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From High-Tech to High-End: The Story of the Phoenix Guitar Company


You use a wide array of wood...

We’re both really into the different kinds of wood.

Do you have any trouble getting any of it?

It’s all going up in price! [laughs] We haven’t had too much trouble along those lines lately.

Small scale probably helps.

Yeah, we do operate on a pretty small scale, so we actually have a little bit of Brazilian rosewood, some Madagascar rosewood, which is really beautiful, and then a lot of the standard stuff. We love koa, it’s just beautiful stuff. The bulk of the guitars coming out of our shop each year are our students’, and most of our students’ guitars are Indian rosewood or mahogany; occasionally they upgrade to koa or walnut.

How many guitars do you make in a year?

Well, we do a lot of repairs as well, so I’d guess that I probably make about six or seven per year because of repairs and classes, and Diane probably makes a few more. She might make as many as ten in a year, but she’s also busy teaching classes as well. We always have a couple [guitars] going at any given time.

How long does it take from order to receiving?

That’s very dependent on what’s going on in the shop. If we had nothing on our plates and we could focus on building one guitar from start to finish, it would take about three weeks to get everything built, let the finish cure, and do the final sanding. However, that never happens. We have repairs that come in and classes that we’re teaching, so right now, if someone were to buy a guitar it would probably be, depending on what they ordered, between 3-5 months that we could say for sure.

One of Phoenix Guitar Company''s graduating classes. Diana: front row, far left; George: front row, far right.
Any plans on giving up repairs and classes to focus on building?

Well, we like the mix the way it is, for now at least. For both of us it was strictly a part-time thing up until about a year and a half ago, and that spigot doesn’t just suddenly turn on and there aren’t suddenly two dozen people who just have to have one of your instruments. There are a lot of places out there where you can buy instruments and until you develop some kind of reputation, people don’t necessarily know you’re there. So we have to get a little bit of cash flow to keep the bills paid, and the classes and repairs have been great for that.

And that’s one reason why our time for building a custom instrument is relatively short right now; we’ve got a couple of guitars in the line, but not a year’s worth. Over time that’ll change. I enjoy doing repairs a lot, and I’d hate to give that up completely, but we might have to scale back eventually. As business increases, we might have to limit what kinds of classes we do as well, but I don’t think we’ll stop completely.

It sounds like a little more fun than Intel…

[Laughs] Yeah, I’m not sure there’s less pressure, but it’s more fun.

I suppose there would be pressure to get every little detail right for people.

Yeah, you want to get it right and you want to get it done when they’re expecting it, so as it’s coming down and you’ve got a week left and you’re just starting to spray your finish, you want to make sure that something doesn’t go wrong. We’ve had that happen, and boy, that’s a thrill...

It’s really tough when you’re finishing up a guitar and getting ready to send it to a customer and you get a sand-through. I’m sure every luthier in the business has had that happen to him. That’s the pressure part.

The inlays don’t look so easy either!

Well, it gets easier. [The Phoenix logo] takes a few hours to do. You know, that’s one thing that I think both of us like about this, though. You’re working with the wood for a while, then you go do inlay and it’s totally different. Then after that you go to spray finish, which is again totally different. So you have completely different things you’re doing through the course of building.

You guys have some pretty detailed inlay, like the bonsai tree on the Baby Phoenix. What’s the story behind that design?

The Baby Phoenix has a bonsai tree inlay, as does the guitar that Diane did for the customer in New Zealand. He actually e-mailed us a bunch of pictures of bonsai trees and we put a couple of them together and sent pictures back to him until we had the exact one he wanted.

Are most of your customers walk-ins or online?

We have people that see us on the web, or in magazines. People will see us in these ads, and when they come to town on vacation or something, they’ll come by.

People can just kind of come in and check out your shop and watch you working any time, right?

Absolutely. We had one gentleman call last week who said, “I saw on your website that people can just drop by and see your shop and I want to take you up on your offer, I’m sitting right in front of your shop!” His wife was on a business trip from Atlanta, so he came by and played a bunch of the guitars and got a tour of the shop.

Do you guys sell in stores at all?

Well, we have tried it with mixed results. We’ve had guitars in stores where somebody has damaged the instrument and the store won’t always call us and let us know, so right now we’re a little soured on sending our guitars out to a store. We know we’ve got to do more of that.

See the Baby Phoenix in this month''s Modern Builder Vault. For more information, visit
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