As an undergraduate student in a band at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, I figured the only way I’d get my hands on a five-string fretless bass was to build one. So I figured that with a deep love and appreciation for both music and woodworking—I had been playing music since I was a little kid and my great-grandfather was a master carpenter—a lutherie project was the next logical step, and I had to have a fretless bass. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. And, as the Mothers of Invention say, “I ate a hot dog, it tasted real good.”

…and so goes the auspicious beginnings of AO Guitars

My first repair job as a kid growing up in W. Simsbury, CT was a 1968 Guild F30 rescued from a dumpster by my middle school woodworking teacher. The neck had broken away from the body, but with some help, my teacher and I successfully whipped the guitar into playable shape, and I still play it today. Throughout high school and into college, I never shied away from doing my own repairs. Put simply, I love working on guitars.

During my time at Skidmore, a part-time job at Saratoga Guitar gave me a chance to hone my repair skills and knowledge of new and vintage stringed instruments coming through the shop. I was able to work on everything from ‘50s era Martins and ‘70s Strats to doing setups on new Larrivees and Godins—it was a wonderful learning experience. But it was the creation of my five-string fretless bass that really gave me a glimpse of the possibilities offered by a beginning-to-end building process, in addition to being the early stages of my new-found love for woodworking. The idea of fully customizing an instrument—from the neck size to the finish, and from the body shape to the wood used in the construction totally intrigued me.

Andrew carving the neck of a replica of Garcia's "Wolf".

Now as if working at the local guitar shop wasn’t enough to keep my guitar addiction at bay, my fellow bandmate and I set up our first workshop in the kitchen of our rented duplex in the summer of ’97. We both started our first instruments here—he took to carving plates for an F-5 mandolin while I started the fretless bass. Among a few repair projects for Saratoga Guitar, we also proceeded to totally dismantle and strip the finish from our respective first childhood electric guitars, with the idea that we would “customize” and refinish them. (For the record, both guitars are still in pieces. The bass and the mandolin however, did get finished).

A lunch with an old high school friend in the winter of 1999 yielded a chance for me to launch a project that had always piqued my interest: a re-creation of a Gibson F-5 Mandolin. He told me that he wanted to buy one–I told him that I wanted to build one. Enough said…I spent roughly two years on it—during which time I graduated from Skidmore (BA, Music) in ’00 and moved twice. While he was anxiously awaiting the mando, I satisfied his Instrument Acquisition Syndrome (IAS, a very serious disease) by building him The FuCaster: a Thinline Tele with a Quilted Maple top on Swamp Ash, and a Birdseye Maple neck with Brazilian Rosewood fingerboard. I finally presented my buddy with the mando (dubbed The Mango) at the ’02 Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Ancramdale, NY, where he was overjoyed to retire a dilapidated Kentucky F-5 that I had lent him.

Two weeks out of college I found employment with Spector Basses in Saugerties, NY where I was one of four in the shop. I spent the next two years experiencing the methods of a small scale/high output production shop under the tutelage of Jim Quick and Jon Freid. I jumped right into building professional-quality, high-end neck-thru and bolt-on basses, including a number for well-known recording and touring musicians. My job focused mostly on building the neck-thrus and the inlay work, as well as the finishing work on the bolt-on models. I was also the primary assembly, setup and test-drive guy—in short, the last set of hands before it reached the customer.

After Spector, I was privileged enough to join Michael Tobias at his MTD shop in Kingston, NY, where some of the world’s finest basses are built. Working with Michael, a thirty-plus year veteran of the trade and impetus behind the electric bass as we know it today, I was able to draw on his knowledge and experience to further my woodworking skills, getting deeper into instrument craftsmanship and design, while also learning how to effectively run a small shop. I can honestly say that I learned more from Michael in those two years than I have in any other time in my life—it was truly an unforgettable experience.

After five years of designing and building prototypes of my own guitars (while working between Spector and MTD), AO Guitars—which started as Olson WoodWorks—was officially started in my home in "The Gunks" of Gardiner, NY, where the first 27 custom guitars were built. The NY shop closed up in February of 2005 and I moved to Freeport, ME where the shop began in the unfinished basement of our home. In the spring of 2006, we broke ground on the timber-frame barn that would house the new AO Guitars.

Andrew at AO Headquarters in Freeport, ME.

Here at my shop, I am currently focused primarily on electric guitars and the tonal capabilities of wood selection in their construction, which I find fascinating. I am also becoming increasingly enthralled with acoustic construction, in forms of both F-style mandos and flattop steel string guitars, and ultimately look forward to building archtop jazz guitars.

I am very excited about the instruments coming out of my shop, and I feel that my enthusiasm is audibly and visually apparent in every one that I build, which is why I call these guitars “The Handmade Tone.” My ambition is to produce the finest sounding guitars to the best of my ability--with the aspiration that my designs and execution create musical pieces of art. A relative recently commented that these guitars are “Art at Play,” which I find to be the perfect way to describe what I strive for.

Thank you for checking out the site and for reading about how I fell in love with the art of building guitars. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions that you have about my instruments, as I'm always up for talking about guitars.

I truly look forward to the opportunity of working with you,

Venus 1998-2010
In Loving Memory The greatest friend/employee/shop-dog a guy could ask for. These guitars were named after her so she’d be a part of every one.