If a broken instrument has strings, there’s a good chance “the music doctor” can fix it.
Dow Ferguson, who turns 80 in June, has been repairing and rebuilding guitars for nearly 60 years, and he also services violins, ukuleles, violas, string basses, cellos, mandolins and banjos.
Dow is a luthier, a craftsperson who builds or repairs string instruments that have a neck and a sound box.
“If it has a string, I can fix it,” he said with a grin. “I’ve been doing this a very long time.”
Dow’s association with musical instruments started in grade school, and over the years his interest hasn’t wavered a bit.
“I picked up my first instrument when I was 8,” he said with a wide smile. “It was an accordion. Back in those days, accordion schools would go door-to-door to sign up students. My mom thought I would like it, so I signed up.”
Dow stuck with that accordion for about three years, but he switched to drums after he discovered the school band.
“I played drums from fifth grade through high school — the bass drum during marching season, the timpani in concert band and several other percussion instruments,” he said.
Soon after graduating, Dow discovered the love of his life — the guitar. It was a relationship he never relinquished.
“I got my first guitar when I was 20 years old,” he said. “It was a cheap guitar, and really it was unplayable. So, I took it apart, changed out some parts, and refinished it. It still was a cheap guitar, but it had a much nicer sound.”
Dow’s second guitar?
“It wasn’t much better than my first one,” he laughed. “It was a 12-string from Mexico, and I fixed it up. From then on, I’ve always been working on one instrument or another.”
Although he was born in Fontana, Calif., Dow had ties to the Temple area long before moving here.
“My dad was stationed at Fort Hood, and when he was there he met a young lady from Lott,” he said. “She became my mother. And, my grandparents lived over in Crawford. I visited Central Texas, and I liked it.”
After his college years at Fresno State, Dow joined the Army and was assigned to a Naval base in Virginia.
“I decided I wanted to teach music, and the Army didn’t have a dedicated place to send its musicians,” he said. “Neither did the Air Force at the time. I was assigned to Little Creek Naval Base — they trained Navy SEALS and musicians, an odd combination. While I was there, I began teaching guitar lessons at a store in Virginia that had three locations. I would haul guitars from one place to another, and teach students as well.”
After years of working at music stores in California and Virginia, Dow eventually returned to Central Texas and lived in Belton. He had a small shop on 13th Avenue called The Lutherie, which roughly means “big mandolin,” he said. “In the middle ages, lutheries were used primarily to play belly-dancer music.”
In March, Dow moved a few miles north to Temple and he now resides and works in the historic Garden District.
“I mostly work on guitars, but I also repair other string instruments,” he said.
“I get a lot of ‘mad girlfriend guitars.’ That’s when a couple gets into a fight and the girlfriend smashes her boyfriend’s guitar. Then, of course, one of them comes in and wants me to fix it.”
Over the years, Dow has repaired and rebuilt thousands of instruments, and that number will grow in the near future.
“A professor at Texas A&M contacted me, and he has more than 400 instruments that need various repairs,” Dow said. “He’s going to supply some of the instruments to the Temple VA for disabled soldiers who live there to check out and play. A lot of the guitars and violins are in pretty bad shape — some are missing parts.”
Mike “Texas” Bell, an Austin-area rock ‘n’ roll and blues guitarist who got his nickname from colleagues in Florida during the early 1990s, started having Dow work on his guitars in 2016.
“I moved to Temple for hip-replacement surgery at the VA,” Bell said. “About a year, six guitars and 15 to 20 guitar repairs later, I relocated to the Austin area. I have a guitar addiction, I admit. I’ve bought three just in the last two months.”
“I still take my guitars to Dow, even though it’s a good 150-mile round trip,” he said. “Every guitar I acquire needs some type of work. That means I make a lot of trips to Temple.”
A lot of times I hang around long enough for the repair to take place so I don’t have to make two round-trips. In a few cases, Dow has met me halfway in Georgetown for the drop-off or pick-up. We have become friends, so we usually take time for lunch.”
Bell said he continues to use Dow’s services for three reasons.
“First, he is the best,” Bell said. “He can do anything to a guitar that needs to be done. Second, he doesn’t charge as much as repair people in Austin, Dallas or Fort Worth. Plus, he is about as honest and friendly as they come.”
“Dow has tens of thousands of hours of experience working on stringed instruments of all types. He can turn ugly into beautiful.”
Although he refurbishes a ton of string instruments, Dow doesn’t work in his shop full time.
“No, I just don’t have time,” the very busy luthier said. “I have a few other jobs. I teach guitar to kids as young as 4 at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Music Conservatory, and I perform at the Strawberry Patch coffee shop in Salado on Saturdays. I also teach guitar to kids on Sundays after church.”
“I’m trying to line up more places to play,” he said. “I’m talking to the owner of Pignetti’s and The Barton House in Salado, and hopefully I’ll be playing at those venues as well.”
While talking about his career as a performer and luthier, Dow walked around his small shop, picking up various instruments and talking about them. At one point he stopped, stooped down and picked up a compact instrument with many strings.
“This is an autoharp,” he said. “It’s easy to play, and it used to be a popular first instrument for kids. Back in the day, every teacher had an autoharp in the classroom, and she taught kids about music.”
Dow plans to keep repairing guitars and other string instruments well into his 90s, but he said he would welcome a partner.
“I would like to sell half interest to someone interested in learning the business and eventually take over the shop,” he said. Dow can be reached at (254) 289-4257.