Back in 1971, David saved some chunks of this curly maple from a friend’s burn pile in Olympia, Washington & had been waiting for the right instrument to cut it up. Turns out it’s perfectly sized for a baritone ukulele! This one was for a friend who lost her Dart baritone uke in a structure fire towards the end of 2019.
In addition to the curly western maple top/back/sides, this instrument has a western maple neck, rosewood fingerboard/binding/bridge/peghead overlay, Waverly tuners, hand-cut abalone four-leaf clover peghead & fingerboard inlay, mother-of-pearl side dots, bone nut & saddle, and a K&K pickup.
A customer in Florida who owns one of David’s koa concert ukuleles recently ordered a fun custom instrument: a six-string tenor ukulele, with double-strung first & third courses (high to low: AA E Cc G, where the double A is tuned in unison and the double C is tuned to an octave).
We built two of these beauties. Both have solid koa top/back/sides & a black acacia neck, Waverly tuners, bone nut & saddle, abalone fingerboard markers, mother-of-pearl side dots, polyurethane matte finish, and fluorocarbon strings. The custom ordered one has an ebony fingerboard/bridge & an abalone daisy peghead inlay, and the second one has rosewood & an old-timey abalone vine peghead inlay.
These instruments have big presence & projection, with a prominent chorus effect from the doubled strings – perfect for a ukulele player looking for a fuller ukulele sound to keep up with a band, or to add another element to their solo playing.
Here’s a rare one – an Epiphone Electar guitar, circa 1935-1939. There’s not too much information about these out there, but Fretted Americana Inc. had some detailed information about this model, which was Epiphone’s first electric guitar and notable for its Miessner pickup. There’s easy access to the pickup through a cavity on the back, which was covered by a screwed-on padded plate. Lots of information on the peghead: the plate on the back of the displays several patent numbers, and the four-digit serial number is stamped atop.
This guitar badly needed a neck reset & good setup, but otherwise it’s in great condition & it played well once the strings were back on.
According to Fretted Americana, this guitar is what attracted none other than Les Paul to the Epiphone company & later Gibson. If you’re interested in modern/electric guitar history, the article is linked above, and here’s the url as well, just in case:
Over the past couple of months, David’s been busy with a custom F-5 mandolin. This one has the works: a Sitka spruce top, stunning curly English sycamore back & sides, ebony fingerboard/peghead overlay and underlay/bridge/finger-rest, and – last but not least – inlaid cardinals and dogwood flowers. It’s almost ready for its sunburst finish, so check back soon for more photos.
There’s another pair of A-5 mandolins in progress, too – get in touch if you’re interested in one.
To see other examples of David’s mandolins, click here.
A customer liked our recent run of tenor ukuleles, especially the X-braced acacia one, but he was interested in a few upgrades: a tie block, Waverly tuners, ebony binding, and an iris inlay on the peghead. These northern California black acacia instruments sound fantastic, and it looks a lot like koa; in fact, koa is in the acacia family.
There are three tenor ukuleles at the showroom, looking for a good home for the holidays. Get in touch with David if you’re interested in one!
There was a real gem on the bench recently – a 1954 Fender Telecaster. Owned by the same guy since the ’60s, this Tele needed some serious fretwork & a little cleanup on the input jack contacts; otherwise, it’s in fine well-played condition, with a stage-ready three-level boost built into the pickup selector plate.
This one has a good home already – just sharing a cool classic.
The first two parlor (AKA single-oh) guitars are strung up & ready to play! The Sitka spruce/Honduras mahogany one has a warm, round sound with a huge amount of presence for a small-bodied instrument. The Anderson Valley (California) redwood/Honduras rosewood one has big bass, punchy treble, and a massive voice. These beauties haven’t been strung up for long and already are developing complex, mature voices.
The spruce/mahogany guitar is for sale! $3,500 – includes case but not CA sales tax or shipping. Drop by the shop/showroom to try these beauties out, or contact David.
The 24.75″ string scale is lively and responsive, and the notes fly off the fingerboard all the way up to the 20th fret
Nut width 1-3/4″
Nitro-cellulose lacquer gloss finish on the body/peghead, polyurethane matte finish (smooth & fast!) on the neck
The body measures a sleek 13″ across at the lower bout yet a full 4″ body depth at the butt: these instruments pack a lot of volume!
Anderson Valley (home of Dart Instruments!) old growth redwood top (from an old deep end sheep barn!), Honduras rosewood back & sides, boxwood binding, ebony fingerboard/bridge/overlay, hand-cut Dart logo, vine, & diamond fingerboard inlay
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.
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.