Building a guitar is more than just cutting, bending and gluing pieces of wood together.
It's an art that many guitar luthiers -- those who professionally build handcrafted guitars -- take to heart because it allows them to create something that not only brings joy to the player, but to the listener as well.
That's how longtime Pleasanton resident and luthier George Bowen sees himself -- as an artist plagued by the need to be absolutely perfect, down to the ten-thousandths of an inch.
"My career was deadline driven ... where you've got to accomplish something by a certain time," Bowen told the Weekly. "That might mean that getting it done on time is the key thing, getting it done perfectly comes second to getting it done on time. That's one of the things I love about guitar making, is that it's the opposite. Getting it perfect ... with no deadline is the way that I build guitars."
Bowen has been crafting guitars in his makeshift woodshop inside his garage for about eight years now, after he retired from the insurance industry. Before all of that, he even made it to the Billboard charts as a professional musician while also working as a studio musician in Los Angeles before deciding to give up the lifestyle for a calm, married suburban life in Pleasanton.
But his love as a musician for the guitar never died, which is what led him to become a luthier.
"I found that I really love building," Bowen said. "I'd be building a guitar and I'd be thinking about the next one that I was going to build."
He has gone on to make guitars for musicians who have played for several big names in the music world such as Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and much more.
But when Bowen was diagnosed last year with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, he realized that he couldn't let his passion for bringing people joy through guitars fade away.
He decided one way he could do that was to put together a small concert with two of the professional musicians whom Bowen sold guitars to in order to raise money for ALS research.
So he tried calling up Pleasanton Mayor Karla Brown, who is a personal friend, to see if she could help him organize some type of fundraiser event.
"I have known George Bowen for almost 10 years," Brown told the Weekly. "When he called me to let me know he was recently diagnosed with ALS, my heart broke for him and his family."
That led to the creation of the George Bowen Master Guitar Summit, an ALS benefit concert at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore next month that will feature artists who bought guitars from Bowen as well as other famous guitarists.
All the proceeds from the concert will go to the ALS CURE Project, a Tri-Valley nonprofit that is co-sponsoring the event alongside Livermore Valley Arts.
"George's goals immediately turned to help and support others by working towards a cure. It was his idea to help the ALS community by putting together a guitar-based fundraiser," Brown said.
Brown also helped Bowen connect with Mike Piscotty, another longtime Pleasanton resident whose late wife Gretchen battled ALS. After she passed away in 2018, Piscotty and their sons decided the best way to honor her was through the creation of the ALS CURE Project.
"I read an article in the Pleasanton Weekly about Mr. Mike Piscotty and his wife Gretchen. The article highlighted the Piscottys as longtime Pleasanton residents, and their difficult journey as Gretchen battled ALS, with their sons and Mike by her side," Brown said. "Within the article was Mike's personal cellphone number. I immediately picked up the phone and called Mike. We talked for a while, and he said he would like to help."
Piscotty told the Weekly that he founded the nonprofit in 2019 in order to fund research that he said will ultimately help find a way to target the causes of the disease and find out how and why it progresses so that a cure can finally be developed.
"To date, we've funded $1.3 million in ALS international research collaborations including work at Lawrence Livermore Lab," Piscotty said.
So when Brown told Piscotty about Bowen's guitar summit, he said he jumped at the chance because it contributes to his overall goal of the nonprofit, which is bringing hope to those like Bowen who are told by doctors that there is no hope.
"You have kind of an ALS death sentence, if you will, and to be able to rise above that and do something and contribute to a cure ... I think it is a great testament to his character," Piscotty said. "I think he's a fabulous man and so courageous and we're so thankful for the advocacy in this area (during) one of the, I'm sure, most challenging parts of his life. To be able to rise above that and put himself out there ... I think it's very admirable."
But Bowen said the fundraising concert isn't about him. He said it's about the community coming together to appreciate art, to appreciate the musicians and to continue the fight toward finding a cure.
"I put my soul into the guitars that I make ... They're art and I try to create something that's really unique and special, and what's coming out of it is what I had hoped would come out of it and that is that it brings joy to the players, to the audience and in this case, it's doing something for the community, it's bringing the community together to help find a cure for a horrible disease," Bowen said.
He said he also isn't giving up hope on fighting his disease and has even continued making guitars despite his condition.
"Six special guitars are in the pipeline ... so I'm not done and it gives me something to do, that I love to do, as I fight this illness," Bowen said.
These six guitars, which he said might be his final original instruments, will all be made with some of his best wood. One of the guitars, which he named "The Resurrection", will be crafted from wood that was cut down from a tree in 1081 and was used in 1470 to be made into the beams of the Munich Cathedral that was bombed in 1944.
He said that even though ALS has taken away his ability to play, he will continue to build guitars for as long as he can.
"I'm a fighter," Bowen said. "So I'm gonna give it everything I've got. Every day is a day that I can try to bring more joy to the world and with whatever strength I have, I'm gonna continue to do that."
The George Bowen Master Guitar Summit will be held at the Bankhead on March 15. To buy tickets, visit the Livermore Valley Arts website at livermorearts.org.
There are no comments yet. Please share yours below.