A Luthier’s Life In Anahola

Mickey Sussman builds a new instrument in his Anahola studio

By Mickey Sussman
Owner, Anahola Stringed Instruments of Kaua’i

Tell us about your business. I am a maker and restorer of stringed instruments – a luthier. I made my first guitar in Hanapepe in 1973, and have made more than 300 instruments since. Because I’ve been making these instruments for such a long time and spent a lot of time with legendary musicians and composers, I recently decided to open up my designs and teach them to students. I want to share what I’ve learned with others at my studio in Anahola. They’re going to use my molds and the Hawaiian koa I grow to make their own instrument.

Why are you going to teach the classes? I want to do something for the young people. I’m impressed not only with what they have been putting up with from adults, but some of the brilliance in how they respond to it. So I’m going to offer something that’s substantial. This is my way of fighting back.

What do you find most rewarding about your business? I like some of the process of creating a stringed instrument. I’ve accepted that it takes a while, even though I wish I could make one in a day. But I also have other ways of finding my meaning, like growing the Hawaiian koa used to make the instruments. And it’s rewarding when I just do my job. I have a very deep understanding of how important it is now for people being able to express themselves. And music is one of the major ways for people to express themselves. Whether it’s just sound, composing, writing or playing, this stuff is really important.

A Kokee koa baritone jazz ukulele created by Sussman

Do you have a motto for doing business? I’m not interested in exploiting people for a profit. I don’t want a lifestyle that depends on other people’s labor. I don’t have employees and I just have a standard that I’m not a commodity.

Who are your mentors? The players. I was lucky enough to move to Hawaii when Gabby Pahinui was still alive and Peter Moon was still performing. Other mentors would be Martin Pahinui and the Hall brothers, and Larry Ramos. You get these people who are really special, and they’re the ones who get you to make what they want you to make. And then I get the benefit of having worked with them so that everyone else gets that standard.

How do you measure success? Being able to sleep at night. When you see the effects and the good that happens because of what you did.


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