About Chuck Thornton
Guitar playing is something I developed through discipline. However, I feel that true talents should flow effortlessly. Looking back at the last twenty years that I’ve been building guitars I realize that being a luthier is the talent that I was born with. Each personal and professional lesson kept directing me to accept and develop the gift that I had been given: the ability to create musical instruments.
To date I have personally built more than 100 guitars and basses. Each an act of passion, dedication and discipline. With CP Thornton Guitars, I am fulfilling a lifetime dream… to create heirloom quality instruments for musicians who seek that rare balance between breath-taking beauty and engineering excellence. With mass production dominating the music industry today, a truly master-built instrument is rare. Each Thornton model has been designed specifically for its purpose and sonic signature.
Take your time and enjoy my web site. Examine the designs closely. Study the engineering that has created a truly superior instrument. In the story that follows I haven’t mentioned any of my clients’ names. They know who they are, and I would like to thank each of them for believing in my talent. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do this.
- I was born in Maine and grew up on a farm where my Dad taught me how to work with wood at a very young age. I think our first project was refinishing a rifle stock. To this day I have as much passion for fine rifles as I do guitars. My Mom was an artist and a dreamer; she taught me the importance of spirituality in my life. I get my love of guitars from her.
- My first guitar was a Tiesco Del Ray cherry sunburst, a Christmas present from my parents. The year was 1964 and I was 8 years old. That was the beginning of my buying, selling and begging for guitars.
- The year of my spiritual birth. I began playing churches, writing
music and playing music with some of the sweetest and dearest people of my life. Finding the spirit in me with the desire to Worship God was a major part of opening up my artistic and creative talent.
- When I turned 21 I moved to Los Angeles to attend a performers’ workshop and continue my private studies of the guitar. I worked at the Pritikin Longevity Center and started studying the martial art of Kung Fu.
- At 24 I was ready to challenge my musical skills. I uprooted my growing family and moved them all to Boston. I attended the Berklee College of Music, focusing on guitar performance. After completing my first year, funds ran short, and the family relocated to Florida for a few years where I continued my studies in Martial Arts, earning five belts.
- Our journey brought us back to Maine and for the next two years woodworking took on a whole new meaning as we built our home in the Maine woods. I made my living teaching guitar. I had between 20 and 30 private students a week until the place where I was teaching burned to the ground along with all my teaching materials, books and notes from Berklee. The saying "the Lord works in mysterious ways" is really true in my life. I returned to the club scene, but this time as a bass player. Soon I would begin building custom basses, although I didn’t know it at that time.
- At 29 years old, I started building basses. The first seven commercial basses I built had bolt-on necks. A club owner in my hometown bought one and the six others escape memory. The first bass that I completely created was a neck-through fretless that my brother Rick still owns.
- I built my first workshop in my brother Rick’s home where I created and sold 41 neck-through basses and 14 neck-through solid body guitars over the next few years. Initially my work was sold regionally to local musicians who were familiar with my instruments.
- I placed an ad in Bass Player Magazine (pictured at right) and began selling nationally and internationally. Three of my custom built basses now reside in Japan. I even received a letter from a Captain in the Army Medical Corps who carried one of my instruments with him. He reported that he’d purchased one of my basses in Connecticut and it had been destroyed in a building that was blown up in an attack during the Desert Storm operation in Kuwait.
- In August I went to work for Dana Bourgeois Guitars. For the first three months we built the shop, then we built six acoustic guitars for the NAMM ’94 show. I hand carved necks, did fret board leveling and fret jobs, helped Dana in finish and did the set ups. In my off hours I built 17 more through-neck solid bodies; six of these were purchased by one collector, two went to Switzerland, one to Pennsylvania, one to Florida, and the rest were sold around Maine. The instruments all had mahogany necks, cedar sides and either figured maple or figured redwood tops and matching pick-guards. They sold for $2150.
- During a Summer Art Festival where I was showing a few of my guitars, I met Jon Cooper, a great violinmaker, and wonderful human being. He liked my work and offered me a job. For the next four years I learned the art of violin design and construction: arching, graduations, how the recurve is the lungs of the instrument and gives it its voice. I did wood preparation, orienting the grains, pre-carving scrolls, bending sides, making fingerboards, gluing in kerfing and cutting purfling channels. My apprenticeship with Jon took my luthier and designing skills to the next level. During those four years I designed and built 7 violin inspired guitars, all of which sold to local players and teachers.
- I rejoined Dana Bourgeois at his new company, Pantheon Guitars, along with great luthiers like John Slobod, Richard Shapiro, Mike Onofrio and others. I do want to thank Dana and all the luthiers at Pantheon. These people are so good at what they do; there’s so much I learned from them. My primary responsibilities were fret jobs and set ups but in my spare time I also sanded necks, did finish sanding, glued up necks and hand carved custom order necks.
- While grocery shopping I ran into John Hayden and we spoke casually for moment about guitars. A few weeks later John called me and invited me to a lunch that would change my life. He said if I could design a marketable guitar he could come up with the money to develop it. Between the research, design, and programming, the first three prototypes took eighteen months to build. Through all the cost overruns and creative challenges John stepped up to the line and with his help and generosity made it possible to open the doors of CpThornton Guitars in June 2004. A man of honor: "an artist in a business man’s body." His company, C. W. Hayden supplies me with excellent 3M abrasives and shop supplies, and he has had a lot of great ideas that have helped me build my guitars as efficiently as possible while increasing quality.
- The Professional touch: John and I then approached Bob Thompson, an electric guitar expert and virtuoso. Bob, an ex "rep" for Fender, teaches guitar at both the University of Maine, Augusta, and at Berklee during the summer sessions. After a couple of months of evaluation from Bob and other great players, Bob came back with some specific changes. His suggestions included aesthetic considerations, wiring priorities, and engineering. And in particular, he encouraged me to build the Blues Queen Model.
- In June 2004 we opened the doors of Cp Thornton Guitars. I had designed and built the benches, the lighting, put up a spray booth, built a dry room, helped wire and put the machines in place.
- The first run of 17 guitars is completed. I have been blessed by those who love my instruments, bringing them to life on stage and in their homes around the U.S. and the world. It is you, my enthusiastic customers, who allow me to be an artist.
Jeano with Chuck Thornton and Rich Shapiro
In January 2006 the business needed a new direction, as selling these thinline archtops at a price that I thought was fair to my customers and also fair to me wasn’t working through music stores. The company would have been in trouble if not for a customer, who has become a good friend, who believed in the company and in the guitars. He graciously offered a loan, to get the company through this tough time.
Soon after I got a phone call from my friend and fellow luthier Richard Shapiro. He was interested in joining the company. Richard can do anything he puts his mind to and do it very well. He was a lawyer, sailor, computer consultant, photographer, office manager, book keeper and a fantastic luthier. He worked in almost every capacity at Dana Bourgeois Guitars and Pantheon Guitars. Needless to say this was a good phone call.
Richard and I met with a marketing consultant and after running the numbers decided that, at the price that I felt was a good and fair price for customers to pay for this guitar, we should sell direct. So Richard went to work redesigning the website and taking fantastic pictures of the finished guitars for sale, and I think that all the people who have purchased one or more of these guitars would agree that this is a great way to buy a guitar. With a three day trial period in the quietness and privacy of your own home with your own amp, what could be better?
Richard now handles the business end of things – the ordering, the book keeping, and the photography. And also did I mention he’s great at maintaining the machinery which allows me to concentrate on building these guitars for you. Welcome aboard my friend.