Luthier Denny Kopp works on the Burning Snowman guitar.
What would motivate in-demand luthier Denny Kopp to spend three months crafting a handmade Burning Snowman guitar worth more than $4000 – just to give it away to be auctioned off to benefit Rett Syndrome.org?
“The short answer is Claire,” said Kopp, a Catawba luthier, referring to his friend Dave Hermes’ daughter, who has Rett Syndrome, a disabling neurological disease that primarily affects girls. “I watched him showing her around my shop and being a real trouper dealing with her disease. At the Burning Snowman Festival last year, I saw him raising some money for Rett with Basshole,” a game like Cornhole, but with toy fish. “I told myself, ‘It’s time to do something bigger.’”
“Something bigger” is a beautiful, rich-sounding “Triple O” auditorium-style handmade guitar with a Burning Snowman design on the back in white and gold mother of pearl. (The “flames” are orange plastic.) Instead of the traditional dots on the neck, the guitar has snowflakes. The back and sides are walnut, the top is spruce and the guitar has Waverly tuning pegs and a Fishman pickup.
The design on the back of the Burning Snowman guitar
For the Snowman design on the back of the guitar, Kopp collaborated with Matt Ritter, the artist behind the Burning Snowman logo and graphics. “It was fun working hand-in-hand with Matt on the design and then a challenge interpreting his artwork on the guitar,” Kopp said. “But the hardest inlay I’ve ever done was cutting out the hand inside the circle for the Rett Syndrome.org logo on the neck.”
Purchase raffle tickets for the handmade Burning Snowman guitar at $5 each at Catawba Island Brewing Co. or online by clicking the donate button at End Rett Ohio. (Put the dollar amount for the total number of tickets you want to purchase, and please include your phone number and address.) The drawing for the guitar will be at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25 at Burning Snowman at Dock’s Beach House in Port Clinton; you need not be present to win.
A video showing Kopp making the guitar, as well as more information about the all-day music festival culminating in the burning of 30-foot-tall snowman “Harold,” is available at Burning Snowman Fest on Facebook. In addition to Rett Syndrome.org, proceeds from Burning Snowman benefit United Way in Ottawa County’s Program for Youth and Mr. Ed’s Kids for Christmas.
From Books to Handcrafted Guitars
Kopp decided to learn how to build guitars when he was working at a Willard company that made books. “I had started there when I was 19, and one day I realized that automation was eventually going to put me out of a job,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘What’s the most fun thing I could do to make a living?’”
In 1999, he started building guitars, and today Kopp String Instruments (kopparchtops.com) sells handcarved archtop guitars in a wide variety of models to players all over the world. His customers include American singer/songwriter Bonny “Prince” Billy (Will Oldham), celebrated European jazz guitarist Guiseppe Continenza, and Mick Turner of the Australian instrumental rock band the Dirty Three.
“As a luthier, technology will never put me out of work,” Kopp said. “You can never replace a handmade guitar with something off an assembly line or a 3-D printer. Those just make what I do even more valuable.”
Kopp hopes the raffling of his one-of-a-kind Burning Snowman guitar raises lots of money for Rett Syndrome.org. “If the guitar I made raised thousands of dollars that helped the research get closer to a cure …” His voice trailed off. “Wow. That’d really be something, wouldn’t it?”