Michael began hanging around boatyards and wooden boats in New England when he was ten. He started getting paid to be there when he was 12. Lessons in craftsmanship and woodworking were patiently and lovingly offered by a group of elderly craftsmen there – members of a dying breed, some of whom had begun sailing and working with wood on sailing ships in the late 19th Century. For ten years Michael was immersed in that woodworking fraternity, basking in its camaraderie and absorbing countless lessons in cooperating with wood and tools.
“Aside from the simple joy of making beautiful instruments, I find it fun and challenging to work with the individual player who has clear ideas about the guitar of his or her dreams,” Michael says.
In May of 1961, one of Michael’s co-workers brought a turntable into the boatyard shop. Instead of the usual background of rock’n’roll, the soundtrack for the shop that day included Reverend Gary Davis, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, and Blind Blake. The Blues walked in. Michael was about to turn 14. A few years later, Michael started visiting Reverend Davis for guitar lessons and his love for the music and the woodworking began to merge.
The uniqueness of the men Michael worked with marked him. There was a personal integrity built into these old musicians and sailors – their methodologies and jokes, the blues they carried, the care with which they shared what they knew and had – all were offered lovingly. When Michael goes to the guitar maker’s bench, these men come with him.
“Taking a description of the sound, feel, look and inspiration of a guitar and making it happen right here, right now is very satisfying.”
Michael attended college for psychology and English. In 1970, when a graduate program he was enrolled in was discontinued, he wandered into New York City and found a job with Michael Gurian. He made his first guitar in the Grand Street shop of Gurian Guitars and his first Froggy Bottom Guitar in his Lower East Side kitchen. (see History page).