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RIP: Frank Ford, Guitar Repair Hero

Frank Ford, Gryphon Instruments’ co-founder and one of the guitar repair world’s most brilliant minds, passed away on December 17, 2023. Beyond his work helming the repair shop at Gryphon, his frets.com site is a resource that has inspired thousands around the world. It launched in 1998 and remains online largely unchanged: a timeless collection of links, tips, instrument finds, and tutorials. Browse it if you haven’t yet; it’s still inspiring.

Frank had a profound knowledge of the history of instruments and how to preserve them for future generations. He was also wildly inventive. Watch this StewMac video with Frank from 2013 and you’ll see the master at work, showing off his favorite tools, nearly all of which he creatively¬†modified. (At the very end, we get an early glimpse at the string winder he’d end up calling “Frank’s Cranks.” It was the world’s most overbuilt, beautiful string winder and he’d sell them from time to time on the Gryphon site.)

Beyond his skillset, Frank was also helpful and approachable. When news of his passing was announced, an outpouring of love came from peers, customers, and instrument builders. Everyone commented on how nice, generous, and fair Frank was. This is what made Frank so unique: He was one of those rare masters who shared his techniques and wanted to help nearly everyone who came through the Gryphon doors. An instrument didn’t need to be from the 1930s to demand his attention; he just wanted you to go home with a smile on your face. He’d help one customer out with a starter banjo setup and then go back doing a neck reset on a priceless vintage Martin.

Frank also mentored dozens of luthiers who worked at Gryphon’s repair bench alongside him over the years. Beyond Gryphon’s current repair staff, alums include famed builders like Michi Matsuda and Tim Frick.

Frank appeared in the Fretboard Journal’s very first issue, writing about the banjo he and the Gryphon team built in-house back in 1980 (pic above). But his presence looms large on every issue and podcast we’ve ever put out. He set a high bar for sharing technical information in an instructive but succinct way, he celebrated his fellow builders, he was curious, and – most importantly – he was just a good guy. We will miss him.