Linda Manzer, who during her long career has built guitars for some of the world’s leading musicians, was appointed on December 28 by Governor General Mary Simon to the Order of Canada for “her trailblazing contributions and achievements as one of the world’s leading luthiers.” The Order recognizes people “who have made extraordinary and sustained contributions” to the nation.
She joins several other local residents who have been named to the Order over the years.
When she received the call from the Governor General’s office about a month ago, Linda told the Millstone, she first thought it must be a friend pranking her. But the voice wasn’t familiar and sounded quite serious. She quickly realized this was for real. She told the Millstone that it has taken time to react to the news. She said she is hugely honoured and humbled.
She said her first reaction was to want to “go into the backyard and shout it to the world,” but she confined the news to a tight circle of friends and family whom she was permitted to tell.
Her friends and family have always been good at keeping secrets, and they didn’t leak the news. Her four siblings are very happy but her brother did say that if her mother were still alive, she would tell her not to “let it go to her head”.
Linda’s passion for luthiery was sparked in the early 1970s after seeing Joni Mitchell play a three-stringed Appalachian dulcimer in a concert, which intrigued her. Unable to afford music store prices for one, she followed a sales clerk’s suggestion that she build her own from a kit. From then on she was hooked. She went to art school and apprenticed for several years with two leading luthiers, then went into business for herself.
She has since built guitars for performers including Carlos Santana, Liona Boyd, Bruce Cockburn, Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot. She has built many instruments for jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, including the Pikasso, which has 42 strings and four necks.
In 2012 Linda launched the ‘Group of Seven Guitar Project’, which saw her and fellow luthiers create guitars honouring the landscape painters who began Canada’s first national art movement. An eighth guitar commemorated Tom Thomson, who died before the Group was established. The prestigious McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg commissioned the project and staged a gala exhibit of the finished guitars in 2017.
As part of the exhibit, local musicians Kathryn Briggs and Terry Tufts performed in the premiere of Sonic Palette – Tom Thomson’s Voice through Music 100 Years Later. Terry played “The Manzer Palette”, a 51-stringed multi-necked guitar created by Linda for the event.
After the outbreak of war in 2022, Linda founded the ‘Sunflower Guitar for Ukraine’ project, building a special Ukraine-themed guitar to inspire people to donate to much-needed humanitarian relief there.
Musicians — including major names like Dolly Parton, James Taylor, Graham Nash and Peter Frampton — have taken up the cause by appearing in videos where they play the guitar, sign its blue and yellow case, and encourage their fans to donate. So far nearly $200,000 has been raised.
After working from Toronto for many years, Linda relocated to Almonte about 15 years ago. “I started visiting almost 20 years ago and fell in love with the beautiful town and the wonderful community. So I decided to settle here,” she said.
The Governor General’s office asked Linda where she wanted to say she was from, as she still splits her time between Toronto and Almonte. She told them Almonte, because that is where her heart is.