The Founding Fathers

Gryphon was founded in 1969 by Frank Ford and Richard Johnston. Frank had graduated from UC Santa Barbara a couple of years earlier, and already had some experience building instruments (he was completing his first guitar and had finished his first mandolin). Richard had just graduated from UC Berkeley, and had been buying and selling a few used and vintage Martin guitars to help support his habit of buying instruments he couldn’t afford. Frank played more mandolin than guitar, focusing on old-time string band music and bluegrass. Richard played ragtime and country blues fingerstyle guitar, but later switched to playing string band music on guitar and mandolin, primarily for square dances.

Although both Frank and Richard built and repaired instruments for the first 15 years of their partnership, their roles have diverged as the business grew over the last two decades. Frank is in charge of the Gryphon repair shop and does many of the trickier restorations himself. Richard is more or less in charge of the retail end of Gryphon, ordering instruments, doing appraisals, and writing the house newsletter, the Gryphon Gazette.

But their roles at Gryphon are only part of Frank and Richard’s involvement in the fretted instrument wing of the much larger music industry.

Frank maintains his FRETS.COM website, a vast online encyclopedia of info and photos regarding acoustic fretted instrument maintenance, repair, and restoration. He also teaches repair clinics at various trade schools, such as Roberto Venn in Phoenix, writes guitar repair columns for both Acoustic Guitar magazine and Flatpicking magazine, and moderates the Luthier’s Corner of the Acoustic Guitar online forum.

Richard is a contributing editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine and has written many articles on vintage guitars, guitar woods, and on the experience of choosing an instrument, since that magazine’s inception in 1991. In 2008, Richard completed a two-volume rewrite, with Martin’s Dick Boak, of Mike Longworth’s “Martin Guitars, A History.” He also wrote “Martin Guitars, An Illustrated Celebration” with co-author Jim Washburn, and has contributed chapters to a number of books on guitars, including “Acoustic Guitars, The Illustrated Encyclopedia,” “Vintage Guitars, The Instruments, The Players, The Music,” and “Custom Guitars, A Guide to Contemporary Handcrafted Guitars.”

In 2007 Richard was invited to join the PBS “Antiques Roadshow” staff of appraisers, and has worked the musical instruments table in over a dozen locations. He is currently one of the authors working on a book about C. F. Martin Sr. and the development of the American Guitar, to be published by Hal Leonard in conjunction with an exhibit of early American guitars that will appear at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC in 2013.

Both Frank and Richard contributed to the book “Acoustic Guitar,” which was written for a German publisher for release in that country, then later issued in the original English here in the US. Both Frank and Richard continue to write articles for different publications, such as The Fretboard Journal.