Working wood and strings

Al Hosokawa works out of a shop in the back of his house. - Scott Stanfield/Black Press
Al Hosokawa works out of a shop in the back of his house.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield/Black Press

Al Hosokawa has spent more than half his life building and repairing guitars, violins, banjos and other stringed instruments.

For more than 20 years, the 71-year-old luthier has been perfecting the craft — which is also a full-time occupation — in a shop at the back of his Courtenay home.

“I do everything but pianos,” said Hosokawa, whose appearance belies his age.

A row of guitars hanging in his shop are made with rosewood and mahogany, the two basic types of wood he uses.

Rather than using power tools, he prefers to build mostly by hand.

Hosokawa did not learn the trade through formal training. Because there were no schools when he started building, he got his feet wet by speaking with established luthiers.

“That’s how I learned,” he said. “I guess I teach in the same way, too. There’s a lot of people, they can’t really uproot and go to school, so I say if you want to build come to me and I’ll give you information.”

His shop doubles as a classroom, providing an informal setting where students can work at their own pace. His most recent student was 82-years-old.

“A lot of people are ex-woodworkers, retired, looking for something to do,” said Hosokawa, whose wife Cindy is a fabric artist.

Hosokawa worked in the forestry and logging industries in years gone by, mostly on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlottes. He attended school in Salmon Arm, then moved to Port Alberni in the late-1950s, a time of “fast cars” and plenty of employment.

“It’s tougher now,” he said.

Hosokawa once spent his leisure time playing guitar in a band in the early-’60s. They were known as The Shades in the small community of Canoe near Salmon Arm, The Nocturnals in Golden and The Volcanoes when they performed in Dawson Creek.

“I wasn’t very good at it, but I had fun,” a modest Hosokawa said with a laugh.

He also likes motorcycles, as evidenced by a shiny black Harley Davidson in his backyard.

But his true love is woodworking — and strings.

“My passion is building stuff,” he said. “I’ll be doing this till the day I die.”

His business is called Hoss Guitars. Hosokawa can be reached at (250) 334-2080.

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