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The Parsons Triple Jet that Jack White plays with the Raconteurs features a top made of copper.
How are the repair locations in the area Guitar Centers set up?
The whole point is to get the name out there and brand it. So when you go there, you’ll see the Parsons logo, and the shops are built by me and they’re kind of dark and spooky. The Parsons vibe is there—it’s not just a bench in the corner, that’s for sure.
While female luthiers are not totally unheard of, it is somewhat unusual that you employ five women in your shop. What does this team bring to Parsons Guitars?
I couldn’t be in a confined space for very long with another guy. I have this drill-sergeant mentality when it comes to training and dealing with people who work for me. If they’re pretty girls, I back off a little bit. I don’t think any guy could actually handle working for me, screaming and yelling all day long. The first to join my team about eight years ago was Dagna Barrera. She was an inlay artist and really knew her craft and was making acoustic guitars that made me say, “Wow!” I really enjoyed working with her and I thought, “I’m going to wait for more Dagnas to come through my door.” Every couple of years, someone would show up looking for a job or training and, as long as they had a legitimate interest, I’d take them under my wing. So far, no one has left. They’re like daughters. We’re a big family. Now, if you’re a female in a band in the Seattle area, you try to get a job here. Every cool chick that comes into town asks about doing an apprenticeship. I ask, “Do you know anything about building guitars or working on guitars?” And they’re like, “No.” But potential employees have to really want to do it. I’m looking for people that genuinely want to be a part of what I’m doing, that believe in it, and that see themselves as creating a career here and being here long term.
You’ve also built instruments for Jimmy Page. How did that occur?
In the movie, Jack is kind of talking about me and Jimmy listens. So I drunk-emailed Jack and said, “Call Jimmy for me, I’ve got this guitar I want to build him.” Jack mentioned the movie premiere in Los Angeles and invited me to come down, meet Jimmy, and give him the guitar—which was a month and a half away. So I actually built Strolling with Bones in a month and a half. It was insane. I don’t think I slept the whole time. The cool thing about that guitar is that it’s based on the Kasha bracing system, which is a really cool way of making acoustic guitars. It’s a cool guitar and it sounds pretty good, but I wasn’t really happy with it.
How does one design a guitar for Jimmy Page? Does he ring you on the phone? Send email? Transmit telepathic missives?
I played a lot of Led Zeppelin in my shop. I just took the ball. I just said, “Hey, give me full artistic license” and just went for it. When I met Jimmy I said, “I promised Jack this was going to be the guitar that Jesus Christ wanted, but I wasn’t born yet.” But I explained it’s fallen a little short, so Jimmy and I started talking. I told him I had this idea for a guitar called the White Mare that was similar to Strolling with Bones but that was made entirely of holly. Holly is like the whitest wood on earth. So the neck would be white, the fingerboard, the back and sides—everything—was white. The trim, bone threads, mother-of-pearl inlay, everything was solid white, but the inside was trimmed out with this Brazilian rosewood that I’ve had for 20 years. I’m almost done with that instrument, and that’s the next guitar I’m going to give Jimmy. That’s the one I really wanted to make him from day one, and it’s going to be a spectacular instrument.
Why are you calling the instrument the White Mare?
It’s a line from the Zeppelin song “Going to California”—“Ride a white mare in the footsteps of dawn.”
You’re clearly interested in the esoteric—and you’ve said you’re obsessed with the number 333, even going as far as assigning serial instruments in conjunction with it. How have these threads of the arcane and a strong sense of purpose guided your life and work to this point?
The number 333 is just a number that keeps appearing in my life when things are going good or something is about to go well. It’s just everywhere—to the point where it’s ridiculous. I went to someone professionally and said, “What the hell does this mean? Am I losing my mind?” And they said that it just means I’m on the right path. For some reason I’m just more attuned to it, and it definitely guides the direction of my instruments and the way I conduct my business. I’ll never forget pulling up to the Beverly Wilshire hotel in the back of a cab when I was getting ready to go to Jimmy’s hotel room and give him the guitar. That was definitely a very powerful, surreal moment when I sat back and reflected. I was very conscious of where I was and where this whole journey has taken me. I looked at the car in front of us and the license plate began with “333.” Some people just aren’t very conscious of things like that— even though they may be all around them.
What do you see in the next five years for Parsons Guitars?
To continue doing what we’re doing and improve and build slowly. I’ve had opportunities in the past where people have shown up with money and they’ve said “Hey, we’re going to do this and that and have your guitar manufactured over here.” I’ve always resisted that—I’ve been very stubborn with my vision of creating a really unique, small guitar company that produces some real sick stuff. I’m very passionate about what I do or I wouldn’t have been fighting for the last 15 years. Sure, I’ve always been in tune and aware of life’s “spooky stuff,” but I also believe in the science of business, in the science of hard work. Hard work is the key. You have to believe. I go through these periods where I’m so deep in my work that I start questioning—I feel like I’m treading water. But always, at the end, hard work prevails and something good comes of it.