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Music highlights celebration of life for Coldstream guitar maker

Edward (Ted) Thompson built more than 1,000 guitars over his career; died May 4 of cancer
Coldstream’s Ted Thompson built more than 1,000 guitars in his career. The gifted,’immaculate’ luthier died of cancer May 4. A celebration of his life, including much music, will take place July 2 from 5-8 p.m. at the Coldstream Community Hall. (Olav Stana photo)

Locally, little was known about the soft-spoken modest luthier Edward (Ted) Allan Thompson, who settled in Coldstream.

Yet guitar enthusiasts, musicians and music shops in Germany, Japan, Canada and the USA admired and acquired his immaculate creations.

“After a poetic creative life in the country, Thompson passed away on May 4 from cancer,” wife Heidi Thompson said. “The community lost one marvelously talented and kind craftsman. Ted was a truly special person.”

A musical Tribute to Ted is planned for Sunday, July 2, at the Coldstream Community Hall from 5 to 8 p.m. His celebration of life will delight guitar players, craftsmen and friends. Musicians including Denis Letourneau playing a Thompson electric violin and guitar players including Lent Fraser Wall, Les Copland, Ken Schroeder, Cadillac Bob and Patrick Thompson will perform.

Due to room capacity, the public is welcome by invitation. Email your RSVP before June 30 to

Born in Comox, Ted grew up in Vancouver. In 1978, after completing a five-year machinist apprenticeship he travelled to Spain. During his stay, Ted lived for six months in a remote mountain village in Spain in a stone hut. Without heat or electricity, he spent his time either visiting the Barcelona Music academy or learning to play classical guitar by candle light.

It was in Spain that Ted met a guitar-maker working in a tiny shop using only hand tools. Ted knew at once that this was the craft he wanted to pursue. After returning to Canada, he settled in Vernon to be close to his son, Gabriel Stebbins. He worked in a small shop behind Silver Star Music and began building instruments including a lute, mandolin, electric violin, stand up electric bass and numerous electric and acoustic guitars.

Except for his training as a toolmaker, Ted never had instructions on how to build a guitar. He simply studied other guitars, took some apart and figured out the secrets. Ted welcomed challenging instrument repairs which furthered his knowledge.

In 1983, Ted married Heidi Wunderli, who had just returned from studying art in Europe. Shortly after their marriage, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. His treatment was successful and the couple settled in the Coldstream where he built his workshop. Over the next 40 years Ted enjoyed his son, daughter, grandchildren and all his musician friends.

In 1995, after building more than 150 guitars his small body T2 Model was submitted to an international review of North American guitars which included giants such as Martin, Breedlove, Gibson, Larrivee and Taylor. Surprising all, the Thompson T2 tied first with Martin for sound, appearance, construction and playability.

The judges wrote, “The Thompson T2 was the dark horse of our review, coming from a relatively unknown Canadian luthier and tying for first in overall ratings. The Thompson was praised for its construction which was described as immaculate.”

Immaculate was Ted’s modus operandi.

He could never rest until every detail of his instrument was perfect. In the beginning, to build a guitar required 50 hours of labour. Ted used various hand tools and incorporated specialty woods like Indian and Brazilian rosewood, spruce, maple and mahogany which he purchased from India, USA, South America, Spain and Canada.

Later, as demand increased, Ted employed help. One of his employees, Trevor Kronbauer, went on to become a guitar builder. Over the course of Ted’s 45-year career he built more than 1,000 guitars. They have been played and revered by the late John Allan Cameron, Cara Luft and others.

READ MORE: Thompson speaks at TEDx Kelowna

READ MORE: Okanagan talent Hither and Yon at Vernon art show

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