by Stephanie Powell
From hobby to handwork, second-generation luthier Joshia de Jonge went from whittling her first alto classical guitar out of Bolivian rosewood with a mahogany neck in her father’s workshop to crafting her own line of classical guitars, complete with a traditional, trademarked rosette.
It was the woodworking that hooked her, she says—that and perhaps a little old-fashioned sibling rivalry. “It started when my brother was eight, tinkering around in the shop, building a ukulele-like thing,” de Jonge says over the phone from Canada. “I thought, ‘What? He’s doing that?’ I wanted to do it, too, so we both started building guitars side-by-side at the same time.”
Today the instrument remains the center of a family affair—Joshia’s father, Sergei de Jonge, is a Quebec-based luthier who also founded the de Jonge School of Lutherie, and she has six siblings who have each taken a stab at building classical guitars.
For Joshia, building does not equate to playing, she reminds me when I ask if she plays.
“No, I totally don’t,” she admits with a small laugh, adding that her father got into building guitars because he played and, at the time, couldn’t afford to buy one. “Everyone asks that and is shocked that I don’t—I mean I’ve taken a few lessons and I play enough to try my guitars and test them out, but really very little. I need to dedicate all of my time to building and to be able to build the way I want to build,” she adds, acknowledging the rigorous schedule of serious classical guitarists.
And so, for most of the past 23 years, she has followed her passion—carving necks and bracing tops (two aspects of guitar building she considers her favorite and most challenging)—in her father’s shop along with her luthier-husband Patrick Hodgins.
“It’s nice to be close to him,” she says of working with her father in his shop. She’s learned innumerable lessons; her first: “Maybe not to cut my fingers off,” she recounts with a laugh. “It’s really hard to say, because there’s so much—everything I know really stems from his knowledge; lots of little things, like learning how to look at wood, recognizing quality wood, and how to tell differences between grains.”
While working under the same roof as her father has offered her unparalleled mentoring, Joshia says she is looking forward to finding her own space, a transition that is underway—in late fall or early winter, Joshia and Patrick will be opening up their own shop in Rupert, Quebec.
However, she will remain involved, occasionally, with the de Jonge School of Lutherie, she says. “[Teaching people] helped me learn what I know and what I don’t know,” she says. “When you’re showing someone something, you really have to think about why you do what you do.”
The most challenging hurdle for most students, she says, is bending sides, which Joshia prefers to build with Indian rosewood. But she also offers options of African blackwood, Brazilian rosewood, ziricote, cocobolo, and wenge.
Standard model guitars hand-built by Joshia also include Englemann or European spruce, Western red cedar tops, mahogany or Spanish cedar necks, ebony fingerboards, rosewood bridges, and French polished finish. When Joshia was 21, she studied with Geza Burghardt, a luthier based in Vancouver, British Columbia, who “was a huge influence” and taught her French polishing, a technique that she quickly adopted to replace conventional lacquering.
French polishing—which the father-daughter luthier pair share in their craft—is now taught in the de Jonge School of Lutherie, too. But Joshia is quick to note that many of the duo’s other building techniques differ—including wood choices (Sergei prefers to use Sitka spruce) and bracing patterns. The work ethic, however, remains the same.
“My father really instilled that in us,” she says. “He would make us redo jobs over and over. It’s all I’ve ever known, but we’re definitely a family of pushing each other and checking each other’s work—getting each other to strive not for perfection, but improvement. We learned in the shop to put our best in everything.”
Her determination and resilience have proven to be beneficial for more than just her craftsmanship—as a female luthier, Joshia admits there is something of a divide in what has always been primarily a male trade.
“Mostly [it’s been] quite positive—I mean, for sure it’s a thing,” she says of working as a female luthier. “Often at [guitar] shows, people would think I was there representing my husband or my father and not there to represent myself.”
Growing up with four brothers helped: “I was used to that kind of environment and comfortable around my brothers, but mostly it’s been positive and people have said, ‘Oh, wow, a female luthier.’ But there are little things where it’s hard for people to take you seriously and you kind of have to prove yourself a bit. It’s been a challenge.”
She did have female role models, contemporary luthiers such as Canada-based Linda Manzer (known for her archtop, flattop, and harp acoustic guitars), Shelley Park (master luthier of gypsy-jazz guitars), Judy Threet (known for her fingerstyle acoustics), and Cyndy Burton (luthier of contemporary classicals). “They are women I knew of, respected, and looked up to,” Joshia says, adding that while they all remain influential, they didn’t necessarily affect her building style.
“I’m finding that there are more and more female luthiers popping up,” she adds, “so, it’s becoming not so lonely, though it has been, for sure, something I’ve been aware of. We’re getting more females [at the school], and it’s nice having more women joining the craft.”