September 20, 2017
Arts & Entertainment
83° Scattered Clouds
  • Ed Sparks has made 12 instruments including the Falcon 12 guitar and the Lily, a six-string guitar that he named after his granddaughter.
    Ed Sparks has made 12 instruments including the Falcon 12 guitar and the Lily, a six-string guitar that he named after his granddaughter.
  • On July 12, Ed Sparks will explain how he makes his custom guitars during a presentation suited for musicians, woodworkers and everyone in between.
    On July 12, Ed Sparks will explain how he makes his custom guitars during a presentation suited for musicians, woodworkers and everyone in between.
  • Edward Sparks will showcase his guitar-making techniques at the Broadneck Library on July 12.
    Edward Sparks will showcase his guitar-making techniques at the Broadneck Library on July 12.
  • Some of Sparks’ miniature guitars are on display in Martin Guitar Company’s museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, while others have found their way to Don Everly and Emmylou Harris.
    Some of Sparks’ miniature guitars are on display in Martin Guitar Company’s museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, while others have found their way to Don Everly and Emmylou Harris.
  • Some of Sparks’ miniature guitars are on display in Martin Guitar Company’s museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, while others have found their way to Don Everly and Emmylou Harris.
    Some of Sparks’ miniature guitars are on display in Martin Guitar Company’s museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, while others have found their way to Don Everly and Emmylou Harris.

Edward Sparks To Bring Knowledge And Guitars To Broadneck Library

Zach Sparks
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View Bio
June 28, 2017

Eddie Van Halen could make his guitar wail and dive-bomb. Jimi Hendrix enveloped his tone in fuzz and twang. With his fingers, Randy Rhoads raced down the fretboard with distorted fury.

To emulate these and other iconic sounds made famous by legendary guitarists, musicians often purchase custom guitars. But Glen Burnie resident Edward Sparks doesn’t need to buy guitars to achieve a particular tone; he makes his own.

“I don’t make them to sell. I only make them for myself,” said Sparks, who has made guitars and played live shows for 37 years. “That way, I can design anything I want.”

Sparks will showcase his custom guitars, big and small, at Broadneck Library on July 12 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. There, library visitors can also learn about his path to becoming a luthier whose work was featured in a 2013 edition of Premier Guitar.

Beatlemania And The Oxbow Inn

Like many other Baby Boomers, Sparks was drawn to the realm of performance after watching the Beatles – with their mop-top haircuts and Chesterfield suits – on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. Later, Sparks became enamored of Cat Stevens and James Taylor.

“They would just get up and play with a guitar, not with a band, and I thought, ‘I can just get up and play,’” Sparks recalled. “‘I don’t need a band.’”

But eventually, he did find a band. For about 12 years starting in 1978, he performed at the Oxbow Inn in Arnold as part of the group Free Flight. Mother’s Peninsula Grille occupies that spot now, but Sparks still plays “‘70s classic rock in an acoustic format” around town as a solo act and with some former Free Flight members – sometimes as Sparks & McCoy, a duo with Arnold resident Steve McCoy, and sometimes adding Patrick Raymond as a trio called Sparks, Raymond & McCoy.

Shows are determined by each member’s availability, but as Sparks explained, the name was inspired by Crosby, Stills & Nash whose members are recognizable whether they’re performing alone or not.

“We sing a lot of harmony stuff,” Sparks said. “Not one of us is singing lead, which keeps it interesting because most bands, you have one person singing the whole time.”

McCoy attributed their longstanding collaboration to their friendship and mutual love of music. “Even though Ed is several years older than me, we grew up with much the same musical tastes and have a deep love of acoustic rock and folk music,” McCoy said. “Our playing and vocal styles mesh very well, resulting in a nice blend that has kept us going for these three decades. We continue to expand our repertoire with new songs, or new arrangements of old songs, to keep it all fresh and exciting.”

While gigging has consumed much of Sparks’ free time, so has another hobby.

Building With The Basics

Sparks crafted his first instrument, an electric bass, in 1980. He and his bandmate felt that a bass would add another dimension to their sound. For that first instrument, Sparks didn’t have to build the body or the neck, but he did just about everything else.

“Prior to the ‘80s, there was no such thing as kits,” Sparks said. “You either bought a guitar or you didn’t.”

Sparks befriended renowned guitar-maker Paul Reed Smith, years before Smith built his business empire. Smith had some sage advice for Sparks.

“I wanted an electric 12-string really bad and the only ones were really expensive,” Sparks explained. “[Smith] said, ‘Why don’t you just buy your own? Just get the wood, get the book. If you run into any trouble, I’ll fix it.’”

Sparks embarked on the new challenge with Melvyn Hiscock’s book “Make Your Own Electric Guitar,” taking the chapters one at a time so that he didn’t get intimidated by the process.

In 1987, Sparks built the Falcon 12 electric 12-string guitar, similar to the one played by George Harrison of the Beatles. Also among his works is the Lily, a six-string named after his granddaughter. “I owned a vintage Gibson Les Paul, but I was looking for a sound similar to a Fender Telecaster,” Sparks explained.

Completed in 2011, the Lily has many of his signature additions: his last name inlaid into the headstock, and a built-in tuner with a battery under the tailpiece cover, which is affixed with a 2011 penny to signify his granddaughter’s year of birth. It also has an ebony fretboard and gold-plated hardware. Sparks is now working on his 10th instrument, a semi-hollow fretless bass, the TRS II.

When he’s not working on full-size playable guitars, he creates miniatures. Some of them are now in Martin Guitar Company’s museum in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, while others have found their way to renowned musicians like Don Everly of the Everly Brothers and Emmylou Harris.

Bringing Resources To Broadneck

Sparks did his first presentation at Severna Park Library in March. He started with a nine-minute video of making the Lily guitar. From there, he fielded questions and allowed people to look at but not touch his guitars, only because they are irreplaceable.

Librarian Andy Wolverton said the Severna Park event drew “mostly adults in their 40s” but also teenagers and younger kids, musicians and woodworkers.

“I always want to try to bring in people who don’t normally come to the library, trying to dispel two myths: that one, all we have at the library are books, and that two, the library is only for kids and senior adults,” said Wolverton. “ … Getting back to Ed, I think he has a great program and hope it finds a wide audience.”

Sparks said that the audience from the first event asked the following questions: Why do you do this? Why didn’t you buy one? Why does the guitar have so many switches and knobs? How long does it take to make a guitar?

“It takes me a lot longer because 90 percent of what I do is by hand, not made in a factory,” Sparks told the crowd.

He also talked about the different woods and their purpose. “I talked about how the ebony on the fingerboard is from Africa, the mahogany and maple is from the U.S.,” he said. “Why would you need a 12-string guitar or a six-string guitar? I demoed them. I passed around scraps of mother pearl and abalone so they could see what it looked like originally.”

McCoy expressed that people can learn plenty from Sparks whether they are picking his brain about guitar styles, construction or what McCoy considers Sparks’ greatest asset: his wide range of playing styles.

“He can play some very solid flat-picking rhythm guitar on one song, then switch over to a softer finger-picking style, and finally pick up the bass guitar and lay down a pretty tight bottom end,” McCoy said.

Between Events

While music lovers can catch Sparks on July 12, they might also see him around town. Performing almost every weekend, Sparks occasionally plays banjo, harmonica, bass and mandolin. Fans of ‘70s rock can catch Sparks & McCoy at Romilo’s Restaurant and Bar in Severna Park, or solo at Luke’s Grille in Stevensville and the Maryland Wine Bar in Berlin. Sparks, Raymond & McCoy congregates a few times a year, most notably for Homestead Gardens’ annual Fall Festival in Davidsonville.

Sparks doesn’t plan to stop making guitars anytime soon, nor does he plan to make a profit. “It’s more fun when you know you’re going to do it for yourself,” he said.


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