Six years ago, my brother Brad passed away after a long illness. It was a painful illness, but probably more painful for the family than it was for him. He was the kind of person that would not complain or want others to know if he was uncomfortable in any way.
Brad was a self-employed luthier – a person who makes and repairs stringed instruments. The company he formed, Larson Lutherie, did not make him wealthy but that was mostly because he performed much of his work at no charge or a fraction of what others may have charged. But that was the substance of his life – creating instruments that others could play and many others could hear and enjoy.
He graduated from the Kenneth Warner School of Violin Making – since renamed the Chicago School of Violin Making – shortly after graduating from high school. He was always the most patient of all of us in the family and patience is certainly a requirement for delicately forming wood with a bending iron and using finger planes to define those fine lines and shapes.
Scott Stenten, a musician who is now living and performing in New York, asked Brad to create two custom guitars. Stenten called these the “Larson 16 String Doubleneck Archtop” and the “Larson/Ibanez Doubleneck Detachable.”
Stenten said that “Brad was a good friend and a very inspiring person. He was always willing to take on anything, no matter how difficult and un-tested the idea.” Thinking back, Stenten added that “we always had a ball working together at his shop laughing and cracking jokes. He was allot of fun to hang out with and very positive person. I was very lucky to have known him professionally and personally and I really miss him!”
After his memorial service, a musician asked to speak at the reception. He explained how he had a performance scheduled several months prior and realized that the neck on his guitar was not aligned properly. He went to Brad’s store late in the evening and knocked on the door. Brad lived in an apartment behind the store in the Swedish Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago. Although he had already fallen asleep, Brad responded to the knocking, listened to the musician explain the situation, then invited him in while he worked to repair the guitar.
“In childhood he loved music. He just gravitated toward it and toward wood. He had a natural sensitivity to wood,” our father, Roy Larson, a former religion editor for the Chicago Sun-Times explained. “Everything he did was very precise. He respected the natural grain of the wood.”
Part of his obituary read:
“In Chicago’s music community, his instruments were highly regarded for their attention to detail and fine craftsmanship. He was especially respected for his archtop guitars, which tend to be used by jazz guitarists and are more difficult to build than many other guitars, said Chris Eudy, owner of Third Coast Guitar Service.
Though Eudy did not know Mr. Larson, he said he appreciated the quality of Mr. Larson’s work when patrons brought in one of his instruments to be repaired.
‘He put a lot of heart into his work,’ Eudy said. ;He had a good reputation for being a fine worker; he did good Old World work and he put attention to detail.'”
(Carlos Sadovi, Chicago Tribune, July 22, 2005)
Brad died of cirrhosis of the liver. He needed a transplant, but did not have health insurance and was at the bottom of the transplant list. He was 47.
Brad’s legacy lives on in our hearts and through the music that is still being played on his many fine wooden masterpieces.