View Full Version : A Great Heart is Gone

04-29-2011, 10:57 AM
I’m writing this today to try to share a small insight into a beautiful individual who suddenly is gone.

Some of you know that our little enterprise consists of myself here in Louisiana and Omar Corrales and his family in Central America. What very few knew was that there was another contributor close by me up here.

Jimmy Foster was famous in certain circles. He built archtop jazz guitars, mainly 7 string. No one has ever done this style of instrument better than Jimmy, and I doubt anyone ever will.

He was also a well known musician here in New Orleans. He was still playing, usually duos in small venues with the likes of guitarist Hank Mackie, or University of New Orleans Marsalis Jazz Program instructor Ed Peterson on sax. With his 7-string, he didn’t need a bass player.

In a long career, he also had repaired or restored just about every kind of stringed instrument. He was the service rep for Martin Guitars in the New Orleans area, consulted with them from time to time, and received fine instruments for restoration from all over the world.

He was kind enough to help us with our project. Since Omar is a good distance away, it has been great to have a local ear to bounce things off of. The interplay between Omar and Jimmy was something to behold. On the one hand, the traditional Latin Creole craftsman who studied and apprenticed with the finest of Italy and Spain, and on the other, the self-taught New Orleans jazz man. The artist and the mechanic.

Time after time, Jimmy would shake his head and remark that Omar needed to “buy him some machines”. He couldn’t understand why anyone would take the time to do so much of the work by hand. As to the construction, he would generally start with ‘if I were him I’d build it with …”. Nonetheless, in the end, he’d always finish with “I see what he’s doing ..” and “he gets a real nice sound that way.”

Omar would think long and hard about all Jimmy’s suggestions, and though he wouldn’t take most of them, he did indeed, in a few cases, “buy him some machines”. As time passed, it was something to see the respect and admiration grow between the two. They never spoke. As Jimmy didn’t speak Spanish, nor Omar English, the messages always went through me. Nonetheless, Jimmy would ask me from time to time about what it was like “down south”. He talked about visiting Omar’s shop to show him some of his ways. Omar almost made it up here in January. He wanted to see New Orleans and spend some time with me, but I think mostly he wanted to meet Jimmy.

Sadly now, that will never happen. I got a call from a friend last night to tell me he had died Tuesday –an apparent heart attack. I had had lunch with him the day before. I called Omar with the news earlier today and he is distraught as well.

As it turns out, Jimmy’s last major piece of work will be his first real collaboration with Omar. Along with input from Kris Barnett, an innovative classical guitar builder from Atlanta, we’re doing some fine tuning on our Tenor Guitar. We’re adding a tailpiece, something new in classical construction, but which was very common on the early steel strung Tenors. We’ll also make this body with a Plectrum scale and as a Bass.

Jimmy had just completed the first batch of tailpieces, and a sample bridge. I’ll go by to pick them up from his wife next week after the funeral services. He had given me his opinion on bracing for the new arrangement, and Omar, as always, is taking it into consideration. I know Jimmy was looking forward to seeing how Omar fleshed out the rest of the build.

I’m now going to call these the “Foster Classical 4-string Guitars” in Jimmy’s honor. The thought had never crossed my mind before, because Jimmy wouldn’t have wanted it. I think, however, that his wife will be pleased.

The thing to remember most about Jimmy Foster is that his great passion was actually helping people. With his musical background, helping people in that venue was easiest. His free videos on “How to build an archtop guitar” have been seen by over 100,000 people. Nonetheless, if he could help in other ways, he would always step up. Any of his friends and neighbors can speak to his generosity after Katrina.

I know probably none of you have met Jimmy, and very few will even have heard of him. I just want you to know about him now. Here is the notice from the Times-Picayune:


When I first went to his website last night, I was horrified to see it gone. Fortunately it was only being worked on by Kerry Dean, the man who did the site work for Jimmy (a labor of love). It came back before I turned in, and Kerry had posted a beautiful video retrospective on the home page, focusing as much on Jimmy’s character and personality as on his work. I think anyone would both entertained and uplifted by taking a few minutes to give it a look:


His wife Stephan told me that Jimmy had built a small stockpile of his beautiful 7 strings, and told her that if anything ever happened to him, these would probably see her through. It was Stephan, not Jimmy, who had the serious health issues, so I hope he is right. To people who love these instruments, they are definitely collector’s pieces now.

But you might want to also listen to some of Jimmy’s music on the site. The playing is as warm and deeply felt as you would expect from such a man. I’m sure his wife would be gratified to see a little rush of CD sales, and you’ll have wonderful music made by a wonderful human being.

We’ll miss you so much, Jimmy!

04-29-2011, 11:12 AM
Dirk, my deepest condolences on the loss of your friend. Also, Much Mahalos for the link to Jimmy's site, just loved the mellowness of his playing. His memory will live on in his work and music.

04-29-2011, 11:15 AM
Sorry to hear of this loss to the world of music. Is the fender done? The car or the guitar. I love it.

04-29-2011, 11:19 AM
Dirk. I am sorry to hear of the passing of your friend and colleague. We just don't have enough like him in the World.

04-29-2011, 11:46 AM
My deepest condolences for the loss of your dear friend, and thanks for the links. Your post is a warm and loving tribute to him, and it's a thoughtful gesture for you to honor him by naming the tenor guitar he helped design after him.

04-29-2011, 11:46 AM
Dirk, I am so sorry for your loss, the world is a little darker without him.

04-29-2011, 11:47 AM
Sorry for your loss. Jimmy's guitars are beautiful.

04-29-2011, 11:58 AM
I have to admit that I hadn't heard of Jimmy Foster before now, but this thread got me looking for him on YouTube, where I found this video of him playing his 7-string with saxophonist Ed Peterson. Beautiful performance of a tune with a title ("There Will Never Be Another You") that might well describe Jimmy himself.


04-29-2011, 12:41 PM
I am a 7 string player as well. (well when my hands worked enough for that) thanks for posting the links, wonderful music and guitar on. many condolences.

"Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles." Isaiah 40:31


04-29-2011, 12:53 PM
Sorry to hear about your unexpected loss. Thank you for sharing a bit about him.

mm stan
04-29-2011, 01:20 PM
Aloha Dirk,
My sincerest Condolences ot the loss of your Friend...and thank you for posting that site of him...I enjoyed the video Mark found of him, The music world has lost a true great musician and a great builder..
He had an awesome style working up and down the neck... Thank you for sharing..My deepest Sympathy to his family and friends also...his contributations to the music world are massive and he
will not be forgotten..MM Stan Thank you Jimmy...RIP....

04-29-2011, 02:12 PM

My condolences to you and to all of Jimmy's friends and family. It sounds like his passing will be a great loss to the world of lutherie.

04-29-2011, 03:28 PM
Dirk, my condolences to you on losing your friend/contributor ..Please pass on the same to Jimmy's family..Thanks for making me aware of his smooth stylings..He had a gift...Thanks, Casey Morgan

04-29-2011, 04:30 PM
I am so sorry.

04-30-2011, 01:39 AM

My thoughts are with you and Jimmy's friends and family. A great loss, indeed.