Great Acoustics: Tracy Chapman’s Cherished Judy Threet Model A Parlor Guitar

“It’s probably the most exquisite acoustic guitar I’ve ever played,” says guitarist-composer Joe Gore, who has worked with Chapman for many years
Tracy Chapman’s Judy Threet Model A Parlor Guitar
Judy Threet Model A Parlor Guitar. Photo courtesy of

How did a modest parlor guitar built on spec by a Canadian maker end up in the hands of a four-time Grammy winner? Serendipity.

Flash back to 1999. After the Calgary-based luthier Judy Threet finished one of her Model A creations with a Sitka spruce top, curly koa back and sides, and cocobolo fretboard, bridge, and headstock veneer, she dropped it off at her local music shop, where it sat for more than six months. With no takers, the luthier reclaimed her guitar. Later that year, while at an industry trade show, she gave it to a private seller to try his luck. He also struck out. 

Tracy Chapman with Judy Threet Model A. Photo: Lebrecht Music

Nearly two years after Threet finished the Model A, Frank Ford, co-founder of Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California, offered to sell it at his store. (An interesting aside: before becoming a luthier, Threet worked as a philosophy professor and discovered Gryphon while completing her doctorate at nearby Stanford University.)


In 2001, Tracy Chapman wandered into Ford’s store one morning looking for a small guitar. The artist explained that her dreadnought was starting to hurt her shoulder. A Gryphon employee picked Threet’s Model A off the wall and put it into Chapman’s hands, where it has remained ever since. In the April 2003 issue of this magazine, Chapman described her cherished guitar as “small in size but very dynamic in sound.” 

“It’s probably the most exquisite acoustic guitar I’ve ever played,” says guitarist-composer Joe Gore, who has worked with Chapman for many years. “It’s quite light; it almost feels like a Fabergé egg, since it’s so visually beautiful. Tones blossom from it.” 


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Last February, Chapman’s Model A returned to the limelight when the singer-songwriter played it during a live Grammy performance of her breakthrough song “Fast Car” with country musician Luke Combs (and Gore on electric guitar). The following day, Threet’s phone buzzed nonstop with an overwhelming volume of calls and texts.

Having retired in 2010, Threet won’t be taking any new orders, as she is now focusing on making music. She enjoys playing rhythm guitar for a dance band and viola in a community string orchestra. The fact that a famous singer-songwriter still owns and regularly plays one of her creations makes her smile. 

“That is what most builders aspire to—for their instruments to become good, trusted friends to the people who play them,” Threet says.

See our transcription of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” in the November/December 2023 issue

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 347

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

David McPherson
David McPherson

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  1. I know Judy Threet! She worked in the philosophy department with my Mom, Rhoda Blythe, and she and Brian Chellas played at my 25th wedding anniversary party!!