Elfenworks Productions » Community » Historical News: Guitar Raises $70,000 for Charity
Historical News: Guitar Raises $70,000 for Charity

Elfenworks Productions Elf, Luthier John Mello, and Guitarist Jack Gates Collaboration Raises $70,000 at Auction for Carter Center

We asked, “Have you ever wanted to own a guitar like the one played by our own Josh Workman, on Rejuve II? Well, here’s your chance to own your own John F. Mello guitar while supporting a very important cause, by bidding on the following live auction item.”  The answer was a resounding “Oh, yes!” as fierce bidding brought needed funds to The Carter Center’s work waging peace, fighting disease and building hope.  It was the seventieth anniversary of President Carter’s graduation at Annapolis and the seventieth wedding anniversary celebration, and so the final bid, seventy thousand, was in perfect harmony with the moment. We couldn’t be more thrilled, and we just know the new owner will love the Mello guitar, now forever intertwined with some very special memories from this landmark event in American history.

Here’s the promo video we created, with the tagline “Bid on a fab John F. Mello guitar – featured at Smithsonian – for a fab cause: The Carter Center! Learn more and hear Jack Gates make it sing!  ”

Item Description

This small bodied steel string cutaway guitar is an early work of luthier John F. Mello (www.johnfmello.com). Shortly after its construction in 1978 it was selected for “The Harmonious Craft” a juried exhibit of 88 American instruments by contemporary makers at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution. One of only 11 works to be pictured in the exhibit catalog, it was the sole representative appearing on the cover of “Notes, On The Arts”, the Smithsonian’s bi-monthly publication. It was shown without the cutaway, which was executed by the maker shortly after the conclusion of the exhibit tour at the request of the owner. In very good cosmetic condition, the action is comfortable and the sound of this 38 year old instrument has matured beautifully. As heard in recent recordings made in the maker’s studio with guitarist Jack Gates (www.jackgatesmusic.com), it’s open, nuanced, dynamic; suitable to wide range of genres. Included are several sets of the recommended strings, facsimiles of the Smithsonian exhibit catalog and “Notes” issue, and a workshop tour/luncheon should the donor find him or herself in the San Francisco Bay area.

Maker Statement

This guitar, currently owned and donated by my friend, client, and longtime Carter Center supporter Lauren Speeth, was very important for me as a young maker, as it was among the first of my attempts to make a steel string guitar with a wider dynamic range and tonal palette than those commercially available. I was gratified and frankly a little surprised that it seemed to do just that. I, of course, was thrilled it was chosen for the Smithsonian exhibit and promptly sent my only copy of the catalog to my parents to help ease the pain of their son, one of the first in my family to graduate college (Oberlin ’71), choosing to make guitars for a living. It helped, a little.

It was a while before the guitar came back from the Renwick and stops at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin and the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in NYC, and needing to sell it and get some local exposure, I placed it on consignment in a local store. A few weeks later a client called wanting to know where to get a large bodied guitar of spruce and Brazilian rosewood, 14 frets to the body, with a cutaway. I recommended that same store as the only likely place at the time, and also suggested he check out my guitar, warning him it was not large, not 14 frets to the body, not of Brazilian and spruce, and had no cutaway. Two days later he called. “You sucker, you set me up! You knew I was going to fall for it, I did, bought it, and now you’re going to have to put in a cutaway.”  Hence its current configuration.

The recent recordings were made in my shop with two closely spaced microphones about six feet from the performer, with no additional manipulation of any kind, pretty much capturing what I heard live.

If the new owner does make it to visit my workshop, they’ll also be able to see the studio of my friend Catherine Hiersoux (www.hiersoux.com) whose building houses both our workspaces. Catherine is a wonderful potter whose pieces are in collections worldwide, including five in the permanent collection at the Renwick. Serendipitously, a signature moment in her career was inclusion in a White House luncheon in 1977 at which First Lady Rosalynn Carter honored American craftsmen and craftswomen by replacing the official dinnerware with their work. I’m sure I can get Catherine to supply similarly beautiful pieces on which to have our more modest lunch.

Owner Statement

This guitar has been a joy to own, and it was only a Carter Center auction that would prompt me to part with it, as a real show of how much love and respect we all have in our hearts for President & Mrs. Carter. When the inspiration came, I reached out to my dear friend, luthier John F. Mello (the guitar’s maker) to learn his thoughts. I thought he might check the guitar over and prepare it for shipping safely to The Carter Center. He has done so much more than this.  He was instantly enthused.  He not only gathered the guitar’s significant documentation together, he also brought a fabulous guitarist on board to record the instrument in his shop, and give potential buyers a taste of what they might have in store.   I am so grateful to have this opportunity to work together with John on bringing this item to auction, and I have high hopes it will bring double joy to the new owner, knowing they’ve found a real treasure while also supporting a brilliant cause.


This item is now sold. For next year’s items, here are the details: remote bidders: for proxy representation or to submit a bid by fax or online, contact Dianne Bryant by 5 p.m. EDT a few days before the auction:

Here’s the website at The Carter Center regarding the annual Weekend’s live auction event: http://www.cartercenter.org/donate/carter_center_weekend/FAQs.html.  You don’t need to attend, to bid.  Why not contact them in advance about putting in a bid as an anonymous bidder next year, or simply email them about being a supporter.