When local musicians’ guitars get battered and bruised, many bring them to a small, yellow-painted house sitting on Denton’s Elm Street. There, 62-year-old Gregory Lange pumps life back into stringed instruments. He’s a luthier — one who fixes and fashions pieces such as guitars and violins.
One might call Lange a guitar doctor, though he repairs almost anything stringed — basses, banjos, mandolins and even concoctions such as banjolins. He heals musical devices, something he’s done for almost 25 years.
Since 1999, Lange has run Little D Guitars, previously located on Downtown Square, where he troubleshoots problems with instruments. He works from home, using a small, cyan-colored room as a workshop and living room for retail space, where he keeps various guitar and orchestral models displayed. He sells guitars on the side, though he’s more skilled in restoring them.
“When you’re working on guitars, there’s a lot of problem-solving because each instrument is unique unto itself,” Lange says. “And that’s what attracted me to it. I like the problem-solving aspect.”
Tools and spare parts are in every reach of his workshop. An Epiphone acoustic sits on a countertop. The piece is not an expensive model, but one with enough sentimental value from a client who brought it to Lange for touch-ups.
Hollow guitar bodies and loose necks hang on walls above. Lange often sports a black, crocheted cap, and underneath it, the dreadlocks he’s had since 1979. After he finishes gluing a seam on the Epiphone, he grabs and places a black 2004 Fender Telecaster with a granite-red pick guard in its place. A local singer dropped the model off for a new setup. Lange removes the guitar’s old worn-out strings and winds six new ones. He plugs the Telecaster into a small shoebox-sized amp sitting on a shelf and plays a chromatic scale.
How the piece sounds after a job is most important, he says, among other factors that complete a service. But years before Lange started mending guitars at Little D, he trained under the tutelage of a master luthier.
Originally from Michigan, Lange moved to North Dallas as a child after his father took a job offer. For his 11th birthday, he received a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog guitar, which he strummed like Pete Townshend.
When Lange grew older, he moved to Denton to study sculpture at the University of North Texas, where he graduated cum laude. After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts, he received a scholarship to study art in New York City. There, he tried to establish himself as an artist but discovered how rough the art world can be. To support himself in the Big Apple, he took up work as a carpenter, restoring old buildings in Brooklyn.
Feeling a bit defeated, Lange moved back to North Texas in the late ’80s and continued carpentry work. Soon after, he met Cristopher Savino, who at the time, was one of the most well-known luthiers in Denton.
“He was a guitar maker who lived down on the Square,” Lange says. “Back then, he was like the guy. He was the only one in town who did this kind of stuff on the guitar. So, everyone went to him to get their repairs done.”
Lange and Savino shared a two-story rent house. Savino lived upstairs and Lange occupied the first floor. The two became friends and briefly jammed together in a band called Midnight Twisters. Around the time, Savino opened a repair shop on the Square but wanted to focus on building his own guitar models, though he needed help fulfilling services. Lange wanted to assist, but more so, desired to learn the trade.
“I’ve been a woodworker since I was a kid, so I had the skill,” Lange says. “I just didn’t know how to apply it. And so (Savino) said, ‘Yeah, OK, I’ll help you out,’ so he helped me with a couple of projects so I could maintain my own gear. A couple of months later, he called me up and offered me a job because he was turning away so much business.”
Savino, who worked in a Cleveland violin shop when he was young, told him if he desired to be a luthier, he would have to immerse himself in the craft. As he was familiar with Lange’s sharp woodwork abilities, Savino didn’t hesitate to make him an apprentice.
“The cool thing about that education is, when you’re working with a master like that, there’s so much information you cannot get from school than you get from someone who’s been doing it almost their whole life,” Lange says.
For five years, he worked in Savino’s shop, where he honed technical skills and learned the business aspects of the trade. But Savino doesn't take all the credit for Lange's mastery.
“I wouldn’t say that everything (Gregory) knows about luthiery came from me,” Savino says. “Really, the skill comes from assessing situations, problem-solving and coming up with a way that works for you. He’s really done that. When he came in, I showed him the basics of guitar work — how to do fret work and basic repairing of broken things. But he had his own mind and did not need a lot of tutoring.”
In the early 2000s, Savino moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he makes award-winning violin-family instruments. A couple of years before he left, he encouraged Lange to launch a solo gig. And 20 years later, Little D Guitars serves as a culminating point for Lange’s creativity and the unique craftsmanship he learned from Savino.
“I can’t tell you how much I admire and love Chris, because really, that was an opportunity that changed my life,” Lange says. “I wanted to do something more creative with my talents, and I tried being an artist and that’s too hard a road. After I moved back to Texas, I had to find other things to do. And so, that was just the greatest opportunity, and it just fell in my lap. It really was life-changing.”