hardware. They create everything themselves, putting the body together, shaving the neck down into the headstock and installing hardware, and they encourage their students to practice these same methods.

Schneller marries his experience and craft of sculpting through his trademark Horn Speakers and has used them in a museum exhibition with musician Andrew Bird, called “Sonic Arboretum.” The first show was at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2010. In the installation, Bird used Schneller’s horn speakers and amps to create “Sound Sculptures.” 

Roper makes some instruments for himself and a few commisioned by clients. He also does repairs for the Old Town School of Folk Music in addition to his workshop classes.

Schneller and Roper are only a few of the guitar luthiers in Chicago. It is a community that’s slowly growing as more people see the value of having well-made instruments. 

As the quality of mass-produced products continues to decline, there is a growing demand for these soulful instruments sought by generations of players.