Meet Our Guitar Tech: John Saba

North America’s Most Experienced Gypsy Jazz Guitar Tech

Twenty-three years ago I walked into Dusty Strings music store in Seattle and purchased my first Gypsy guitar. After decades of trying to play Gypsy jazz on flatops and archtops, I was thrilled to finally own “the real thing!” But what made the experience all the better, was the precise setup work done by Dusty String’s head tech, John Saba. John expertly adjusted my instrument for optimal sound and playability and he’s been working on my guitars ever since.

When I started DjangoBooks around five years later, I hired John to do the setup and repair work on all of our handmade and vintage instruments. With the untimely passing of our other highly skilled tech, Josh Hegg, John has now taken on the responsibility of doing all of our setup work, from the least expensive Asian imports to the most precious vintage pieces.

While John can fix just about any kind of fretted instrument you could imagine, he has earned a special place in North American lutherie circles for his deep knowledge Gypsy jazz guitars. In the 1990s, Seattle had the largest concentration of Gypsy jazz players and guitars anywhere in North America, and John quickly became the “go to” guy for all things Gypsy jazz. John had the unique and hugely educational experience of working on the large number of prestigious vintage instruments that reside in the Seattle area, including countless Selmers, Favinos, and Busatos. John quickly became the most sought after repairmen of Gypsy jazz guitars in North America, with customers ranging from local legends like Neil Andersson to top tier French pros like Boulou Ferre.

It goes without saying, your guitar will be in excellent hands with John. His depth of experience and attention to detail is unparalleled in the world of Gypsy jazz, insuring that your instrument will always arrive playing and sounding its best.

Luthier to the Stars

John’s client list reads like a whose who of the guitar world. These are just some of the illustrious guitarists who have sought out John’s services over the years:

Kurt Cobain
Kenny Burrell
Bill Frisell
Kevin Eubanks
Pierre Bensusan
Bela Fleck
Andre Feriante
Jeff Fielder (Amy Ray, Mark Lanigan, etc.)
Mark Arm (Mudhoney)
Steve Turner (Mudhoney)
Brandi Carlile
Tim Hanseroth (Brandi Carlile)
Towns VanZandt
Danny O’Keefe
Michael Thomlinson
Neil Andersson
Greg Ruby
Barry Pollock
Michael Powers
Ace Frehley

In His Own Words

In 1976 I began doing stringed instrument repairs at Hoffman Music Company in Spokane Washington. It was a store that opened very early in the twentieth century and is still open today. Because of its history, it was a hub for all kinds of players and musical styles. I had practically endless opportunities to interact with musicians playing many styles of music and to gain experience in most aspects of adjusting instruments to sound and play their best. What started there has continued to this day. I’ve been a part of Music World which started in Spokane and ended up with stores in Seattle, Bellevue, and Tacoma. Next, I worked at Stephens Stringed Instruments in Seattle and have finally ended up at Dusty Strings Company in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle where I have just begun my 25th year.

Dusty Strings is another hub for the music community and has a focus on acoustic music. This is where I first met Michael Horowitz and I helped him keep his instruments playing well and developed a relationship with him that has continued over the last twenty plus years.

My first exposure to Gypsy guitar happened early in my time at Dusty Strings when the guitarist Boulou Ferre visited the store and fell in love with a Dell’Arte. He wanted the instrument, but it required many adjustments to suit his style, so it was arranged for me to work with him well into the night to get things just right. That was a tremendous learning experience which helped me gain some understanding of how these guitars were meant to work. Over time I met other players like Neil Andersson, Greg Ruby, Ron Peters, and Ron Fitzgerald to name a few and continued getting a better feel for and connection to the players, the music, and the instruments.

I have been working on instruments for Michael Horowitz at DjangoBooks the whole time it’s been in existence and over the last few years have been able to set up pretty much all the instruments they have sold, both new and used. Doing that work has allowed me to expand my understanding of these beautiful instruments and the music made with them and I expect to continue that journey for a long time to come.

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