In Memoriam: Steve Helgeson

Steve Helgeson

Photo by Bob Doran

Sad news to share today: luthier Steve Helgeson of Moonstone Guitars has passed away after a long bout with cancer. Bass legend Leland Sklar shared the news on his Facebook page.

“Heartbroken at the news Steve passed away. Knew it was coming but still,” Sklar wrote. “Steve was a most gifted luthier and the double neck Eagle bass he built me is still the most beautiful bass I have ever had. He was the BEST!”

Leland Sklar with Moonstone Bass

Helgeson built guitars and basses for nearly 50 years, starting with his first shop in 1972. He was driven to build his first instrument, a bass, so he could join the local music scene. “Back in the 70s, I decided I wanted to build an acoustic bass so I could jam with a bunch of people,” he told Guitar Connoisseur. “There were like fifty guitar players out in the (Yosemite) meadow, but no acoustic bass players. I could pick chicks; what else? So I built an acoustic bass. It was crummy but it worked.”

A self-taught builder, Helgeson would go on to create acoustic guitars, electric basses, and electric guitars. He was always a proponent of exotic tone woods, and the Moonstone website writes that he “pioneered the use of Pacific Quilted Maple, Myrtlewood, Maple, and Walnut Burl.” Sklar met Helgeson in 1976 and worked together on an incredible instrument.

“When Sklar saw some of Helgeson’s designs, he asked the guitar maker if he could create a custom bass, one with two necks and head pieces carved into some sort of creatures,” Helgeson’s friend Bob Doran wrote in an article reprinted on Facebook. “Inspired by his love of raptors, Helgeson suggested an eagle guitar. The body of the guitar was fashioned into wings and the end of each neck was fitted with a carved eagle head. Fire opal eyes gleamed with a tiny light. Sklar played the instrument on a major concert tour that included a spot on Saturday Night Live, and orders began to pour in. Favorable reviews in magazines like Rolling Stone and Guitar Player added to the demand.”

Moonstone grew to its peak in the early 80s, shipping over 1,000 guitars worldwide before the factory was destroyed by arson. Helgeson regrouped and set up a new shop outside of Eureka, California in 1990, where he continued to build on his own up until his passing.

Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Steve Helgeson.

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