The Founding Fathers

Founded in 1969 by Frank Ford and Richard Johnston

Gryphon began as two guys who wanted to build steel-string guitars. 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 plus years of their partnership, their roles have diverged as the business grew over the decades since. Frank is in charge of the Gryphon’s Repair Dept. and does many of the trickier restorations to mandolins and banjos himself. A majority of the jigs and fixtures used by the repair crew were made in Frank’s machine shop in his home garage. Richard was in charge of the retail end of Gryphon and wrote the Gryphon Gazette, back in the days of mailing newsletters. Today he spends a lot of time writing appraisals and descriptions of vintage instruments for the website. 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, and moderates the FRETS.NET forum, which allows a free exchange of ideas about repairing fretted instruments of all kinds. Richard has written many articles on vintage guitars for Acoustic Guitar magazine and The Fretboard Journal, and still writes a quarterly column for Premier Guitar magazine. In 2008, he 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 and guitar history, including “Inventing the American Guitar.”

In 2007 Richard was invited to join “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS, and has worked the musical instruments table at Roadshow events across the US. When not at the store, Frank is busy in his machine shop producing the popular FRANK’S CRANKS string winders Gryphon ships to enthusiasts all over the world. 

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