Crafting a career

Brodie Thomas
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Ryan Young is just one of the many Newfoundlanders who has gone to Alta. to make a living.

For half of his week the Rose Blanche native works in the welding trade, but on days when he's not in the oil patch, you'll likely find him in his home-based workshop building custom guitars.

Young learned the art in 2010 from Saskatchewan-based Luthier David Freeman.

"He lives out in the middle of nowhere," said Young. "He's got a couple shacks you stay in. There's no cell phone service, no Internet. You go there for two months and you build guitars for seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and that's all you do."

Young now has a workshop in the garage of his home in Lacombe, Alta. Last year he made great strides towards getting his business, G Custom Guitar and Repair, off the ground. Although he welds part of the time, he wants to eventually work full time at making guitars.

In 2013 he built 10 guitars, and five of those were specialized orders.

He said even musicians don't realize how much better a hand-made guitar can be than a store-bought.

"Most of the ones you buy off the production line are all plywood and plastic, with stickers and decals," he said.

A hand-made custom guitar doesn't come cheap. His start at around $2,500 and can go up from there, depending on materials and style.

What musicians get for their money, however, is near complete control over the sound and style.

"It's hard to demonstrate how they sound to people," he said. "They're really beautiful instruments - a piece of art, but they also sound and play incredible."

Young said he can build a guitar to have more bass or treble, depending on the wood used.

Many of the differences between hand-made and store-bought can't really be seen in the finished product. He used the guitar neck as an example.

"If you took apart a store-bought guitar, you'd notice there's just a couple dowels joining the neck to the body, but with a custom guitar it's one integral part, so there's more vibration response which goes to the body from the strings."

What has surprised Young is that most of his customers don't want to build a guitar from scratch to order.

"I'm finding most people say, 'What do you have in stock?' So I've been building a lot to my taste. Most people want to pick something. They don't want to come in and design it, which surprises me. I thought more people would be on board for the designing."

Though he's only been at it for a few years, Young has a few signature flairs he adds to his guitars. One is a "g" shaped insignia he puts on the head of each neck, as well as behind the guitar's neck where it joins the body.

His other signature is a thin inlay up the centre of each fretboard.

"That's something I came up with on my own," he said.

Young is still learning as he goes. He said the process can be nerve-wracking at times, especially when bending wood. He once snapped an expensive strip of wood he was shaping for the sides of a guitar.

"It was too early in my career to be using that wood, and snap. I had to reorder it again."

Word-of-mouth is getting around about his guitars, and he's hoping to get some of his instruments in the hands of a few well-known musicians.

Young also plans on taking some of his work to some folk festivals as well as the Calgary Stampede this summer.

For him it's all about being able to make a living doing something he loves.

"I don't think I'll get rich building guitars," he said.


"Most people want to pick something. They don't want to come in and design it, which surprises me. I thought more people would be on board for the designing."

Organizations: Calgary Stampede

Geographic location: Lacombe

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Recent comments

  • Donna
    January 09, 2014 - 07:57

    Wow! I think that anyone who puts such time and effort into a craft is amazing. The finished products must be very rewarding to the artisan. I wish you great success.