Custom Guitar Boutique Interview with Tim Reede
Tim Reede is one of those builders who pays close attention to the overall aesthetics of the guitar, as well as what’s under the hood.
Equally comfortable building Classicals to Flattops, to Archtops to Electrics, this Midwestern builder delivers nothing but high end boutique guitars. Tim got in the hot seat to answer our 10 luthier questions.
CGB: Let’s start from the beginning how did you generate interest in the guitar?
Tim: It’s hard to remember when I first became interested in the guitar because as long as I can remember guitar music has been present. As a child in the sixties I remember hearing guitar music that opened a whole new dimension of expression. Bands like Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix and Crosby Stills Nash and Young were amazing. Mason Williams doing Classical Gas or Santana, it was impossible for anyone not to be moved by this music. The more I listened, the more I was interested. And my fascination continues today. I am finding new and old guitar music that I have never heard that turns me on by being technical or just having a super sweet tone. I think the sound of vibrating strings is more musical than other kinds of instruments. It is more expressive, more human. This includes piano, violin, harp and mandolin but especially the guitar. The guitar has so many different ways of speaking, many different voices, if you will, that it never gets tiresome.
CGB: What inspired you to become a luthier?
Tim: Well, I got into woodworking because I liked to make stuff, and because I had no furniture. I worked as a cabinetmaker for ten years. One day I decided to buy myself a good acoustic guitar. I always owned an acoustic guitar but they were cheap ones, I was more of an electric player. So I bought a Martin HD28. The difference between this guitar and the cheap guitars was night and day. It was fun to play. I started thinking about how it worked and I thought I want to make a guitar. There was a school that taught guitar making about an hour from were I lived. So I quit my job and I went to luthier school in Red Wing Minnesota.
CGB: When did you finally realize you could earn a living building guitars?
Tim: I haven’t learned that yet. Seriously, I do have a day job. I still do woodworking by day. But my company is young and developing, I have been doing this for five years now, and I do see myself doing lutherie full time in the future. Marketing is important, and I think that it takes some time to develop name brand recognition. The truth is that things are tough, I mean that I think that being a professional guitar maker is chosen because of a passion for it not so much as to become rich. And right now, in this economy, it’s a squeeze for everyone, including the really big guys.
CGB: Since day one of becoming a luthier, after all the experience through the years what is the fundamental thing you still do today that you did in the beginning?
Tim: Customer service! My guitars have changed but I have always done the best that I can for my customers. It is just that important. A dissatisfied customer can damage a business more than anything. If someone is not pleased with one of my guitars, I will do all that I can to remedy that situation including making another guitar for them, or giving their money back. I haven’t had to do that though.
CGB: What is your luthier or guitar building horror story?
Tim: I had just completed the construction of a really nice acoustic guitar for a client and I was very pleased with it. It was “in the white” meaning still bare wood. I was going to begin the finishing process. I had the guitar hanging from a wire from the ceiling, and I sprayed the first coat of lacquer on it, and the weight from the lacquer caused it to be to heavy for the wire and it fell. I caught it just as it hit the concrete, but the back had exploded. I did end up saving the guitar but I had to learn how to replace a back.
CGB: How different are things today as far as luthery and the industry goes from when you first started building, any significant changes?
Tim: Being what I consider a fledgling company, I have a different experience than others may have. Things are growing and getting better for me every year, I am passing milestones, and getting more recognition from other luthiers and the public. The recession has had an impact on sales but it is only temporary and I expect to emerge in good shape.
CGB: Have you ever had to deal with a customer who knew for sure they wanted a guitar from you, and then when you asked them what they were looking for, had the slightest clue about why they wanted one of your guitars?
Tim: I think what you are asking about is if someone wants a guitar that you do not make. For me, I do make many different guitars. I make archtop and flat top and electric guitars and basses and I have done classical. So I am not opposed to doing something like a nylon string with a steel string neck or a baritone acoustic or a double neck electric with a MIDI controller or even an archtop harp guitar. If someone wants something that I don’t usually make I will be up front with them because it will take longer to make. Research may have to be done and new forms may have to be made for the construction. If it is something that I don’t want to do I would recommend someone that I know that would do what they want. It is the customers decision who they want to have make their guitar, It is my decision whether I want to make it or not. But if someone want to play bluegrass on an electric guitar, who am I to tell them they can’t do that. It’s their ears and their creativity. They are the artists. The guitar doesn’t have to be bound by tradition. Maybe they are inventing something new. If someone is looking for something very traditional, I can do that too.
CGB: Do you have any favorite woods as far as sound and ease of use? For example I know cocobolo is very dense and can be a challenge to carve by hand.
Tim: I like adirondack spruce sound boards for acoustic guitars. They do cost about twice as much but they are worth it. They have great overtones and nice clarity when played softly and they have lots of headroom when played loud. African black wood is a great wood to use for an acoustic bridge because it looks like ebony but it adds a little sparkle to the sound. I am speaking about flattop acoustics now. Rosewood sounds great but I am also liking Koa and Malaysian black wood. For electric guitars the combination of basswood with a maple drop top is really nice. The basswood is light weight and easy to carve and it has a strong midrange tone and the Maple brings out the high end.
CGB: What would you say to up and coming builders who are just starting out?
Tim: Take some classes, there is so much to learn and it will help avoid a lot of mistakes. Go to the ASIA symposium or the GAL convention. It is a great place to learn from others and start networking with peers in the business. Remember that failure is not the opposite of success, it is part of success.
CGB: In your opinion who is the most influential Luthier?
Tim: C.F. Martin. The X brace it an industry standard for 50 years. other honorable mentions, Lloyd Loar, Antonio De Torres, Leo Fender, Les Paul