Lifestyle Music

Pitch and Momentum – Handcrafted Guitars in the High Desert

Newcaster Guitar Company, Photo by Carville Bourg

Norbert Ubechel in his showroom and workshop off Highway 64. Photo by Carville Bourg

by Jean-Scott Benson ~

This region is a variegated field of human experience. The dynamic tension of colliding tectonic plates, diverse ethnicities and an emerging new economy has Taos humming – literally.

One day, Siddhartha (the Buddha) heard an old musician on a passing boat say to his student, “If the string is too tight it will snap, and if you leave it too slack, it will not play.” When Siddhartha heard this, he knew what he had been missing.

Our valley is full of enterprising hopes and fears of scarcity. Here we have the thrill of discovery and the dull ache of disappointment. The millennia-long line of human progress has been so tightly strung that in times past, it snapped. The history of Taos is defined by civil uprisings, unlikely victories, dark passages and the occasional epiphany.

Here is an epiphany for you: on the East Mesa, standing bolt upright against the horizon is a giant guitar. Clearly, it is a sign. If divined correctly, the positive message will be clear to everyone, not just guitar aficionados. In seasons past, the string may have been too slack to play, but now a well-rounded form is being crafted into solid reality.

This single enterprise appears to be the culmination of every entrepreneur’s aspirations.

Norbert Ubechel of Newcaster Guitar Company, Photo by Carville Bourg

Norbert Ubechel outside his showroom and workshop off Highway 64. Photo by Carville Bourg

One Taoseno’s progress encompasses everyone’s desire to see a dream grow into something of significance. Norbert Ubechel of the Newcaster Guitar Company is both an individual artisan and a cornerstone of our culture. His craft, education and the other random conditions of his generation have conspired to create an enterprise of perfect pitch and momentum.

Audiences tend to applaud at the confluence of ambition, ability and charisma. Under the right circumstances, a performer can move the entire audience steadily upward and onward. Could all of these expectations also apply to a vintage style guitar-maker?

I daresay they do. What are the real differences between a handcrafted guitar and a factory-manufactured one?

INTENTION. Factories make products that are good enough to sell to mass markets. Norbert, on the other hand, makes instruments that are good enough for successful musicians. Moreover, even the finest hand-made guitars must be judged and appreciated by very different standards than the solid-body custom guitars designed in Newcaster workshops.

RELATIONSHIPS. Whatever relationship you can have with a customer service representative on the phone is what you get from a manufacturer. People who purchase mass-produced guitars most likely will never know the name of the maker. With Newcaster guitars, Norbert is personally engaged, and he alone is responsible for all the work involved. Some owners have had a relationship with Norbert that has lasted for years and, in the case of a fortunate few, have developed a personal friendship with him.

CHOICE. A guitar created by Norbert is unique in many ways, just as distinctive as each individual player. Naturally, no two artists are the same; musical styles, technical virtuosity and taste vary hugely. Norbert’s instruments are therefore uniquely designed, with varying scale lengths, contours, fret sizes, tonalities, electronics, neck widths and body shapes. Such variability makes the design process quite complex indeed. The choice of woods, sizes, tonalities, lacquers and finishes are all important factors in the 200 hours that he conscientiously devotes to each stylized guitar.

QUALITY. From a factory perspective, quality means the replicability of components and the efficiency of assembly. But from Norbert’s point of view, playability and sound are key to an instrument’s quality. Norbert creates works of art that are more than desirable – “coveted” may be a more fitting descriptive. So next time you pass that giant guitar standing upright along Highway 64, give a silent salute to the amazing quality of craftsmanship that can exist right here on our mesa.

TAOS MAGAZINE | MARCH/APRIL 2016

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