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Finding Minnesota: Charles Hoffman’s Handmade Guitars

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The sweet, crisp sounds of fingers flying across a fret board lets you know that quality still matters. And there’s nothing less inside the Franklin Avenue guitar shop of Charles A. Hoffman.

“This is going to be the top of a 12-string guitar,” explained Hoffman while picking up a piece of Sitka spruce.

For more than 40 years, Hoffman’s been chiseling and sanding and shaping fine woods into some of the highest quality acoustic guitars around.

“As you can see it’s very fancy abalone shell around the edge and sound hole. The back and sides on this are Koa,” he said while reaching for one resting high on a shelf, revealing an incredibly beautiful wood from Hawaii.

Hoffman took a shot building his very first guitar during the folk boom in the early ’70s. For him it was a good way to relieve stress while studying for his PhD at the University of Minnesota.

“I got a couple of books, read them and found a guy who sold wood. I bought the wood and built it in my living room of an apartment on the West Bank,” Hoffman said.

Suddenly, the future college professor opted for a trade and became a luthier. Since he began he’s had a trusty standard poodle at his feet inside his shop. Today, the black-coated “Nikki” attracts spruce shavings to his curly fur.

“Interestingly, this is a chisel I inherited from my father, who inherited it from his father,” Hoffman said.

The skill that goes into each Hoffman-made guitar is matched only by the sounds that come out. The secret, Hoffman explains, is that “bracing and body size and wood selection are the be-all, end-all of what makes a guitar sound good.”

Science shows that music is good for the brain. It’s why Hoffman keeps toiling over the workbench, to give the music makers an artful harmony of wood and steel strings.

“I’m making instruments that are adding to music in this world and that seems good to me,” Hoffman said.

Learn more about Hoffman’s guitars here.

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