Brian Clark of Leesburg plays the B.C. Rich-designed electric guitar he built after taking a course to become a certified luthier.
LEESBURG — Like just about 98 percent of all modern-day American males, Brian Clark started playing guitar in the eighth grade. He and his best buddy, Josh Branch, would hang out and play a few of their favorite songs from time to time, but they never tried seriously to put together a band, like around 87 percent of all modern-day American males.
Josh moved on and Brian kept playing on his own. But he never contemplated any kind of musical career. Brian did, however, maintain his love for the guitar.
Flash forward a few years to 2013. Clark, now 24 and looking for possible career opportunities that bring with them a degree of satisfaction, remembers those old days of trying to get down James Hetfield’s riff on the latest Metallica tune. After watching a “how they make it” show on the Discovery Channel, Clark has a Eureka! moment.
“I started doing some research and found this place up around Atlanta, in Lilburn, called Atlanta Guitar Works,” Clark, a soft-spoken type who considers each response to a visitor’s questions before making it. “They had a program that teaches you how to build a guitar. I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Now, an eight-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week, six-week course under his belt, Clark is a certified luthier. A maker of guitars. He’s built three — two electric and one acoustic — instruments already and plans to continue to refine his craft as he waits to see what the future may bring.
“It’s really an amazing process,” Clark said of his new skillset. “You work a lot with templates to make the basics of the guitar, but you can work with any different kind of wood and any kind of design to make the guitar the way you want it.”
During the crash course on guitar-building at Atlanta Guitar Works, Clark and other students immersed themselves completely in the craft.
“They had guys who taught you the basics of acoustic and electric guitars,” Clark said. “You stayed at a place they provided as part of the course, so you pretty much worked on what you were doing all the time you were there. They take you through the process step-by-step. It’s really pretty impressive.
“I went up there to visit the folks a little while after I finished the course, and the (lodging) house had burned down. I guess my timing was pretty good.”
Clark shows off a Martin-like acoustic and a B.C. Rich-esque electric he’s made since he completed the Atlanta Guitar Works course. He points out minor flaws on each, the kinds of things one would expect with first projects.
“You have a little leeway on some parts of the process, but you get to a point where there’s no room for mistakes,” Clark, a 2007 Lee County High School graduate, said. “You can hide some early mistakes, but after a certain point there’s no going back. I like the electrics more, but that’s just a personal preference. It’s a little tougher building an acoustic.
“You can build a standard electric in a week or so. With an acoustic, with the delicate wood you have to work with, if you stay at it every day it will take you about a month.”
Clark outlines the process for a visitor: Using templates, tools unique to the trade and woods selected especially for the instrument, the luthier creates the neck of the guitar, the two sides — with wings, if required — and glues them all together. Much sanding is required to create the required finish.
Once the body is pretty much assembled, the instrument’s fret board, head, bridge, tuning pegs, pickup poles, pickups, knobs and switches must be precisely assembled.
“You have to use a lot more bracing to shape the body of the acoustic because the wood you’re working with is so much thinner,” Clark said. “You have to spray the wood down with moisture and put a heating pad on it, then slowly push on it to bend the wood onto the frame. It’s a pretty complicated process.”
Now that he’s got a few instruments under his belt, Clark is ready to get his name out to adventurous musicians looking for a unique instrument, one they can design to fit their own needs.
“I can do repair work (on guitars), but I’m hoping to get the opportunity to build some soon,” he said. “But whether this becomes my main job at any point, I think this is something I’ll always do. It doesn’t feel like work.”
(To contact Clark about building a guitar or instrument repairs, call (229) 669-1812 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)