A true craftsman is never done learning. He is always on a path of continuous improvement, striving to refine his skills as each day passes. There’s a wonderful Japanese term for this: shokunin. A simple translation of shokunin is “mastery of a profession.” A true shokunin devotes his entire life to perfecting his craft insofar as it becomes his own personal mission. Meet a modern-day shokunin, Pete Daigle, who dedicates himself to manufacturing string instruments with the help of a length stop measuring system.
“The most important of all machines inside the d’Aigle Harps and Folk Instruments shop is, of course, the popcorn machine,” chuckles Pete Daigle, (which he informs us rhymes with Bagel).
Pete Daigle is as quirky as he is accomplished, which is evident throughout the shop of his harp business. One step inside his creative laboratory and you’re instantaneously transformed into his world of niche autoharp manufacturing. Pete is a master craftsman in an art that few are familiar with. He is a self-proclaimed luthier. “The world luthier has been around for a long time and comes from the word lute. Anyone who’s a builder of string instruments or a technician that works on stringed instruments is called a luthier,” Pete adeptly explains.
For Pete, a lifelong musician and woodworker, the transition to building musical instruments progressed quite organically. As a drummer by trade and an autoharp player, constructing wooden instruments was a joining together of his two great loves.
But Pete didn’t start out building autoharps right off the bat. He spent a great amount of time studying how to be a luthier for an array of stringed instruments. He finally started putting designs down and crafting the first models of autoharps in the 1990s. And thus, d’Aigle Harps and Folk Instruments was born.
Hitting the Right Note
Today Pete and his team of four employees manufacture a variety of autoharp models that are marketed worldwide. The team travels to music festivals across the globe to get the word out. “There are several autoharp specific festivals, and many autoharp friendly festivals, around the USA, and in Europe, Australia, Japan and Korea. I’ve yet to go to Japan and Korea, but we have customers there, and this travel is in my near future. We give away a prize autoharp each year to the International Autoharp Championship in Winfield, KS, and to the Mountain Laurel Autoharp Championship in Newport, PA. We also give an autoharp at the California Autoharp Gathering near Fresno, where a few years ago I received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the gathering and the Fresno Folklore Society” says Pete.
As a master luthier, Pete is always refining the manufacturing of his masterpiece harps. The process is quite complex and includes cutting wood billets to dimension, cutting out the frames, construct the body of the harp, and making the fine tuner. Then the harp goes through finishing sanding, prep work, glue-up, spraying, lacquering, and then finally the finishing work.
Fine Tuning the Processes
One particular step in the process wasn’t sitting quite right with Pete, and he set out to refine the method. “I invented and patented a fine-tuning system for all of our harp models which requires cutting slots in an aluminum extrusion. It’s the first step in making our patented smooth and accurate fine-tuning array,” explains Pete. “The slots need to be very precise in spacing, and there are a lot of them!”
For years, Pete and his team had been using a manual spacing system. It worked reasonably well, but Pete was never completely satisfied with the accuracy of the 1/4-inch spacing between slots, and the job was rather tedious and time-consuming. Pete was determined to find a solution that would eliminate the need to measure and mark each slot and would guarantee perfectly accurate spacing for his patented design.
“I now have a SawGear automated stop set up with a sled holding three lengths of aluminum extrusion at once, set to a sliding miter saw. I use the incremental advance button on the SawGear to continually advance the extrusion in our 1/4″ increments. I can now prepare eighteen feet of extrusion at a time in less than a quarter of the time we used to. And the accuracy is dead-on, just as we need.”
Striking a Chord with SawGear
As a boutique harp maker, space and budget are two deciding factors when investing in new machinery. “Being a small shop, not everything can be fully automated, and this machine is a great step. I have plans to use the SawGear for a number of operations, but this was the primary reason for the purchase. I was able to adapt the machine to our needs with the entire setup ready to work in less than a day’s time. I am only wondering why I did not make this move earlier,” says Pete.
“We have a lot of fun building instruments and the SawGear length stop by TigerStop gives us a very consistent, accurate, and quick way to slot our fine tuners,” shares Pete.
Pete and the rest of the d’Aigle Autoharps team continue to refine their artistry with great enjoyment. So what’s in store for Pete in the future? Will he continue his journey as a shokunin, mastering his craft until he reaches perfection?
“People ask me when I’m going to retire and I say, you know what, maybe I will go retire and do something I love, like build instruments,” says Pete with a chuckle. I guess the moral of this story is that if you really love what you’re doing, you’ll never work another day.
Photography Credit: Arthur Wessel Photography
Learn more about SawGear length stops by TigerStop.