Ten years ago I was fired for the first time in my life. I was blindsided, in complete and utter shock, and I suddenly found myself unemployed and quickly going broke in San Francisco. I had been becoming increasingly disillusioned with San Francisco, and had been yearning to move back to the city that most felt like home to me: New Orleans. Losing my job was a blessing in disguise: I never wanted to work for any one ever again, and I felt that New Orleans needed a world class guitar repair shop. Three weeks later I was on the road, on my way to New Orleans and towards an uncertain future.
Strange Guitarworks was born September 7th, 2012, but the genesis of the idea came long before, I just didn’t know it at the time. In 1992, I became enamored the bass guitar, and went in on one with my father that Christmas. Even though it was just a terrible Lotus P-bass copy, I loved it – and then took it completely apart. I somehow managed to put it all back together again, and thus a guitar tech was made. In the intervening years I never had a job outside of music: first working as the Guitar Manager at Brook Mays, then the Systems Admin/Purchaser/Operations Manager at Werlein’s for Music, then as an Assistant Manager at Guitar Center. I also spent a number of years in the wilderness as a full time pro musician, playing everything from blues to death metal to hip hop, and coming within striking distance of the big time three separate times. All throughout that time I was tinkering with guitars, delving further and further into the arcane skill of luthiery. Eventually I accidentally stumbled into a job at San Francisco Guitarworks, an absolutely top notch shop where I really learned the craft of guitar repair and how a business should be run. After several years of intensive training and soaking up everything I could, I knew what I needed to do.
I arrived back in New Orleans and set up shop in the front room of a shotgun double in Mid-City. I spent what little money I had on outfitting the shop with as many basic tools as I could afford, and built my own neck jig (which is still occasionally in use today!). It wasn’t glamorous, and it wasn’t exactly super professional, but it was a start.
I believe my first customer was either Rob Manganello (from Rockbox) or John Fohl (solo, Dr. John, lots of others). Ten years later we’re still servicing Rob’s and John’s instruments, so I must have been doing something right in that tiny little room! That location only worked out for six months, so I moved to the Carrollton neighborhood, again setting up shop in the front room of my rented house, which gave me slightly more space and less neighbors to annoy. I was working on guitars and picking up bass gigs to pay the bills, but Strange Guitarworks quickly started to take over my life. Within a few short months I would be swamped with work, sometimes having as many as 25 guitars sitting in my front room! My entire life became guitar repair – wake up, make breakfast, begin working all day on guitars, sleep, repeat. This was getting too big for me to handle by myself, so I had to call in the big guns for help.
I met Aaron Younce in San Francisco in 2009, and we worked side by side for three years at SF Guitarworks. He was a stellar human being and an incredibly skilled luthier, who was also kind enough to help keep me sane with our near constant text messages while I was working by myself for the first three years of my growing business. He was living in New York, building bass guitars at Fodera, and was looking to make a change. I flew up to NYC for a surprise birthday visit and to convince him to come join me as a full partner at Strange Guitarworks. It was a huge risk for both of us – he would be leaving a good gig, and I didn’t know if we would have enough work to sustain the both of us. He moved down to New Orleans in 2016, and we moved in to our new shop (a shared space with amp tech Paul Agostino) and gave it a go. Seven years later, through trials and tribulations and risk of financial ruin, we’re still at it – and somehow still aren’t sick of each other!
A few years later we brought Scott Jackson into the fold. I had known Scott for a long time, and respected him both as a skilled bassist and excellent tech. He is a deep well of arcane history of the electric guitar, as well as an acerbic wit that really keep us on our toes! [Get him talking about the correct contours on vintage Fender Jazz basses and you’ll see what I mean.] He is our man about town, slinging deep grooves night after night, and is a fantastic advocate for us with all the musicians in the trenches. We’re honored to have him with us.
It’s often said that if you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. The truth is, I don’t LOVE guitar repair. I LIKE guitar repair, but it is work – oftentimes very difficult, demanding work. But what I do love is helping people. I love seeing people thrilled with the work we do. I love watching you rediscovering a passion for your instrument that you had thought lost. That is what makes this work worthwhile.
We owe the last ten years to you. If it weren’t for your trust in us, your words of encouragement, and your advocacy for us we wouldn’t be here. You are the reason we do this. Thank you.
Super special thanks go to: Paul Agostino (for kindly sharing space with us for 7 years), Scott Jackson (for being our right hand man and resident historian), Bill Richards (for keeping an eye on things) John Flemming (for letting me use your house to start this business), Jordan Dupont (for your keen business advice), Darnell Dupui (for delivering very heavy things with a smile), Elvis (for cuteness).