Before a musician can play a guitar on stage, someone has to first build the instrument. That’s where Joe Young comes in.
“It’s a passion,” said Young, a luthier, or guitar builder, who lives in Qualicum Bay.
Young, who once made a 10-year career out of cutting wood for instruments, started making his own guitars about 15 years ago. “Those first years were for getting my feet wet,” he admitted, though they eventually led into making a full-time job of the art. For the past five years, Young has built guitars professionally at his home studio. In fact, his career hit a high note this September when he sold an unprecedented five guitars in one month.
Young focuses mainly on building acoustic guitars, although he does occasionally venture into electric territory. For his craft, he uses a variety of high-quality woods imported from around the world.
The instrument presently on the local luthier’s work bench, however, is a little more connected to home. Young is currently working on a West Coast themed guitar made solely with Vancouver Island yew and yellow cedar.
He built a similar instrument last year which he sold through a broker at Symphontree Music in Vancouver. That guitar generated a lot of interest, Young said. So much interest, in fact, that he now has four more orders for West Coast guitars. Most of Young’s work sells for $3,500-6,500, which is considered mid-range for handmade instruments.
“I’m getting more artistic with these West Coast guitars, but I also want my guitars to be played,” said Young, who explains that some handmade guitars sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and are more works of art that you’d hang on your wall.
Aside from building guitars, Young now also teaches students how to be luthiers. It’s a two-way experience, he admits, saying “I learn more from the teaching than the building … students bring new ideas.” He currently has two students, though he is always looking for more.
If you’d like to see Young’s work, he will have a booth at the annual Guitars by Hand show at the Errington Hall Saturday. Hosted by the Islands Luthiers’ Guild, the event showcases over 20 instrument makers from Vancouver Island, Salt Spring and other coastal communities.
The handmade guitars, basses, banjos, dulcimers, harps — pretty much anything with strings — will be on display from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. and admission is free. Following the show, Brazilian guitarist Celso Machado will host a workshop at the Old Fire Hall for $10 (see page A22 for more about Machado).
“I’m totally impressed with this show,” said Young, who has been part of the guild for two years. He hopes the event will generate business and a student or two. However, Young is really looking forward to talking shop with other members of the guild. “You hardly come across someone who won’t share how they build a guitar,” he said.
If you can’t make it to the show, you can also see Young’s work on his website joeyoungguitars.ca