Guitar maker Steve Klein made his mark on the rare world of premium lutherie in the mid-1970s. He has built guitars that have been used by many famous musicians in the rock world: Steve Miller, Joe Walsh, Andy Summers, Lou Reed and, notably, Joni Mitchell.
The current issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine features a story called “The 1970s Lutherie Revolution; Peace, Love and Guitars.” In the piece, writers Dick Boak and Adam Perlmutter focus on four of the most influential guitar builders of the era: Michael Gurian, Linda Manzer, Richard Hoover and Klein. In the issue, a photograph of a youthful shows Klein standing proudly in his workshop, tools of the trade hanging on the pegboard wall.
Another photo in the magazine shows singer-songwriter Mitchell holding the guitar Klein made for her, as he looks over her shoulder. The quote on the page reads, “Joni Mitchell invited me into the studio for the album that she was working on, ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns,’ at the A&M studios the following night; we played my guitars up against her Martin. And that’s when she said, ’I want one.’”
Mitchell indicated to Klein which guitar design she wanted, and also “wanted to collaborate with the inlay design. Joni wanted to incorporate the ’I Ching’ into the rosette design. She also wanted a serpent, and eagle or another large bird, and lilies, which is the flower from her home province in Canada.”
A photo on the table of contents page shows Joni Mitchell holding the guitar Klein made for her, as he looks over her shoulder.
“It was, however, not high on her priority list,” Klein said. In fact, it took some two and a half years for Mitchell and Klein to get to the final stage on construction. One day, shortly after Klein moved from the East Bay to Sonoma, his phone rang. “Steve, it’s your old friend, Joni.” The pair discussed the final steps.
The photo in Acoustic Guitar shows Klein with Mitchell backstage at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. It was a chance to let Joni try out her new guitar before all the finish work was done. She took delivery of her new guitar just after her album “Hejira” was released (1978). “She loved it!” Klein said.
These days Klein is consumed with the production of a new line of electric guitars. He plans to continue manufacturing the headless ergonomic design that has proven to be very popular. He also has two new designs, one called a “sTele,” an ergonomic take on the telecaster, and the SMK, a Klein Strat-style guitar.
Klein is working on reproducing the new line of electric guitars with a premium manufacturer in Japan. These will be primarily for the Asian market.
Klein traveled to New York City in February to deliver a few of those new guitars. Steve Miller received two and Joe Walsh received one.
Klein met Walsh at Madison Square Garden where he was performing with the Eagles. While there, Klein saw an “awesome” show by the Eagles with a full orchestra as they played “Hotel California” in its entirety. Also while there, Klein picked up an illness that knocked him for a loop.
Back home in Sonoma, he became increasingly ill. He tested negative for COVID-19, a diagnosis Klein disputes. “I feel like I dodged a bullet. I am feeling much better. At my age, you don’t get back to normal, you just get back to work.”
It is good to have Klein back at his workbench again, feeling as well-tuned as one of his wonderful guitars.
INDEX-TRIBUNE MUSIC WRITER
June 25, 2020