FRETS.COM Field Trip

Hideo Kamimoto's shop in San Jose, California
Kamimoto String Instruments
© Frank Ford, 7/21/99; Photos by FF, 7/17/99

It's an old house right where residential zoning meets commercial in an old San Jose neighborhood:

The original living and dining rooms are fitted as showrooms for violins, violas and cellos.

I sneaked in the back door and caught Hideo looking over cello repair job:

Hideo is known the world over as the author of the best selling "Complete Guitar Repair" book, published by Music Sales. But, he actually got his start working in a violin shop before opening a shop of his own in Oakland, California. In his Oakland shop, he specialized in guitar repair, developing the techniques he compiled in his famous book.

Now, twenty years later, he's come full circle, and works exclusively on instruments of the violin family. Well, almost exclusively. He still has a few special clients for whom he does sophisticated guitar restoration.

Hideo's shop employs a half dozen full time craftsmen working on violins, cellos and the like for everyone from the concert performer to the local school system.

As I stood talking to Hideo, I heard a noise from behind me by the back door. I turned around to see a very cool sight:

Here's another reminder that you can often make a good tool better. If you've ever tried reaming the end block for a cello end pin, you've noticed how difficult it is to turn the reamer and keep it straight. These guys have it figured out! Just mount the reamer on a length of pipe, and you have no trouble at all keeping alignment as you crank away.

Turning back around, I see there now two Hideos:

The tall one is my friend, Hideo Tateno, who works full time in the violin shop, and builds his "Mermaid" brand dreadnought guitars in his spare time at home in San Mateo. He is a frequent attendee at the bimonthly NCAL meetings.

All around, there are signs of what goes on here, violin repair:

Out back in a large detached building, there is a plethora of power woodworking tools, but they are not used in daily work here.

Quality traditional hand work is the rule in this shop:

Hide glue, varnish retouching, teeny little hand planes and knives, that's the stuff.

At Hideo's workbench, there's a special sight:

It's Hideo's famous "guitar repair chair," a piece of rustic furniture he's carried with him throughout his entire 40-year career. He made the chair so he can work seated at his low table, or standing at his high bench. Check out the back of the chair - it's just the height of the bench, and he has a sandbag folded over there to act as a neck support. Now he can walk around all sides of the guitar as he works on it. Strange, but cool, eh?

Speaking of the guitar, check out this job:

It's a 1950s D'Angelico guitar with a humbucking pickup, volume and tone controls added. Only thing is that the guy who drilled the volume and tone control holes managed to place the first set of holes (the ones on the left) right at the edge of the X-brace under the top. He got them so close, there's no room for the pots to fit up against the top. Undaunted, he simply drilled the second set of holes and added a couple of huge plastic washers to cover the mess. The current owner of the guitar has commissioned Hideo Kamimoto to fill and touch up the left set of holes and correct the shadow effect produced by the washers.

You'll recognize this as a really nasty bit of touch up work, if you've ever tried to patch a shaded finish. But if anyone around here is up to the job, Hideo's the man!

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