Brother to Brother – Gino and Ross Vannelli

The guitar I just started building is truly the most exciting project I have ever done. It’s for someone who is one of the biggest musical influences in my life. To understand this, you need to know a little bit about me.

I have a passion for music. Born into a family of non-musical parents and siblings, I started singing in public at age five with my parents’ urging and support. I spent years studying violin, clarinet and guitar, including jazz guitar with session player Andy Roemer. In college I studied piano with Kathleen Vadala, a gifted pianist and wife of Chris Vadala, woodwind player in the Chuck Mangione Quartet at the time.

Since the age of 14, I have played in duos, ensembles and bands. I have performed on television, radio and in many other venues. I have a song published and a self-produced CD of original music.

Did I mention my eclectic taste in music? Back in high school, family and friends were as likely to hear a Beethoven concerto on my stereo as a jazz standard from Grover Washington Jr. or a 15-minute tone poem by Kansas. My musical interest ranges from Bach to Beatles, Liszt to Led Zeppelin, and Joe Sample to Keb’ Mo’.  I can’t go a week without hearing pieces by David Benoit or Jars of Clay. If the song is great or performed well, I am likely to count it among my pleasures, regardless of genre. My wife and I attend dozens of concerts a year.

One sunny day while I was in college in 1974, I turned the FM tuner to my favorite underground college station in Virginia. I heard a song that had an everlasting impact on my musical life: Powerful People by Gino Vannelli. I grabbed my car keys and rushed down to Korvettes to buy this amazing song, but the record department clerk didn’t know anything about it or the artist. He reluctantly agreed to try to order it. Not finding it listed in his binder of printed pages, he wrote it in on the order form.

In the meantime, the radio station played several more cuts from the album: People Gotta Move and Felicia – both equally fantastic songs. When the album did come in, I played it continuously and for anyone I could get to listen. It became the anthem of my musical family.

Over the years I have seen Gino in concert many times. I have travelled great distances to see his shows. I have also read his book, Stardust in the Sand, twice. I own everything he has ever recorded.

In February 2013, Gino gave a concert at the House of Blues in Orlando. I was lucky enough to get meet-and-greet tickets. I was finally going to get to meet my musical inspiration! I practiced what I was going to say so as not to sound like a crazed fan. My son David suggested that I offer to build him a custom guitar.

The concert was simply incredible. My wife commented (several times) on just how good Gino still looks.

When we were in line to meet him, I rehearsed one last time, and I wrote out a note on my business card. Gino was very cordial, but I had only about a minute for a handshake, picture and to say, “Thank you for giving us decades of outstanding music.” I did not have time to talk about guitars or give him my business card. Nonetheless, the evening was magical and one I will always remember.

After the concert, and at David’s urging, I emailed Gino through his website and told him I would be honored to build him a custom guitar in the hope that he will continue to compose wonderful music.

I truly did not expect to ever hear back from him, but to my surprise, the very next day I received an email from his brother and manager, Ross Vannelli (who wrote Gino’s hit, “I Just Wanna Stop”). Ross told me Gino has a good guitar but it is not really ideal for studio recording; could I build him one for recording?

Over the next several weeks, we discussed the sound, action, appearance and application of a custom, studio guitar, which I am building to Gino’s specifications. He prefers a bright and balanced sound with low action for his finger-style technique.

Based on Gino’s responses, I suggested two guitar shapes and two combinations of wood. To my delight, since Gino lives in the Pacific Northwest, he selected local, domestic woods: Oregon Myrtle for the back and sides and master-grade Sitka Spruce for the top in a Grand Concert model.

And so the adventure begins….


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  • Mike Dockendorf

    Oregon Myrtle is pretty hard stuff…but it’s going to be awesome in your hands. I can’t wait to follow the adventure… please continue to post as it unfolds! Well played.

  • David Routen

    That was a great post and an even better read; I’m so happy (and excited!) that you get to build what is going to be an amazing and beautiful instrument–with the Routen name proudly emblazoned on it–for one of your idols, someone who has been one of the biggest musical influences on you over your entire life. Some of my best memories growing up is hearing you guys sing “I Just Wanna Stop.” Can’t wait to see the guitar start to take shape!

  • Donna

    Great Post!! I was at the House of Blues Concert too!! It was incredible. I too have known about Gino’s talent – since 1977. But, unfortunately I did not invest in music so much until I met my husband about 12 years ago. I reconnected with Gino for one minute in Orlando and sort of blew it, but never mind, I have found his music again. He is still making music- original and brilliant. All of it is new to me and it is amazing how relevant these life experiences that almost everyone has to past through are made in his song and compositions. I also know several luthiers in Western NC and I know how much labor and craft goes into bringing an instrument to life. Gino is fortunate to have you create this great guitar. I anticipate we will hear more and more great works of art because of your gift of talent to Gino.