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Archive for Friday, April 29, 2011

Guitar maker Leo Posch builds Lawrence business on personal quest for learning

Leo Posch talks about becoming a guitar maker and how being a musician is vital for perfecting his trade.

April 29, 2011

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Leo Posch

  • Age: 49
  • Family: Posch and his wife, Susan Willits, have two kids: Ben, a third-grader, and Anne, a second-grader, who both participate in youth activities in Lawrence.
  • Occupation: Owner of The Versatile Workbench, a shop founded in 2000 to handle making and repairing guitars, mandolins and banjos.
  • Music: Posch is a member of the Midday Ramblers, playing gigs once a month “all over Lawrence.”
Guitar maker Leo Posch is pictured in his shop with one of his guitars Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Posch, who plays banjo in the local band Midday Ramblers, said that he couldn't imagine being an instrument maker without also being a musician.

Guitar maker Leo Posch is pictured in his shop with one of his guitars Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Posch, who plays banjo in the local band Midday Ramblers, said that he couldn't imagine being an instrument maker without also being a musician.

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Like any skilled musician — or, even more to the point, anyone skilled in helping equip musicians with proper instruments — Leo Posch trusts his ear.

Come to think of it, he also relies a great deal on his eyes, hands, fingers and other information-gathering receptors when it comes to his career calling.

He builds and repairs guitars, banjos and mandolins, often for respected names in the industry.

Posch’s education, it seems, never stops.

“It’s been a big learning experience — through word of mouth, talking to people, reading small amounts, whatever I can find,” said Posch, who started building his skills as a student at Lawrence High School and today runs his own shop outside of town. “That’s always the way I’ve learned: talking to people, finding out who does such-and-such, and who knows such-and-such. And when you don’t know — you don’t know the answer — you make it up yourself.

“If it works? Great. If it doesn’t, you need to figure it out.”

For more than three decades — ever since he started work at the former Steve Mason Music on New Hampshire Street — Posch has been building skills that would lead to a following and, eventually, his own business, The Versatile Workbench.

The business is in his basement shop outside McLouth, just north of Lawrence, but the work that led up to its creation had built up over years of detailed, tedious and often self-instructional tasks in music stores in and along the edge of downtown Lawrence.

As a Lawrence High sophomore, Posch found himself struggling in school, trying to stay interested, when he landed a job at Steve Mason Music. That allowed him to help set up and run sound for groups coming through Lawrence: Ricky Scaggs, Hot Rize, Riders in the Sky and others.

Posch helped fix musicians’ guitars and other string instruments, learning as he went along. Stops at Prairie Music, and then Mass. Street Music, would give him increasing responsibilities — as well as increased access to instruments, often to be repaired by request.

He works on guitars, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, cellos, basses and all manner of electric instruments.

“You name it, we did it,” he said. “We didn’t say no.”

On the side, Posch had been building his own instruments. Using a block of mahogany given to him by an early coworker, Posch made his first banjo neck beginning in 1980.

Now he’s made 31 banjo necks and a handful of full mandolins. He’s making guitar No. 50 right now.

“That’s one of the great things about doing repairs, and working on so many wonderful instruments and so many disgustingly horrible ones: It’s amazing how much you learn,” Posch said.

He’s still learning. Awhile back he and his wife replaced the clutch in their 1978 Ford F150 pickup without having a clear idea of what they were getting into.

“I knew it was going to be heavy,” Posch said. “I knew it was going to be hard and greasy. And it was — all that and more.”

Now he’s focused on expanding the reach of The Versatile Workbench, while still holding true to his learning ways. Posch would prefer only to build new instruments, but he figures he won’t ever be able to shake the past.

“I’m trying to get up to a dozen guitars a year, but it’s a little hard,” he said. “There are certain repairs that get added into the mix — people who are good friends or have really cool instruments, or both — and I don’t want to say no to a great repair or a great person. And that’s OK.”

There’s always something new to learn, after all.

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