DeSoto Exploring the South August 2013 : Page 30

exploring art} guitar man One String at a time Memphis Guitar Makers Cherish Craft By Devin Greaney F ender's color sea foam green is a misnamed color. It is really more the color of mint flavored ice cream and popular in the 1950s in guitars. The color shines and jumps out like that new music of the time called rock 'n' roll. Same thing with sonic blue which looks, well, sonic blue. It was accomplished using an aluminum powder under-neath a coat of clear blue paint, a technique not found very often today. That is, unless you go to Memphis and see the work of Kevin Ferner and David Connelly and their craftsmanship at their business, Memphis Guitar Spa. The two Memphis luthiers, a person who makes stringed instruments, bring a passion for music and fine artistry to the electric guitar. “We are to the point where we can build anything we see,” Ferner says. “You can take a picture of a car because you like the color and we can match it.” “I’ve been a musician all my life. I was on eBay about ten years ago and looked at prices and the one that had sold for $75,000 was the exact model and color of one I owned. I decided I could do better if I started building for myself,” Ferner says As he became interested, he found custom guitar makers on the internet who were happy to share their knowledge. “Today we live in a world where there is so little appreciation for handcrafted goods. People are anxious for others to continue the work so it does not become a dying art,” Ferner says. “Some of the tools I use are tools that were used in the 1700 and 1800s.” The art of crafting an instrument is something lost in the world of mass production. “We are not slam-ming Fender or Gibson. We do things only a small builder could do,” he says. “You are answering to shareholders and a corporate mentality. I understand that because I used to wear a suit every day. But it’s hard to apply that to an instrument. You lose track as to what it is you are actually doing. It’s an art. It’s not 30 DeSoto

Exploring Art

Devin Greaney

One String at a time

Memphis Guitar Makers Cherish Craft

Fender's color sea foam green is a misnamed color. It is really more the color of mint flavored ice cream and popular in the 1950s in guitars. The color shines and jumps out like that new music of the time called rock 'n' roll. Same thing with sonic blue which looks, well, sonic blue. It was accomplished using an aluminum powder underneath a coat of clear blue paint, a technique not found very often today.

That is, unless you go to Memphis and see the work of Kevin Ferner and David Connelly and their craftsmanship at their business, Memphis Guitar Spa.The two Memphis luthiers, a person who makes stringed instruments, bring a passion for music and fine artistry to the electric guitar. “We are to the point where we can build anything we see,” Ferner says. “You can take a picture of a car because you like the color and we can match it.”

“I’ve been a musician all my life. I was on eBay About ten years ago and looked at prices and the one that had sold for $75,000 was the exact model and color of one I owned. I decided I could do better if I started building for myself,” Ferner says

As he became interested, he found custom guitar makers on the internet who were happy to share their knowledge. “Today we live in a world where there is so little appreciation for handcrafted goods. People are anxious for others to continue the work so it does not become a dying art,” Ferner says. “Some of the tools I use are tools that were used in the 1700 and 1800s.”

The art of crafting an instrument is something lost in the world of mass production. “We are not slamming Fender or Gibson. We do things only a small builder could do,” he says. “You are answering to shareholders and a corporate mentality. I understand that because I used to wear a suit every day. But it’s hard to apply that to an instrument. You lose track as to what it is you are actually doing. It’s an art. It’s not like making a microwave.”

Working seven days a week, 18 hours a day became taxing. Some wanted to help but lacked the skills needed. That is when Connelly, a Gibson Guitar alumnus, contacted him. “I sent Kevin a message saying ‘I want to work with you.’ It was as dumb as that. He was dumb enough to call me and we share our stupidity together.” Ferner looks at the situation much more practically. “I’m in a position where I need someone to walk in with a skill set preferably something I can’t do. He is better at some things than I am. It’s a great partnership.”

Connelly remembers, just barely, when he fell in love with the guitar.“Around age three my Grandfather had a 1958 or 1959 Stratocaster and an old Silvertone amp and I remember picking it up and that was one of my first memories. The guitar was like a spaceship.” Today, Connelly plays at Great Commission Church in Olive Branch.

Ferner, also a long-time musician, had an early fascination with making things ever since he was eight when he got his first erector set. He has also remodeled about five houses. At any time he estimates there are about 17 to 18 guitars in various stages of production.It takes about two months from order to delivery. The drying of the glue and finishing alone is two weeks. "We let everything hang dry for 10 days to two weeks and this is for the lacquer to cure. Most factories now wait one day, and nitro (nitrocellulose lacquer) will not buff out to the full gloss unless it is allowed to cure."

Additionally, the selection of wood is something these two do not take for Granted. A chunk of redwood that spent its last 100 years as a barn in California soon will become a custom instrument. Rosewood was ordered and not on the cheap- for another guitar. “Maybe one in every 250 to 1,000 trees have wood of this quality.” Exploring his workshop one appreciates the artistry of the instrument apart from the sound it makes.“Stradivari understood the entire organic production from a piece of wood to something you can play. That is what makes a stradivarius great and stands out from everything else,” Ferner says.

But not all wood is expensive. A friend, Chuck Sullivan, had an idea the two fell in love with to make “the ultimate Delta blues guitar using driftwood from the Mississippi . There is a whole area around Shelby Forest that collected driftwood from the floods. We went out with a chainsaw and cut several pieces. The final design will have a neck of turquoise and each fret will have cities along the river,” Ferner says.

“Most of our clients have been playing awhile and know what they want.” The company has attracted the attention of local musician Richard Cushing who now plays a combination four string bass / 12 string guitar with his long-time band Free World. Rick Rosas, the bass player on tour with Neil Young, is getting a custom bass built by the duo.

Currently, production comes out of a 350-square-foot workshop behind Ferner’s East Memphis home.That will change September 15 when they move to a 2,500 square foot facility at 2561 Broad Avenue. The workshop/showroom is a perfect match, Ferner says, for the growing arts district. They plan to offer workshops soon after opening and use money from the workshops to help fund trade education for at-risk students.

They will limit their size. “I don’t want to get so big that I am sitting behind a desk and not building,” he says. The attention to detail spent on a custom one-of-a-kind piece of art does have a drawback, Connelly says.“We’re like a couple of kids in the candy store. We have fun building them and making the musicians happy but sometimes it's hard to let go of the guitar when we are done!”

Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Exploring+Art/1476022/170481/article.html.

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