I was born into a family of artisans who specialized in the restoration of historic structures, furniture and artifacts, and like many youngsters of Mediterranean heritage, I became involved in the family craft at an early age. My initial duties included the maintenance and preparation of tools and fixtures, and the constant drudgery of keeping the work areas and benches clean. By the time I was in my teens, I had several years experience working alongside my father and his staff, and was able to handle complicated projects without supervision.
My father was a gifted instrumentalist and singer, and several of our relatives had experience in painting, sculpture and music, so there was plenty of encouragement early on to develop an interest in the creative arts. Gatherings and holiday festivities often included live music performed by family members, and at 10 years old, an uncle gave me a custom made steel string guitar. My father eventually bought me an electric guitar, and I regularly had both instruments on my bench, experimenting with ways to make them easier to play. With my father’s help, I fashioned my own jigs and fixtures to secure the instruments safely while working on them. Dad frequently came home with musical instruments he had acquired in his travels, and we studied them. I accumulated a collection of old discarded or damaged violins, guitars, banjos, mandolins, and some obscure Eastern European stringed instruments in various states of disrepair…so I had a lot to keep me busy, and I had a lot to learn.
Dan Armstrong appeared to be in his late twenties, his long black hair and thick mustache projecting a commanding persona. His shop was located on West 48th Street, in a dilapidated building across the street from Manny’s Music Store. I rode an old, noisy freight elevator to the second floor and found my way to a messy, claustrophobic office space furnished with a worn oak desk and a couple mismatched chairs. An old upright piano, hidden behind a pile of instrument cases sat up against the right wall. Guitars were on display everywhere from the ceiling to the floor. I attempted to trade my Gretsch Chet Atkins Guitar for a Les Paul guitar that was hanging up on one of the walls, and received a curt ‘Nope”. I continued to visit the Armstrong shop at least a couple days a week to check out Dan’s latest acquisitions, and at some point he picked up my guitar, played it, and asked me who did the set up work…I told him that I did. He shook his head in approval, then motioned me into his inner-sanctum, a tiny, narrow work space strewn with parts, tools and equipment. He sat down, wrote something on a piece of scrap paper, and then slipped a couple five dollar bills into one of my coat pockets along with directions to a Deli…I had been anointed the shop gofer, and I was elated. I finally found a 1954 Les Paul Guitar for $95 in Trenton N.J., and a Telecaster for $220 and showed them to Mr. Armstrong, who promptly offered to buy both instruments, but I declined. We disassembled the guitars in order to clean and set them up, and there began my immersion into the design and function of the electric guitar.
I became friendly with one of Dan’s repairmen, Eddie “Fast Eddie” Diehl, who told me about a fellow who was building some very fine archtop instruments in Huntington Long Island. Out of curiosity, I travelled to the man’s shop one day, advising him that Eddie sent me. He introduced himself as James D’Aquisto, and allowed me to spend a few afternoons sitting on a metal stool, watching him carve and shape wood and other materials into instruments. I couldn’t believe that so much preparation and work went into the making of a guitar. Upon arriving home one evening, my mother nervously handed me an envelope. I had been drafted into the Vietnam War.
During my time in the military, I usually had a guitar with me. I met several talented guitarists both in the U.S., and abroad, who after having played my instrument, implored me to work on their guitars to make them play and sound better.
I returned to Manhattan shortly after my discharge from the military and visited Dan Armstrong’s shop which had relocated to Laguardia Place, but would soon be closing. I learned that Eddie Diehl was now working at The Folklore Center, and I stopped in to say hello. Eddie greeted me very warmly, and invited me to come by any time I required assistance with my instrument projects. Eddie Diehl’s humility, his knowledge, and honest, straight talking manner set a profound example for me to follow in dealing with my own clients. I also re-established contact with James D’Aquisto, who encouraged me to visit with him at his new shop in Farmingdale, N.Y. whenever I needed guidance with my work. I am fortunate and blessed to have received mentoring from two very patient human beings. I am also cherish the memory of the late Master Luthier, Phillip Petillo for sharing his tool and supply sources, and offering encouragement during my formative years in the craft.
In 1981, I met, and began working with Rodney “Rod” Schoepfer, a superb craftsman and former associate of guitar designer and builder, Sam Koontz. We performed miracles in Mr. Schoepfer’s Rahway, New Jersey workshop, where the finish work, binding, inlay and fretwork were un-paralleled anywhere in the country. In 1985, I went on to manage the stringed instrument repair facility at Lou-Rose Music Center, in Edison, N.J., where I spent four unforgettable years working with Lou, Rose and Tony Viel. During this time, I became a custom shop and artist endorsement consultant for the Fender, Gibson. Guild, Kramer/Spector and Ovation Guitar Companies. In 1989, motivated by the desire to concentrate on the restoration of vintage instruments, I moved my business back to Woodbridge, New Jersey and re-opened The Fretshop. I continued to serve as a consultant to the Gibson and Fender Guitar Companies, and joined my friend Robert Ruggiero to train production and artist relations staff at the Guild and Kramer/Spector Companies. Several of the major acts we serviced sent their personal instrument technicians to us for advanced training. Bob Ruggiero was a brilliant Luthier, an innovative designer, and a production machinery expert who went on to oversee the artist endorsement functions for both Guild and Kramer/Spector for several years. Together, we serviced many of the top names in the music business, our instrument work appearing on several gold, platinum and Grammy Award winning recordings. We were all saddened by Bob’s death, and he is missed by all who knew him. Even today, it is not uncommon for me to hear our work either on the radio, on an album, or on a movie sound track.
The Fretworks, T/A The Fretshop is located in the beautiful historic district of South Orange New Jersey. I am accepting a limited number of clients per year on an appointment basis only. I maintain an extensive photo portfolio of my work, which is available for review at my shop and on my website.
During the 1980’s, Mr. Goumas and the late Luthier, Robert Ruggiero entered into a long term partnership as technical and training consultants to the Guild, Gibson, Fender, Ovation, Kramer, Spector, Dean, and Evets (Danelectro) Guitar companies. The pairing of the two master craftsmen quickly brought the Fretworks into the limelight of the music industry, and during the next two decades, Goumas and Ruggiero had generated a who’s who clientele of internationally acclaimed performers, including Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), Elliot Easton, Joe Pass, Roberta Flack, Blue Oyster Cult, Kiss, Edward Van Halen, Twisted Sister, Dave Van Ronk, The Drifters, The Platters, The Coasters, Little Anthony, The Marvelettes, The Shirelles, and blues legends, Hubert Sumlin, Otis Rush, Anson Funderburgh, Ronnie Earl, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Jimmy Rogers, Son Seals, Buddy Guy, Bobby Murray (Etta James Band), Rick Holmstrom, J.W. Jones, Monster Mike Welch, Junior Watson, and Latin bassist Erben Perez (Mark Anthony/Jennifer Lopez). Several of these celebrities sent their personal stringed instrument technicians to Goumas and Ruggiero for advanced training. Sadly, Robert Ruggiero passed away and is missed both as a great friend, and a talented guitar builder.