Sal the Restoration Man Story and photography by Christopher Briscoe

Luthier - one who builds or repairs string instruments.

My feet were blistered and aching after two weeks of non-stop walking through the French Quarter. It was the last day of my stay in New Orleans. Salvador Giardina was on my long list of interesting characters to photograph for my book. A street musician known as The Bob Dylan Girl, told me, “One night I was on my bike headed home. My light was out. I got hit. I was okay, but my mandolin broke in half. Sal fixed it for a really good price.”

I’d been wanting to meet Sal for a long time.

I dialed his number, half expecting to be put off and told to call back another time. Instead, Sal listened carefully, as I told him about my book project. He jumped in and said, “Come by any time. I go to lunch between noon and one o’clock.”

covered in a gentle snow of fine Renaissance sawdust.

Twenty minutes later, after a taxi ride up Canal Street into the Metaire, I found his tiny shop. As soon as I stepped through the door, I thought I might be on the set of Storage Wars - but in the 15th century Europe - in a room filled with piles of decaying wooden instruments, waiting to be restored by Sal. Violins, guitars, banjos, bases, ukuleles, even dulcimers were stacked everywhere. A few looked like works of art - others looked as if they'd just been rescued from a garbage can. I had to carefully pick my spot to stand in on a floor sprinkled with wood shavings. I tried to make sense of it all, scanning the walls where more violins, guitars and mandolins hung high above shelves piled with tools, bottles of glues, stains, and violin bows. Every inch of the place was covered in a gentle snow of fine Renaissance sawdust.

Sal greeted me with the warm sandpapered hand of a craftsman. He smiled, standing behind a cluttered counter, working on the bridge of a splintering bass, with the demeanor of a man who loves his work. Sal’s weathered face and long hair reminded me a little of Neil Young, his skin a bit sepia-toned, aging like the rest of the stained orchestra lining the walls. Behind him was a workbench littered with a hodgepodge of tools from his trade mixed in with instrument parts and scraps of wood; all collected during nearly 40 years in business.

I'm an artist. One thing I'm not is neat. You can shoot as many photos as you like, but I gotta just keep working. I get so far behind try'n to get this stuff out."

A boiled-over, gooey can of blackened glue sat on top of a rusting hotplate.

I never know.

Sal grinned and confessed, "I'm an artist. One thing I'm not is neat. You can shoot as many photos as you like, but I gotta just keep working. I get so far behind try'n to get this stuff out. Customers come in and yell at me, ‘You know how long you’ve had my instrument?! When is it going to be finished?!’ I just tell ’em, ‘It will be done when it’s done.’" Then he shrugs, "I never know."

Sal paused, his hands struggled with a large bass, trying to wedge its bridge into place. "I don’t own this shop. I don’t run it. It runs me.”

Created By
Christopher Briscoe
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All photos copyrighted by Christopher Briscoe 2016

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