Frank Ford, co-founder of Gryphon Strings in Palo Alto, CA and their longtime chief luthier, died on December 17 following a brief illness. Suffering from declining health this past few years, he was 79 years of age when he passed.
Ford and Richard Johnston opened Gryphon in 1969 as a facility for them to build guitars, banjos, and mandolins. Since that time, the business has grown to become the prime purveyor of everything for acoustic and electric string musicians in the Bay Area, new, used, and vintage, along with every sort of musical accessory. Throughout, Frank focused on luthiery, running the repair facility associated with Gryphon.
Over the years he became one of the leading lights in fretted instrument repair and restoration, running a very popular web site for builders and repair folks called Frets.com. Ford was very generous with his accumulated wisdom as well, presenting or teaching at luthiery conferences and offering lectures at the Roberto Venn School of Lutherie in Phoenix.
Stewart MacDonald has videos with Frank demonstrating his shop tips for all to see, and he was a guest on podcasts focused on building and repair.
Also a talented machinist, Frank was often able to fabricate replacement parts for vintage instruments when they couldn’t be found. He likewise built a number of fixtures to be used in his repair work. Using these skills, he created a high end string winder using instruments grade wood scraps which he called Frank’s Cranks. They weren’t always available, but people who have them value them highly.
A native of the San Francisco region, Frank lived his entire life there save four years at college at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which is where his interest in bluegrass music was kindled.
Gryphon’s retail customers, repair clients, and workshop students all reported that Frank’s patience, kindness, and gentle manner in explaining the details of his work never varied, and he always seemed to have time for a chat. The entire community of luthiers mourn his loss deeply.
Gryphon and Roberto-Venn have established a scholarship in his name, both to honor Ford’s legacy, and to ensure that aspiring luthiers of meager means will be able to attend classes there. They expect to have options for online donations soon, but until then, tax deductible contributions can be sent by check, made out to “Frank Ford Scholarship Fund” to:
Gryphon Stringed Instruments
211 Lambert Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery
1012 Grand Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85007
R.I.P., Frank Ford.