As Eben's partner at Cole Music Company I feel remarkably lucky to get to work with such a talented and genuinely good person. I think understanding the depth and value of Cole Music's offerings really starts by understanding the depth and value of Eben as a creator. He creates remarkable things, cause really he just can't help himself. It's a part of him. And, part of my job here is to help share that with the world. With that in mind, I sat down to ask him a few questions on your behalf, so you can meet the guy that makes these things happen.
What motivated you to start building guitars on your own?
"I think it is a natural evolution for luthiers that do a lot of repair work to fantasize about building your own instruments. Especially if you do restorations where you have to deal with other peoples questionable repairs...working with fresh materials can sound really inviting.
Also, having worked on and/or sold many of the great classic guitars, and seen some of the quirks or limitations they have I can’t help but think of ways to improve on those designs."
What is your favorite part about owning a vintage repair business?
"I want to say all the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll...but honestly, it's all the cool gear I get to see. I am a guitar nerd at heart, and was fortunate to be able to parlay that into a career. Any time I get to restore an old guitar, or come across something I have never seen before, that is still a treat for me."
How did you get into being a luthier?
"Partially, because the thought of having a real job scares me. About 15 years ago, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer; at that same time I was managing a brass and woodwind repair shop and wanted to expand that to include guitar repair. Not knowing if my dad was going to be around much longer, I decided to spend one day a week working with him learning luthiery...it was a great excuse to spend time with my dad and learn a new skill."
Can you tell me about your dad bandsawing violins?
"Gene was a bit of a perfectionist when it came to building instruments. On a few occasions I remember him working on something, seemingly for months, only to have that violin meet its demise at the bandsaw. When asked why, it was usually because there was some minor flaw that no one could see...but he knew it was there. He didn’t want anything out in the world bearing his name that he wasn’t proud of, and I try and maintain that level by being very guarded on what goes out bearing my name.
Ironically, when Gene would release one of his creations out into the world, he still didn’t sign his own name...so if anyone out there has a violin or viola built by Cheech Beldone` we need to talk!"
What's the coolest thing that has come through your store?
"That's a tough one to answer. I enjoy the new boutique gear just as much as some of the vintage stuff. I had a ‘52 Tele and a ‘52 Les Paul at the same time a few years ago, that was pretty awesome. But one of the coolest guitars I’ve ever sold was an collector's grade 1956 Gretsch 6120...the one with the burned in “G” on the top, belt buckle tailpiece, and the etched inlays, that thing had some serious vibe!"
What was it like to plug in your first hollowtop?
"It wasn’t as monumental as one would think. While the guitar felt pretty good, I instantly knew I needed something different then typical vintage wind Tele pickups. That led to a couple of months of obsessively swapping out pickups. But, the first time I heard a refined Hollowtop played through our Super 4 amp...that’s felt pretty awesome!"
Where do you think the boutique guitar world is headed?
"Contrary to a lot of recent press, I see there being a renaissance of small boutique builders. With the classics being out of reach of many players and collectors, the mediocre quality of many of the big builders, and the ease of exposure via social media, players are starting to realize how much better the boutique builders can be. We’ve seen the rise of boutique pedal and pickup builders against the giants, and I think we will see it with guitars as well. While a Gibson Firebird is a solid guitar, and will eventually appreciate in value, but a Kauer Banshee is a hell of a lot cooler (and better built), and as attitudes change, I think will be a better investment 20 years from now."
What do you think about big guitar companies like Gibson struggling?
"Gibson has had a lot of ups and downs in their lifetime. Clearly they are at a low point right now, in terms of both management, and quality, and I am not sure how they can rebound. It has always been my suspicion that Gibson dropped all their small dealers because said dealers were the only ones calling them out on Gibson's declining quality. It is a lot easier to sell a ton of mediocre guitars at a discount at 200 Guitar Centers nationwide, than deal with a small store that is going to call you out on the poor quality." Eben promises to expound on this ad nauseum in a future blog post. :)
What product are you most excited to work on next?
"I have always been adamant that Cole Music Co. products be unique, and not just be another outfit doing copies and clones. While I think there is still room for experimentation and innovation in guitar design, guitar pickups have been stalled out in an “it's all been done” kind of mentality. That is why I feel so fortunate to be part of Silver Hand Pickups. Brad Perry has come up with some really amazing creations that are unique, and tonally amazing. Our line of Hollowtop guitars wasn’t complete until he developed a pickup that brought out the character of that guitar. When you can wind pickups to voice your original designs, it opens up a whole new world of options, and that freedom is what really excites me!"
We'll do more of these posts in the future. If you're an aspiring luthier, a boutique guitar fan, or just curious to learn more, feel free to email me questions for our next post and we'll be happy to answer as best we can.
-Happy playing out there.
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