John Gilbert 1922-2012

March 14th, 2012

John in his studio 6.16.2010

One of my favorite activities during summer is to drive up the Santa Cruz Mountains to visit one of my favorite persons, John Gilbert.

I’ve forgotten how I got to know John. My first recollection of meeting him was having him fine-tune my Savino guitar for my Chopin recording.  I was having trouble with its intonation and John was kind enough to redo the saddle and fix the fretwork for me.

After that, I went up regularly to visit him, every summer, whenever I was in the SF Bay Area. And I got to know him well. Usually, we would just stay in his studio in the garage and talk guitar talk. He was a walking encyclopedia of guitar facts and knowledge and I was the eager student. And in between the small talk, I would play for him. I remember playing most of my Chopin nocturnes for him before I recorded them in 2002.

John was one of the gentlest and kindest persons I’ve ever known. I remember telling him once that I was looking for a new key to my Mark Leaf case (my only key had broken) and he spent a whole afternoon trying to machine-tool one for me, unfortunately without much success. Thankfully, our mutual friend, Andre, happened to be there and offered me one of his spares.

And then there was the time I brought the missus up to see him. When he found out that she’s a schoolteacher, he gave her a whole box of his specialty rocks and stones for her to show her students. These are machine ground stones, made with the same loving care he built all his guitars.

It’s March, the time I usually start looking forward to summer again, and to my annual trip up the Santa Cruz Mountains. But this year, it looks like I wouldn’t be making that trip. Thanks, John, for everything.

Taken 6.16.2010

2 Responses to “John Gilbert 1922-2012”

  1. William Bajzek Says:

    Thanks for posting this, Philip. I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with the maker of my guitar in which he didn’t mention Gilbert and how much he learned from him. I’ve never met him or played one of his guitars, but I’m sure I owe him some gratitude nonetheless.

  2. Philip Hii Says:

    Yes, we’re all diminished with his passing.

Leave a Reply