“As a young (bass) luthier, I thought I was going to make all of these innovative changes. You see people doing it all the time: they change (instruments) sporadically. It doesn’t work. If you’re going to make it different, (the instrument) still has to work,” says Gael McKeon.
McKeon, originally from New York City, has been a double bass luthier since 1998. He’s since worked and studied in New York, North Carolina, San Francisco, and Toulouse, France, before moving to Maine. In his workshop on the third floor of the State Theater building on Congress Street, McKeon repairs and restores traditional instruments while designing his own.
“Humidity and temperature control is essential. I’m ruined without that,” says McKeon of his tidy but cramped space, one wall dominated by views of Congress Street below. McKeon describes his shop as the ‘second best’ space he’s ever had. “I’m here mostly because of the windows,” he says. “It’s just big enough so that I can manage the amount of repairs that I can handle. If I had less space, I would have to tell people to hold on to their instruments while I finished other things. Here, I can juggle a little bit, and I can have adequate machinery.”
McKeon also builds his own instruments. He describes his approach as conventional, using traditional proportions, but with his own departures of design inspired by classic and modern forms. One bass on display in his shop sat broken for 12 years before he restored it with a paper fingerboard and a custom scroll that he first sketched in 1998. “I’ve added some innovations,” says McKeon, “but there are technical reasons for its aesthetics.”
Creating Spaces is a project that explores the connection between Maine artists and craftsmen and their physical workspaces-—places that are often hallowed grounds of creativity and solitude, far from the public eye or the gallery.