“That is my brand, just a person building guitars”: Schorr Guitars on self-expression, luthiery as art and sourcing materials from flea markets
Head luthier Nicolai Schorr designs and builds every element of his guitars in-house by hand, resulting in considered and innovative instruments.
What first drew you to the electric guitar?
“My parents got me a classical guitar when I was very young. I don’t remember playing it at all until I was around 18; I somehow wanted to start playing guitar and writing songs. This must have been a consequence of discovering Bob Dylan a year or two prior, because I definitely drew his portrait onto the top of that guitar with a black paint marker.”
When did you start building or tinkering with guitars?
“I vaguely remember starting to build moulds for a steel string guitar right after starting to play, but never got any further at that moment. In my early twenties I started going to flea markets almost every Sunday and sometimes came across interesting guitars for cheap. They usually had issues, and those issues were usually worse than they had looked when I had first inspected them, but I guess I realised that guitars break and that they have to get repaired. When my partner and I moved to Berlin in 2011, I started watching videos about guitar building and repair online, and soon enough got into repair work at a local guitar shop. I also really wanted to build a guitar for some reason, which I did without hardly any tools.”
How does your background and education in art influence your luthiery?
“Studying and making art, I learned that it was worth time and effort to find my own unique words in whichever language I work. Because that is largely what art and being an artist is about. I also looked a lot at art, which is all about colour, shapes, movements, and composition, and learned to express myself using this language to a certain extent.”
You have a very streamlined product line, was it a conscious effort to keep it simplified?
“Whenever I have an idea for a new model, I work on it in my head for a long time. If it keeps coming back, I will try to make time to develop drawings and prototypes. I do eventually make a new model every time I have an idea that sticks around. One reason why I take so much time to develop an idea is because I always want to arrive at something essential about that idea. Refining to me often means simplifying, until I can see the idea when I look at the instrument.”
How did your time working with Angela Waltner influence your work?
“Angela builds the most beautifully restrained guitars, so I hope this idea of beauty – that is not at all showy – comes across in my work as well. She taught me how to work by letting me take part in her building process for a while. When I started working with wood, I was very hesitant and had problems finishing a step before starting the next. I was always afraid of making mistakes. She threw me right into the work and I’m still very thankful for her trust.”
All your hardware is built in-house, by hand. Why have you chosen such a pure way to build guitars?
“I just enjoy the work very much. I try to find ways to make most parts of my instruments in a way that I enjoy. I find that building things by hand makes me connect with my work in a very deep and direct way. It is also not dangerous. Some builders have to protect their ears, eyes, fingers and lungs in their shop all day, which for me would lead to hating my work after a short time.”
When did you realise you had a viable business?
“That’s hard to say, but I know I worked very hard for it ever since building my first guitar. I guess at some point I did know because I quit my job working in a pub two to three nights a week!”
Did you have any external investment starting out?
“No. I started out with all flea market tools and benches made from stuff I found on the street. The first wood I bought was gifted to me by a friend, so I suppose he invested 200 Euros in me.”
When did you feel like you’d nailed your branding?
“My logo is a stylized S, but also some sort of bird at the same time, and I sign my guitars on the headstock. So, there is no company name anywhere. That is my brand, not being a brand, just a person building guitars. I am very proud of my model names, The Owl, The Owl Bass, The Owl The Owl, and The Future.”
Do you have any future plans or upcoming projects for Schorr Guitars?
“I am secretly working on a new model, maybe for late 2022, which will be the opposite of my other models. I’ll also build guitars for some really trusting and friendly people from all kinds of places.”
Visit schorrguitars.com for more information.