(Angela Christensen | Photo by RA Beattie)
Angela Christensen & the Acoustic Guitar
After nearly 20 years, the chief designer is, in many ways, the walking philosophy of Breedlove. From a young age, Angela Christensen knew she wanted her life to revolve around music. She just wasn’t sure how.
Galvanized by the vision of a guitar at a YMCA campfire, she felt the pull we are all familiar with, barely hearing the refrain of It Only Takes a Spark as she gazed at the magical musical box.
Christensen sang. The whole family sang. But she never took to playing. Not the guitar, the alto sax or the piano — all of which she fiddled with (and the fiddle, too). She didn’t feel the knack. Instead, she eventually realized, her calling was to make the guitars — to put them in the hands of those who did feel the knack and then to stand back and fall into awe again as the music flowed over her.
She is now a key part of the Breedlove team, in charge of product development and wood management for Two Old Hippies Stringed Instruments.
A Scottsdale native, following studies in fine arts at Arizona State University, Christensen found herself in Bend in 2002, drawn by the open air and quality of life.
On a whim, she headed over and applied at the Breedlove workshop. “I just showed up unannounced with my portfolio and happened to get hired on the spot. There was an opening in the parts department, handling all the raw wood — basically starting the build process. That’s how I began.”
Breedlove’s first production instrument was barely a decade old when Christensen arrived, and the company, then under the direction of Kim Breedlove, was still growing. Christensen was fairly swept into an old school guild system, learning by listening, learning by looking and learning by doing. Do she did, spending time at nearly every station.
In Kim Breedlove, she found a mentor — passing, over time, from plebe to peer. That apprenticeship provided the foundation for her long tenure. “Kim trained me on pretty much everything. It was watch what I do, watch how I work, then ask questions. He was such an artist, and I connected with him in that sense. Anything he put his mind to, there was a passion there, a connection to his soul.”
The duo shared a particular fondness for the art of inlay — ironic in that both prefer the simple beauty of relatively unadorned instruments. Breedlove, an artisan who began his career in the elaborate world of the banjo —with its long history of decoration —cut abalone by hand, trimmed exotic wood bindings under bright lights and dreamed up impossible visual creations that echoed throughout entire instruments.
Christensen was similarly adroit. She’d already been smithing her own jewelry, and her facility and familiarity with many kinds of wood was impressive — when she first landed in Bend, she assumed she’d work at a high end cabinet shop, as she had in college.
Her personal favorite from her days running the inlay department was a custom build for a French father and son. “It was a CM body shape and they wanted to have a Creeping myrtle inlay done all along the fretboard, going up the head stock and down into the rosette. It had meaning to them, so they commissioned us to design, really, an art piece. It was such a special project for me that I keep a photo of it framed in my office. I hand cut everything, and it was the longest hands-on inlay I’ve ever done, about 76 hours.
“I love working with our customers in designing those special builds. You can see the spark in their eye when they find the wood set that speaks to them, and you can help guide them through putting all the pieces together.”
While Breedlove’s favorite mode was sitting quietly focused at his workbench, he also ran the shop, tightening production, as he had for banjo maker Geoff Stelling.
Similarly, Christensen had an eye for blending business and art. “I’m always seeking challenges,” she says. “It’s part of my personality. I’m curious about things, and there were so many aspects of guitar making I was fascinated by, and not just as an artist. I’m interested in the business side of things, too. I’ve been able to do so much with Breedlove — I’m grateful for that.”
While she rarely has the opportunity these days to do the decorative artwork so dear to her soul, she has taken on broader, more important roles. Christensen is involved with every aspect of wood management for Two Old Hippies, and, in many ways, she has become the walking philosophy of Breedlove guitars.
Christensen sources the sustainable natural materials used in Bend, and administers the Tonewood Certification Program, which can literally trace, transparently, the tree that birthed, for example, your Made in Bend Legacy Concert CE, telling you where it was grown, and how it was individually, sustainably harvested. Christensen, like owner Tom Bedell, has traveled to the forest to ensure best practices and to witness how the sustainable methods employed by Breedlove help preserve habitat, protect wildlife and foster community.
As chief designer, Christensen also determines which top, back and side combinations will yield the most beautiful, sonically enchanting instruments. “What makes a Breedlove guitar so special?” she asks. “I would say, number one, the wood. The care that goes into that part of our story is paramount. The Sound Optimization process — the way we choose and understand each wood set and its characteristics, and how we hand tune it — is unique as well. All those little details are tended to. There’s not one step that gets looked over or left behind.
“There’s so much love and care that goes into each instrument to produce the best sounding and playing guitar you can get. That’s why we call it the Breedlove Difference.”