Voisine enters the hotel suite preceded by a dazzling grin and a guitar case (both his own). Although evenly tanned and garbed in the most immaculate denim, he seems a bit tired. This is not surprising. In the past eight months the New Brunswick-born singer/songwriter has won a Juno music award for best male vocalist of the year, completed a sold-out cross-Canada tour, recorded his first English-language album, I’ll Always Be There, and watched it soar into the sales stratosphere (quadruple platinum) and did his first outdoor gig at Ontario Place Forum in July.
Draping himself a bit wearily in an upholstered chair, he gives a nod to his assistant and his guitar emerges from its heavy case. His assistant holds it upright, by the neck, and its black glossy surface flashes in the light. Voisine regards it dispassionately. The connection between him and the instrument becomes evident only when he begins to talk about it.
“I had it made four years ago by Pierre La Porte in Montreal,” he says. “This was the very first one he made.”
La Porte, Voisine says, repaired guitars for a living and had always wanted to make one. “One day while I was there me he told me he wanted to make a guitar but couldn’t find anyone who would risk spending the money.” The guitar cost $3,800 (a good guitar can be had for about $1,000). “I was a bit skeptical about it, but I said ‘sure,’ anyway, and right then we sat down, opened books and picked the model.”
Voisine’s guitar is scaled like a 1940 Gibson J200, except that it is – 3/4-inch thinner than the original. “So it is comfortable in my hands and against my body. And it’s heavier than most other guitars, and it’s strong so I can tour with it and it won’t crack,” he explains. “Everything I liked about other guitars was put into this one.”
In the 1960s, Voisine says, Gibson made a special guitar for the Everly Brothers. “The design is very famous and you can get copies of it in guitar stores.” The black colour and the various-sized glittering white stars inlaid in the fret board and neck of Voisine’s guitar are the most noticeable Everly-detail. “It’s real ’60s stuff.”
The sides and back are made of German curly maple; the top is Engelman spruce from Oregon; the neck is bird’s-eye maple, the fret board is Jabon ebony, the bridge is rosewood; and the braces inside the instrument are made of Alaskan spruce, also called Sitka spruce, from British Columbia.
That’s not all.
The wide binding is plastic. The wood – all six kinds – has been stained with alcohol and then finished with seven coats of cellulose lacquer (which La Porte says is “standard stuff”), all hand applied and hand buffed. The stars are made of mother-of-pearl.
Fortunately, considering the detail involved, Voisine was very pleased with the outcome. He uses it on stage and it has appeared with him on album covers.
Since making it, La Porte has been flooded with guitar commissions. He is also now working on a second, back-up instrument for Voisine.
This guitar was meant to be played with amplifiers – the two little knobs where it plugs in are visible beside the neck – so Voisine doesn’t use it for composing. “It’s a concert guitar and it has a great sound when it’s plugged in,” he says. Since he got it four years ago the sound has changed dramatically. “A new guitar sounds very bright. With age it gets deeper and more mellow.”
He picks the instrument up for the first time and sits it in his lap. “It’s like a part of my body,” he says. “I’ve tried a lot of other guitars but this is perfect for me. It’s my trademark now.”