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Milwaukee's Internationally-Acclaimed Luthier Continues His Craft


It’s been 30 years since Denny Rauen set up shop, first in the Chicago-area and then in the Milwaukee's Riverwest. Since then, he’s become an internationally-acclaimed luthier.

Rauen began as a designer and production manager for two guitar manufacturers in the Chicago Area. Although running the factory and designing guitars was interesting work, he soon realized it didn’t appeal to him as much as did restoration, repairing and custom building - often inventing the thing he needed to make the instrument sound the way it should.

Rauen says that in manufacturing, much of what was lacking was the disconnect between the production process and the players. That's a connection that is fostered in his shop. The relationship between himself, the instrument, and the player is essential.  

Rauen is a self-taught luthier, or a person who makes, repairs, and restores guitars and other stringed instruments. He learned from books and experience, continuing a craft that has been around for hundreds of years. Traditionally, the luthier craft was learned through apprenticeship and Rauen has continued that tradition today, most recently with Matt Riebe.

He's passed on his knowledge in other ways too. In the late 1970’s Rauen released an article detailing the compound radius; a pivotal adaptation to the guitar, which keeps the action really low while strings are bent. He says he decided to share it because “it is so important in the music industry.” By sharing something he could have patented, Rauen gave back to a community he cherishes.


Currently, there is resurgence of interest in learning instruments and more specifically a growing enthusiasm for acoustic instruments. Rauen has witnessed more and more people wanting to play a musical instrument, and he's happy to help them by making sure their instruments are tuned up and playing at their best.

Rauen says there is a deep connection people have to music and that musicians have to their instruments. And it's a magic that all of Rauen’s work supports.

Denny Rauen is celebrating his 30 years of Denny Rauen's Guitars, which is found at 2473 N. Weil Street, Milwaukee, WI 53212.

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.