The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: Guitar Builder, Violinist and Mandolinist, Erin Patterson
Erin Patterson started dabbling with music at the age of 11 when she first picked up the fiddle. A year later, she discovered the mandolin and never looked back.
She has been under the tutelage of classical duo maestro Evan J. Marshall of Pasadena, Calif., and renowned bluegrass picker Jake Workman of Sandy, Utah.
As a performer, she has shared the stage with the Brigham Young University International Folk Dance Ensemble band Mountain Strings for three seasons, touring and performing more than 100 shows all across the United States and Europe.
As a guitar builder, Patterson had the distinct privilege of working for the Córdoba Music Group in Oxnard, Calif., building their iconic Master series guitars. Patterson was known for her attention to detail along with being the only woman to work in the factory in that capacity.
Learn more about Patterson here.
WiMN: You worked at Córdoba for more than a year. What was the culture like?
EP: I admit, I was nervous when I first started working at Córdoba. Not only was I going to be the only girl in the small master series shop, but I was going to be the only girl in the factory building! Haha. But I found some of my best friends in that shop, and I’m so glad I just cow-girled up and went for it.
WiMN: All Córdoba guitars are hand-built, resulting in the highest level of craftsmanship and adding an important human element. How do you think this sets Córdoba apart from other guitars?
EP: I feel like it gives the guitars a kind of soul… I have lived in old houses my whole life (a couple being over 100-years-old), and when you walk around the house and look at all the handmade banisters, crown molding, door frames, etc., you know that someone put a lot of love and time into it and must have really cared for the home. You can feel the stories in the walls.
Similarly, the person playing a hand-built guitar can know that someone took the time to carefully select the woods to use, shape the bracing, carve the neck and headstock, and lay in the purfling and binding, all which combine to create a guitar that, though still distinctly a Torres or a Hauser, has it’s own unique narrative.
And for the guitar builder, it really is like stepping back in time to when these guitars were first being built in Spain or Germany. It’s pretty special; keeping something that’s nearly a lost art, alive.
WiMN: What was your favorite aspect of your job as a guitar builder?
EP: I love creating! It really is amazing that with just some basic materials, you can make something that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
I think that creating is a simple, yet innate desire which all of us humans possess. Whether that be through art, music, athletics, new ideas, fabrications, or relationships.
I also love music, paying and listening to it. And just as a guitar builder needs the material to create the instrument, the musician needs the instrument to create the music. It’s just taking it a step back.
WiMN: Tell us your specific role in the guitar-building process during your time at Córdoba – it is one that requires extreme attention to detail.
EP: Because our shop is quite small, compared to the Taylors and Martins of the world, all of us in the Córdoba shop do or have done many different steps in the building process.
I enjoyed neck carving and binding the most and was able do that the most. It does take a lot of attention to detail because, like with the neck, it’s really a “princess and the pea” thing. It’s the first thing the player notices when they pick the guitar up, and if the shape, width, or thickness isn’t just right, they will put it back.
With the purfling and binding, the beautiful aesthetics really catch the eye, so it better look tight! No pressure, haha!
WiMN: Your father was pivotal in your development as a guitar builder. Tell us a bit more about that.
EP: Ever since I was little I loved going out to my dad’s shop (which was in an old barn by the house) to just hang out with him while he worked. I would watch him work and he’d teach me about wood and about God and about being a good sister to my siblings. Years later, I would work with him on what I had come to recognize as high-end, beautifully crafted pieces of art.
His high level of craftsmanship has since been the standard by which I judge my woodworking by and I owe him so much!
WiMN: You’re a professional multi-instrumentalist, playing the fiddle, mandolin, and more. In what ways does being a musician influence your skills as a guitar builder?
EP: When you are in a band you have to learn to play along, in whatever way most compliments the sound of the band as a whole. If you go in with only yourself in mind it will crash and burn.
The same thing goes for working with wood. If you go in with a chisel, and don’t take the time to consider where the grain is going or read the signs in the wood, you will be fighting it the whole time. A good woodworker works with the grain, not against it.
WiMN: You’re also a mandolin teacher. What is the most rewarding part of your role as a teacher?
EP: You know the feeling you get when you learn how to play your favorite song and totally nail that cool solo? Well, it’s awesome!
And as a teacher it’s a thrill to go along with the student in that process as they discover, grow, problem-solve, and create music that is entirely their own! Teaching is very fulfilling to me.
WiMN: What words of encouragement would you provide to women considering a career in guitar building?
EP: I would say, find someone to apprentice under who is not only skilled, but who also loves what they do. You will learn the skills and also enjoy the adventure!
WiMN: If the guitars you built could talk, what would they say?
EP: Erin’s binding is pretty good, but her punchlines could use some work 😉