By Bonita Berger
Whilst winding my way around the Powemad venue, I came across an interesting sight/site…proclaiming WILD DUTCH’S GUITAR HOSPITAL, in large letters and featuring all manner of esoteric guitar parts (of which I confess total ignorance). Manned by a very laid back critter with a HUGE smile, fronted by a shiny red guitar with a sign proclaiming “try me”….if both women and journalist’s possess large reservoirs of curiosity, and I am both…this was sure bait.
A bit of investigation uncovered a couple of useful “Wild Dutch” books and something called a tremelo bar, which meant nothing to me but was the cause of serious salivation by my guitarist friends at the show. Taking their enthusiasm for a north star, I spent a few minutes at various times during the marathon two days I was at the show. Taking their enthusiasm for a north star, I spent a few minutes at various times during the marathon two days I was at Powermad watching the magician at this display tenderly labor over some damn fine guitars (it turned out every musician in the place who could, was eager to take advantage of the opportunity so happily encountered). My journalistic nose quivered. I could stand it no longer. A quiet moment arrived, I pounced. And John Boehnlein, aka Wilddutch got himself interviewed.
There is more to making music than the musician on the stage performing. There is an entire universe of “behind the scenes” laborers, who seldom get the glory but do so much of “the dirty” work. I find it worthwhile to illuminate the “behind the scenes” workers as well as the musicians. So come on, Meet Dutch.
“Make sure you spell my name right,” he cautions me immediately. He put it on my autographed photo, too, so I’m taking this seriously.
“Where are you from?” I ask first.
“I’m originally from Independence, about 11 miles south of Cleveland, Ohio.” John replies, but now 2020 work out of my home in Broadview Heights, Ohio.
What kind of booth do you have here at Powermad?” I ask second.
“Well I have the Wild Dutch Guitar Hospital, which I am the owner of, and I am also débuting the world’s first two sided tremelo bar, which I recent had patented and trademarked. It’s called the Flying Dutchman and it should be out for distribution probably in January 2000.”
Blank pause on my part. Wing it or confess? Confess.
“I’m not a guitarist, “ I tell John. “What is a tremelo bar?”
“ A normal whammy bar,” John begins by showing on his demo guitar and how the bridge raises and lowers, “slacks the strings or makes them go flat, when you push it down, and when you pull it up, makes it go sharp. So, you can control the pitch of the instrument by the pressure of the bar. It’s just like a door hinge, with the strings in the back.”
(I’m actually following this…it helps to have the guitar to look at.)
(“Traditional whammy bars are just a normal bar, which faces just one way. And in order to go up with it, you have to pull it or swing it around to push it. My Flying Dutchman solves everything by already having a bar in the back.”
“So, they can just slide their hand back and forth to loosen or tighten the strings.” I exclaim, enlightened. “Why didn’t’ they build guitars like this in the first place, I wonder?”
“A neat advantage to it,” John adds, “is that you can make sounds that have never been previously been made: All bridges since the 50’s have been capable of up and down but no one has ever approached it like this.”
“And no one ever thought of this before?” I asked.
John laughs, “I just call it a better mousetrap. It’s very simple. The production will be all stainless steel, guaranteed forever. I brought this to the show to get a public gauge of how people would like it. ”Are these available now?” I ask, thinking of my salivating guitarist friends.
“I’m waiting to see the actual production prototypes here in the next week,” John explains. “wire forming Company in Cleveland is making it. It’s actually somewhat complicated because it has to be made on a three-dimensional CNC wiring forming machine, which is ultra-expensive and ultra-complicated because it has compound bends and radius in it. It could be made by hand but that would be impracticable in large quantities, so this is the only type of machinery on the planet right now that can make something like this. Once I’m satisfied with the production prototypes, then I’ll go into making some production runs in limited quantities, and then start as a small distribution scale to hardware companies .(NOTE now in 2020 this product is available through Innovative Guitar Products, LLC on the web.)
“Are you going to send it to well-known people to demonstrate it?”
“People ask about that, and I have a pretty strict thing about endorsements. If people like the product enough, then they should buy it. I’m not going to be giving anything away for free, because why should young kids, or guys just starting out be financing the careers of established musicians?”
“Isn’t that one of the perks of BEING an established musician?” I laugh.
“Well…sure..” John drawls, “but it wouldn’t make me feel very good if I had to give my product away for famous people to use it. If they think it’s good enough, then they’ll buy it. That’s a mark of distinction.”
Hmmm, I grow thoughtful. Not the usual attitude huh? I respect it, though! Well, there is more to John than the tremelo bar. ”You also have the guitar hospital?” I ask.
“When I was student and then a teacher at Musician’ Institute in California, one of my instructors gave me some basic tips on how to start doing things, and I just took it from there. Later I apprenticed with a luthier, and he taught me all sorts of real fine points and detailed stuff about instrument adjustments, setups, repairs, and all the procedures. It’s a little more than changing spark plugs and oil…it can be surgery sometimes.”
“But the patients are probably happy about it, I bet.”
“As an outgrowth of the “hospital,” I note, “you wrote a couple of books?”
John beams ”Yes the first one published 1994 when I was still a student at Cleveland State University and before I had the hospital is the High Performance Marshall Handbook and there is no book like it that I know of. It is a technical reference manual, written in plain English, for guitar players who want to upgrade the tone of their Marshall. It talks about many different things in there, and it’s published by Bold Strummer Ltd. In Connecticut. (Now , in 2020 published privately as Bold Strummer no longer exists. Available on Innovative Guitar Products LLC website.)
“Where can people get that book?”
“Just about anywhere,” John shrugs. “I’ve seen it at trade shows, libraries, on the internet through many companies catalogs like Musician’s Friend, places like that.” (Now 2020 available at Innovative Guitar Products LLC website.)
I am impressed. As a writer I would LOVE to have that kind of distribution.
John goes on. “The second book is Basic Guitar Adjustments and Set-Ups.” And that is a real entry level primer on how to care for your instrument, basses, acoustics, electrics…”
“That every high school music department should carry,” I guess
“Yes,” John has no false modesty. “It takes a bit of the danger out of people wielding tools on guitars!” We both chuckle. (Well I can just picture it….).
“It does tell you how to take care of and maintain the playability of your Instrument. It’s not for building or repairing anything, it’s just a basic manual, and that’s published by Hal Leonard Corporation out of Wisconsin. “They did a hell of a job with the book. It’s been published worldwide, on many continents, and in several different languages.”
“Got another book awaiting birth?” I ask knowingly
Well yes he does. “It’s about three quarters done,” John grins.. “It’s called The Professiional Luthier’s Desktop Reference Manual and it incorporates everything I know from my experience and techniques I’ve develop. Again, it’s unique in the sense that it exposes information that’s never before, as far as I know, been in print.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think there are any trade secrets..it’s just a lot of good information that anybody who has a handle on this kind of thing could say, Oh wow I didn’t know that, but I can use it now.”
The sixty-four dollar questions. “Do you make a fulltime living from the books and guitar hospital?”
“Yes, That is all I do. Fixing guitars, you can make as much money at because it is time consuming. It has to be hand crafted and you can’t rush it. I only have one standard of quality. I can’t say, Oh a beginner’s going to get this or a pro’s going to get this. They all get the same treatment and it’s the same price depending on the kind of job.” John sighs, “It IS the kind of things that is sadly lacking in today’s world. The handcrafted, take your time, do it right, attitude.
”Have you been approached by people who want to work with you?”
“Yes.” John nods. “But it is hard to find some9one, especially in younger people, who have the attitude that they want to learn and spend the time doing something with their hands, instead of playing with the computer or watching TV…This does take quite a bit of skill and patience and it’s not just about knowing how to turn a screwdriver. You have to have customer service and you have to be willing to make a small investment in some of the equipment, too.”
“What in your background made you interested in doing this, in becoming this type of craftsman?”
Well, when I was in 7th grade, all my friends in school were in a band. I thought, “Oh boy, it would be great to do that.” But I was so shy that I never did it. So, I just kind of hung out in the background but then after living in Italy for a year, freshman year of high school, I got back and I heard Quiet Riot on college radio, and I said, “that’s it! I gotta start playing guitar.” So at about 15, which is pretty late for a lot of people, I picked it up, and right away I was interested in the technical aspects of it. Why and how do things work. I’ve always had a curious mind. About six months later I met a friend who played drums, we started a band without knowing a damn thing about anything, and a few months later we were playing in front of the whole city. I’m sure we were terrible but it was fun! From there it just led to a lot of lessons, and then for my undergrad degree I did a minor in music and I just kept going with it. I did a lot of studying always looking for better sounds out of the instrument. It’s not really the equipment that makes it, that’s some of it, but it’s the playing, knowing how to control and play the instrument and be creative on it. As I learned more about the technical aspects of things, I noticed some deficiencies in certain types of hardware, or constant problems that guitar players had, and I would think and thinks and think and finally things would come to me. The tremolo bar popped into my head one day like a missile. My dad made it for me in his little machine shop at our house. I have a few other totally unique things up my sleeve for next year, in terms of guitar and bass hardware, that no one has ever dreamed was possible. AND I look at Dutch sternly. “You better keep me informed of all this,” I tell him.
He meekly agrees
“It helps to be both a player and a technician.” John comments. “When I work with people, I can understand what they are going for, and whether it is practical.”
John plans to eventually phase out the guitar hospital or shift it under the umbrella of a new company he is going to form for the sale of all of his inventions called Innovative Guitar Products. If you want to stay on the cutting edge and keep up with his endeavors(and shenanigans) try his websites: www. Wilddutch’s Guitar Hospital or www. Innovative Guitar Products as well. He’s also willing to take phone calls at 440 740 1205. ”I like to do business personally with people and talk guitars, amps, and music.”