LUTHIER: G.L. STILES

 
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Gilbert Lee Stiles a/k/a G.L. Stiles built grandfather clocks, furniture, and even a small single engine plane with a VW engine for power in his Hialeah, FL shop. However, G.L. Stiles is known for his guitars.
 
Born in 1914, in Independence West Virginia Mr. Stiles began his wood knowledge working on furniture surrounded by porch guitar and fiddle pickers thus he became aware of the guitar and string instruments.
 
Working in the lumber industry through adulthood somewhere in the 1950's he came to Florida. By the 1960's he began building guitars (solid bodies), made his own tools, guitar hardware, guitar pickups, and invested in some of the big machines of the times as I saw them in his shop.
 
By the mid sixties Stiles acoustics appeared then archtops, pedal steels, basses, banjos, and mandolins. Student guitars came about with a 21" scale lenght and custom guitars by client request.
Its written that Stiles flat tops got their sound by his increasing the tension on the top by arching the back to a breaking point and he favored Brazilian Rosewood bodies with Spruce wood tops. As a result of the extra back tension additional bracing was required.
 
Stiles shop was a custom shop so anything was possible. He mastered copies of Gibson guitars and full size jazz archtops, which I can attest to as having owned one (1974).
 
When I became aquainted with Mr. Stiles it was through Dell Staton who partnerd with Stiles on some elaborate repairs requiring the skills of a luthier. Fascinated by his shop, the equipment, the guitars all around, and seeing Tom Petty's band instruments being worked on, I asked Mr. Stiles if I could apprentice once in a while to build and learn elements of the trade. He agreed!
 
I journeyed to Hialeah weekly and began building fingerboards, headstocks and etc. One of my projects went to re-constructing a Gibson Super 400 archtop's headstock to simulate a D'Angelico headstock. I found a stripped Super 400 at Manny's in NYC for $400 and brought it back to begin working it at Stiles Shop. What a project that turned out perfect. So somewhere out there there is a blonde Gibson Super 400 with a D'Angelico headstock.
 
Working with Mr. Stiles was a pleasure despite that he was a Baptist preacher and preached the word. He had just gotten married to a lovely young bride, but continued to make Stiles Guitars.
 
Thanks to, Michael Wright, who wrote an article on Mr. Stiles in Vintage Guitar (2006). Mr. Wright states that Mr. Stiles built up to 1,500 guitars, but slowed down in the 1990's and focused on repairs only. Relocating to West Virginia Mr. Stiles  taught lutherie at Elkins College in West Virginia.
 
Recently, a shop client who befriended Mr. Stiles and became his fishing buddy recounts that Mr. Stiles enjoyed his golden years fishing and hunting until his passing. He is survived by his bridge who remains in West Virginia.
 
And I concur with Author, Michael Wright, who states that Mr. Stiles was not a major force in the guitar building world, but he built good guitars and passed on his knowledge to aspiring luthiers and techs through teaching. Thus, his work should be recorded. I agree!
 
In closing, I remain greatly appreciative in the time I spent with G.L. Stiles. It came about by providence. The experience remains priceless and many of my techniques is that of a great artisan: G.L. Stiles.