• Photo gallery: Dale Machado's guitars
By Lynn Cook
Special to The Advertiser
"When I was 19, I played a mean footstool," confesses guitar-maker, or luthier, Dale Machado.
The year was 1969 and Machado was hanging with his school buddies. While they played guitars he grabbed a pair of drumsticks and beat rhythm. At that point there is a good chance he didn't even know what a luthier was, much less that he would become one.
"I messed around with the 'ukulele but I'm a lefty, so I had to either learn it right-handed, play it upside down or make progress fast by stringing it upside down," he said. "Then I picked up the guitar and joined the band."
Crafting guitars came along as a preoccupation when Machado couldn't find a left-handed guitar. But first, a bit of history.
MAKING THINGS WORK
Machado studied broadcasting at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa. "I didn't have a plan to be on-air," he said. "I wanted to be the guy who made everything work." Throughout the 1970s, he played with rock and blues bands.
As H1 Freeway, his band played the military circuit all over the island.
In 1975 and 1976, in a band called Kyle Hepler, he was in the house band for the Stuffed Tomato at the corner of McCully and Ala Wai — a long-gone Waikīkī watering hole. They played six nights a week from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. and rehearsed five days a week. "It was a tough schedule to keep," he said.
"All the years playing guitar, jazz was my favorite. Then I took a 20-year break," Machado said. He got married and raised a daughter.
Since 1977, Machado has been in radio. He got his wish to keep things working, first on KSSK with the legendary J. Akuhead Pupule, Hal Lewis, working to create the "Lone Ranger Announcer School" and "Chicken Man." He was there when Michael W. Perry and Larry Price took over ownership of Hawai'i's mornings. He is now the station engineer for all seven of the Clear Channel stations.
He says, "I played music at home and eventually, when we needed stuff built, I got a workbench." His first bookshelf fell apart. He rebuilt it once, then twice. Eventually the workbench moved from the garage to a new workshop.
His music career amped up again in 1995, when a pal took him to the Sand Island R&B club. He sat in with the band, playing what he calls a "one trick pony" guitar. It sounded good, but he wanted a better one. "I thought maybe I could get a book on woodworking," he said — and that set him on a guitar-making binge.
Seventeen handmade guitars later, Machado's playable guitars are on display at the Peggy Chun Gallery. They are made of mahogany, ash, maple, poplar, spruce and koa.
"I never thought it was art, just left-handed guitars," he said, quoting the fact that 10 percent of the population is left-handed and only 10 percent of left-handed musicians play left-handed instruments. "I just make what works."
The carved koa guitars came from a neighborly gift. "He brought his old koa bed frame to the house to see if I could use it. I did."
His finishes are experimental, and the woods are always changing. "I don't think the guitars are all perfect, but I play them all," Machado said.
Never looking for pressure or a time schedule, Machado only makes guitars for himself — with one exception. "For years Larry Price asked when I was going to make a guitar for him, so a few weeks back I delivered it on the air," Machado said, joking, "It was just to shut him up!"
His tools are unsophisticated. His workshop keeps the sawdust out of the garage. He builds classic design guitars, preferring them over the "pointy '80s-style."
Each instrument takes about a month, but Machado isn't working at it full time. He also plays in the band Tell Momma, and along with Melody Heidel in the duo Two Shades of Blue.
When Two Shades of Blue performed for a Chinatown First Friday celebration at the Peggy Chun Gallery, gallery president Kimi Chun took one look at the elegant guitars and decided to exhibit Machado's work.
"I play them all, but if one sells I will just make another," Machado said. "After all, I am a player first."