Here are a few photos of one of our Martin-inspired parlor guitars before the back & neck glue-up. The top is just about as local as it gets: old growth coastal redwood, from an old Anderson Valley sheep barn. The sides & back are Honduras rosewood, chocolate-colored & deeply resonant. This one will have an ebony fingerboard & peghead overlay, boxwood binding & back-strip, hand-cut abalone diamond fingerboard inlay.
Published on April 17, 2019 in the Ukiah Daily Journal.
Link to the story on the UDJ website
By Rachel Ebel
Located in the heart of Anderson Valley, Dart Instruments has become an iconic landing spot for many musicians in search of custom made stringed instruments.
The shop lies relaxed to the side of the highway in between Philo and Navarro. Specializing in guitars, mandolins and acoustic lap steel guitars, the brand has earned a respected reputation in the music community.
David Dart began his career building instruments in 1966. He started playing guitar around age 10 and made his first guitar at age 16.
“As I got older I had a little guitar but I wanted a fancy one. I got an old one, and it was a fancy parlor guitar, but it was trashed. It didn’t have a bridge, and it was split in the back, and a lot of the abalone inlay was missing and I just gradually fixed it up. And I got into it after that. I made myself an Appalachian dulcimer after that. Then a mandolin, which I compared to other mandolins after a science project for my high school senior project. Mine, of course, came out better,” smiles Dart.
He never looked back and has since indulged in the artistry of building instruments, becoming a respected “luthier,” the name used for a builder of stringed instruments.
Dart grew up and lived in Southern California before coming to Mendocino County in 1978, after spending some time on the road. Deciding to settle down and raise a family, he purchased and opened up his workshop and showroom in Philo in 1986.
While newer technology opens up new tools and methods to speed up the process for luthiers, Dart prefers to keep his way traditional. He likes to hand draw each design with stencils and collected templates, and his shop is decorated with years of accumulated tools, models and wood from past projects.
A unique tool that he uses is called the “bending iron,” which contains a metal mold shaped like the side of the instrument desired. With many sizes to choose from, the bending iron warms up with heat generated by light bulbs to shape wood for the instrument sides. The process requires a gentle balance between applying heat, shaping and spraying water along the way.
Dart mentions that one of his recent projects was made using an old floorboard from a sheep barn nearby. “For the wood, I get it wherever I can. Mostly I get wood in as much bulk as I can, and I’ve got saws so we can cut down to the right size but it started with buying a good board from somewhere or trading,” Dart adds.
A lot of the local wood used includes cypress from Point Arena, acacia from Marin County and cherry grown from Anderson Valley. Each instrument will recognize the type of wood and where it is from on its inside label.
“Each type of wood is all going to sound different because of the different weight. I’m anxious to see how they sound,” says Dart.
Though Dart is known for creating unique types of stringed instruments, his most famous creations have been ukuleles and guitars of various sizes. Over the years, musicians have approached Dart for custom-built instruments. He recounts an experience he had creating a lap steel guitar for musician and songwriter Ben Harper. Harper had wanted a model with a specific kind of back so that it would be less likely to fall off the lap when playing, which Dart had designed and built.
For many years, Dart worked on his instruments solo before deciding to hire Geoff Yensen [sic] in 2014 as an assistant. Yensen [sic] was new to the area and had met Dart through a mutual friend.
“I came by and talked to Dave, and he agreed to let me shadow him in the shop, and he’s been bringing me along since then. I spent about a year working for a shop down in Santa Cruz, and it was a good experience. Think I’ve always been a bit of a tinkerer, and I used to be interested in how the thing worked, and I’ve always wanted to sort of get into it,” shares Yensen [sic], who prefers to work with Dart one-on-one.
Going into 55 years of building instruments, Dart plans to continue for as long as he can. This year, Dart and Yensen [sic] look forward to visiting the Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival and anticipate networking in the luthier pavilion. They generally like to make appearances at the local ukulele festivals and hope to make it to more local events.
“It’s a fun thing to do, and it stays fun. I still have things that I’m anxious to make,” concludes Dart.
Dart Instruments is located at 520 Hwy. 128 in Philo, and you can visit their Instagram or their website at www.luthier.com for more information.
These four parlor guitars were inspired by the classic Martin "0"-sized guitars of the early 20th century. These sleek beauties have compact bodies but a full string length (24-3/4"), so they'll be easy and comfortable to handle while still maintaining plenty of dynamic projection to entertain the room.
We're building four, with a fun variety of material:
- Old-growth coastal redwood top - from an old Anderson Valley (CA) sheep barn - with Honduras rosewood back & sides and boxwood binding
- Master-grade Sitka spruce top with old-growth Honduras mahogany back & sides and rosewood binding
- Master-grade Sitka spruce top with Presidio (San Francisco) black acacia sides & back and rosewood binding
- Master-grade Sitka spruce top with western cherry back/Anderson Valley (CA) cherry sides and rosewood binding
All four of these guitars will feature:
- ebony fingerboard & bridge
- abalone Dart logo
- abalone or mother-of-pearl fretboard markers
- 1-3/4" nut width
- 24-3/4" string length
- 13" lower bout
- 4" butt depth
The acacia & cherry guitars are spoken for, but the redwood/rosewood and spruce/mahogany ones are available! Please contact us if you're interested in one.
Have a look at these beauties! These brand-new tenor ukuleles have been strung up for about a month. All four feature northern California tonewoods in their tops, necks, backs, and sides: two Monterey cypress, from Point Arena (a neighboring town in Mendocino County, California) and two black acacia from Marin County. All four have ebony fingerboards & bridges, as well as abalone or mother-of-pearl fingerboard markers and hand-cut abalone Dart logos.
As of this posting, all four are for sale & available to see and play at the Dart Instruments showroom. Please contact us with any questions.
More information at each instrument's individual page: