Master guitar maker Taku Sakashita was a quiet and private man, but electric guitars wailed in his honor Sunday as friends and fans gathered for a six-hour, sold-out memorial concert in Rohnert Park.
"Everybody's out here for Taku," guitarist and bandleader Eric Gales said from the stage of the Spreckels Center for the Performing Arts, speaking to the capacity crowd of 500.
Sakashita, 43, was attacked and fatally stabbed at his Rohnert Park workshop Feb. 11. Joshua Begley has been charged with homicide in the case and is awaiting trial.
The guitar maker's friends, fans and colleagues organized the show to benefit Sakashita's widow, Kazuko, with tickets priced from $55 to $100.
The concert lineup featured some the luthier's star clients, including blues guitar virtuoso Robben Ford, &‘70s-&‘80s rocker Boz Scaggs and jazz duo Tuck and Patti.
The tribute started with a poetry reading and light show and moved quickly to a long string of spirited guitar solos, ranging in style from blues and rock to soul and jazz. A silent auction offered not only guitars, but bicycles, wine and a miniature Bruce Lee statue.
Later in the evening, master of ceremonies Frank Hayhurst, a Cotati musician and owner of Zone Music, asked the audience for a moment of remembrance, one of the few silent spots of the night.
Sakashita grew up in Japan, rocking out to such bands as KISS, and moved to the U.S. in 1991, working in New Jersey, Indianapolis and Los Angeles before settling in Rohnert Park.
"Taku really cut his teeth on rock &‘n' roll in Japan," said Bay Area guitarist Tuck Andress of Tuck and Patti.
The crowd included Sakashita's mother and 40 of his friends from Kobe, his former hometown in Japan. Sakashita's wife attended the event but declined interview requests.
"I apprenticed with Taku for two years," said Ross Shafer, one of the concert organizers, "and Kazuko always has been pretty shy. And this is an emotional time."
Another of the concert's organizers, Mac Skinner, works for a guitar amplifier company in the same business park where Sakashita kept his workshop.
"Taku was a hard worker," Skinner recalled. "He worked constantly, day and night."
Sakashita, whose custom guitars sold for up to $35,000, combined talent and imagination with a meticulous work ethic, said fellow guitar-maker Toru Nittono of Los Angeles.
"The most amazing thing was his ability to design the shape and construction and sound," Nittono said. "He was one of the rare luthiers who combined all of those elements."
Musicians appreciated Sakashita's eagerness to create exactly the instrument each artist needed, Andress explained.
"He was musician himself. He was a good guitarist. You'll see very different musicians playing his guitars, and he would work with each one," Andress said.
"Taku worked in the custom shop of a major guitar company in Japan for many years," he added, "and he was the guy that interacted with the Japanese rock stars. He said he learned to read musicians' minds."
Andress' wife, singer Patti Cathcart, remembered Sakashita as "funny and delightful and deeply spiritual. He believed in music as a transformational tool."
Most of the musicians who volunteered to play the memorial knew Sakashita and his wife as a couple, and consider the guitar maker's widow a friend, Andress said.