Phil and Joan World

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Pheo Guitars

I have had two major obsessions in my life, guitars and visual art. First guitar. I began playing guitar at age 10 in 1964. I have played in many bands, doing many kinds of music. I trained at Berklee College of music for two years planning to become a jazz player, composer, and arranger. I have owned, collected, and studied hundreds of guitars made by the great makers at their best.

In my early adulthood, I had my first artist’s block, as a musician. I left music and earned a degree in mathematics. I couldn’t, however, stay away from the expressive arts and found my way to painting, drawing, and sculpture. I have been a visual artist for thirty years. In 1996, I asked myself, can I build a guitar the way I approach my paintings? The answer was yes, and I have pursued guitar making as my main artistic expression ever since then.

What I have learned from thirty years of study of 20th Century master visual artists, Giacometti, Cezanne, Matisse, Johns, and others, is an economy of technique, doing what is necessary to get the job done, nothing more, nothing less. The work of these great artists is about expression above all, and all gratuitous craft is rigorously paired away. Most fine guitar making is obsessive about craft perfection. Mine is not. I strive to build instruments that sound exceptional, play beautifully, and are extremely interesting to look at. Each instrument is a unique prototype. The instruments aren’t gratuitously tidy or perfectionistic or consistent. In fact, they are quirky, mercurial, and personal. I rip them apart and rebuild them until I find them terribly exciting. Perfect guitars are great, but there are plenty of those. I’m searching for something more raw, more direct.

You know the occasional vintage guitar that just stands out, that has a uniqueness and character that can’t be matched? Most makers try to achieve that by refining production criteria until they can make that consistently. I don’t. I fiddle with each prototype until it reaches that place, then begin a different instrument. I’m interested in the first one, the one that embodies the curiosity, the search, the experimentation, the rethinks, the one with the scars and saw marks.

—Phil Sylvester

Pheo Guitars—Statement

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