Guillaume Rancourt knew he going to be a luthier when, at the age of 13, the other students in woodworking class were building birdhouses – and he was handcrafting his first guitar.
He says it was, perhaps, his destiny to craft guitars by hand.
“My grandfather was a handyman. I would spend complete days with him in his woodworking shop repairing, inventing or creating almost anything. He transferred his to me right away.
“My dad also works with wood and is a longtime Guitar Player. The first time I picked-up a guitar it was his own custom-made classical guitar built by the Ramirez family of Barcelona, Spain. A great instrument he had commissioned and chosen for his own specs and hands. I always loved that craftsmanship.”
“It’s in my genes.”
If he knew he was going to become a luthier, I’m fairly positive Guillaume Rancourt never realized that being a guitar doctor also means playing the role of confidante to his clients – the guitarists themselves.
When I come into his workshop at Bes Musique, Guillaume is working on an old Gibson. The frets are beaten and there are dings and scrapes after countless picks have met their end while being bent on this guitar. He’s working with a file trying to restore some Old School sound and feel to the guitar. It’s a long-term rehab gig for the Gibson.
There’s a Fender Jazz bass waiting in the wings. It needs a checkup, new strings, and a tuneup.
The guitarist walks into the workshop asking after his guitar. Guillaume explains that it’s next in line.
“Ohh,” the 60-something-year-old bassist with long frizzy grey hair and a well-worn Iron Maiden shirt quietly says with a real air of disappointment. “I was looking forward to spending some time playing….”
Guillaume quickly pulls the Gibson up from its spot on the workdesk. He pulls the Fender Jazz bass out of its case. He holds it up. Stares down the neck – ensuring the lines are still true. He examines every component of the guitar. Running his fingers over the frets and then the body, he says to the guitarist, “You’re rough, man.”
“Yes. It’s been a pretty rugged year.” Long pause. “Can you fix it?”
“Sure. I can take care of it right now. It won’t be long. You’ll have it this afternoon. Do you want to wait?”
Guillaume knows his client has been dealing with some tough stuff. He listens carefully to both the guitars and their players – ensuring he understands where the latter want to go while exploring with the former.
“I’m a musician, too,” says Guillaume. “I get it. Many musicians don’t express themselves in words. So I listen to their music, I watch how they interact with the instrument – I try to read between the lines to capture the essentials. It’s a bit like being a navigator, a guide – pausing to ensure I take in the whole picture before applying my skills and knowledge to fine-tuning their guitars.”
The Fender Jazz bass player stands in the workshop while the guitar doctor works. He talks about being retired, about his son, about his ex – and about music. Mostly, he seems grateful for Guillaume’s rapid intervention so he won’t have to go home alone.
“I know you like a clean sound,” Guillaume says. “These new strings will take some getting used to.. not fuzzy.. just different.” And then they’re both bent over the bass – listening intently – as Guillaume makes it speak.
You can find Guillaume Rancourt online at: http://rancourtguitars.com/
You can find Bès musique online at: http://www.besmusique.ca/