Born in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania on February 5, 1939, Carl Thompson was one of 11 children of a caring and nurturing family. The son of a talented and inventive father whom played guitar as well as working in machining, carpentry and electronics, Carl’s father taught him above all to be a great thinker. The combination of skills Carl’s father possessed led him to build the first electric guitar in the late 30’s, years before anyone else was able to. This combination also helped lead Carl down the path to an accomplished jazz guitarist and eventual luthier.
While very young, Carl was stricken with Rheumatic Fever, resulting in crippling attacks that sometimes lasted over a year. To pass the time, Carl’s parents bought him a ukulele and encouraged him to explore music. It was also during one of these attacks that the family minister would visit and pray for Carl’s health. During one of Carl’s last attacks, the minister prayed “this boy has things to do, and he can’t do them from bed.” Within hours, Carl was up and walking and hasn’t sat back down since.
By the age of 13 Carl was playing guitar while his older brother handled singing duties in a country band. Playing through his high school years, Carl was approached at age 19 with an offer to travel to California and join Billy Ward and the Dominoes. Carl spent several years playing guitar for Billy Ward, until his career was interrupted by the draft. Once in the military, Carl’s reputation earned him the job of Assistant Musical Director and he spent his 2 enlisted years traveling the world and entertaining troops.
Upon his return from duty, Carl’s good friend and studio musician Russell George encouraged him to move to New York. In New York Carl was hired at Dan Armstrong’s guitar shop where he honed his skills repairing and maintaining guitars and basses for top name musicians. After his stint with Dan Armstrong, Carl opened his own shop in the early 1970s. One night Carl was asked to fill in on bass during a friend’s gig and noticed several problems with balance and playability in the basses available at that time. His desire to improve upon those problems led to his impressive career building some of the best and most unique instruments in the world.
During his career Carl has been responsible for many innovations such as the first 6-string bass guitar and the first Piccolo bass. He has built instruments for incredible musicians such as Stanley Clarke and is well known for producing all of Les Claypool’s instruments. He continues to innovate and influence the design and building of instruments to this day.
written by Casey Paquet
Please have a look around to learn more about Carl’s gigs, the shop and friends.