Stu­dents tour gui­tar com­pany

Times-Record - - Front Page - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

GREENS­BORO — A group of as­pir­ing gui­tarists and their par­ents were treated to an up-close look at how much work goes into craft­ing a sin­gle gui­tar, when they took a tour of Knaggs Guitars in Greens­boro.

Joe Knaggs, who founded the com­pany in 2009 with his busi­ness part­ner, Peter Wolf, hosted the stu­dents Thurs­day, Aug. 24, lead­ing them through ev­ery step of the process, much of it done by hand.

The stu­dents’ teacher, Mike Elzey, of Mike Elzey’s Gui­tar Stu­dio in Cam­bridge, said he brings stu­dents to tour Knaggs Guitars who have shown a par­tic­u­lar

pas­sion for mas­ter­ing the in­stru­ment.

In ad­di­tion to learn­ing how guitars are made, Elzey said, they learn how much risk and sacri­fice goes into fol­low­ing any dream, like the risk Knaggs took when he left a suc­cess­ful 25-year ca­reer at Paul Reed Smith Guitars in Stevensville to de­velop his own line of guitars.

To­day, Knaggs said, his com­pany pro­duces about 500 guitars a year, work­ing out of a non­de­script build­ing in the mid­dle of Greens­boro — there isn’t a sin­gle sign on the build­ing’s ex­te­rior.

Knaggs Guitars mostly pro­duces elec­tric guitars, de­signed by Knaggs and named for Amer­i­can In­dian river names, like the Chop­tank and Severn.

Knaggs de­scribed in de­tail for the stu­dents how each gui­tar is built. Aside from a com­puter-con­trolled milling ma­chine that cuts out the body, most of the work is done by hand.

Us­ing ac­tual guitars at dif­fer­ent points in pro­duc­tion, Knaggs showed how parts are sanded, us­ing pro­gres­sively finer sand­pa­pers, to fit pre­cisely, and how the bodies are stained.

He also an­swered ques­tions along the way, about every­thing from where the wood comes from to how the guitars are mar­keted to po­ten­tial buy­ers.

Knaggs said his goal is to be known for mak­ing the kind of guitars that make peo­ple want to pick them up and play.

“(My guitars) play like dreams, look beau­ti­ful and sound beau­ti­ful too,” Knaggs said, adding he would rather play one of his own Sev­erns over the 1961 Fen­der Stra­to­caster he also owns.

The guitars are gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion among se­ri­ous mu­si­cians, Knaggs said. Among those play­ing a Knaggs is Steve Stevens, long­time lead gui­tarist with Billy Idol. Knaggs even de­vel­oped a sig­na­ture model for Stevens.

After show­ing the stu­dents how the guitars are made, Knaggs talked about the de­ci­sion to leave PRS and start his own busi­ness.

Knaggs said he had a great ca­reer with PRS, but in 2000, things started chang­ing within the com­pany. For in­stance, Knaggs said, em­ploy­ees were asked to sign non-com­pete clauses for the first time.

Knaggs was de­vel­op­ing his own gui­tar de­signs in his free time. After toy­ing for nine years with the idea to start his own busi­ness, Knaggs said, he fi­nally took the plunge in 2009.

“It was a very hard step, a big sacri­fice,” Knaggs said, not­ing he made more money as an em­ployee of PRS than he does run­ning his own busi­ness. “But you do it be­cause you be­lieve you have some­thing.”

While cre­at­ing guitars is a pas­sion, Knaggs said, the goal of any busi­ness is to make money, one that is get­ting in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult in the gui­tar in­dus­try.

“The mar­ket is not as big as it used to be,” Knaggs said.

Elzey agreed, at­tribut­ing the de­cline partly to the lack of rock stars, with guitars in their hands, for kids to look up to to­day.

“Tay­lor Swift was the best thing that ever hap­pened to my busi­ness,” Elzey said, of when she first rose to fame as a gui­tar-play­ing coun­try singer. “She in­spired so many lit­tle girls to try the gui­tar.”

Elzey said this is the third time Knaggs has hosted a group of his stu­dents. He said the tours are par­tic­u­larly spe­cial, as the com­pany does not typ­i­cally of­fer them.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Knaggs Guitars, visit knag­gs­gui­tars.com.

For more in­for­ma­tion on gui­tar lessons with Elzey, visit mi­keelzeys­gui­tarstu­dio.com.

PHO­TOS BY DUSTIN HOLT

Gui­tar Teacher Mike Elzey, left, and his stu­dent Grayson Neff, of Eas­ton, look at two guitars dur­ing a tour of Knaggs Guitars in Greens­boro Thurs­day, Aug. 24.

PHO­TOS BY DUSTIN HOLT

Knaggs Guitars owner Joe Knaggs gives a tour Thurs­day, Aug. 24, to stu­dents from Mike Elzey’s Gui­tar Stu­dio.

Knaggs Guitars owner Joe Knaggs shows stu­dents from Mike Elzey’s Gui­tar Stu­dio how to stain a gui­tar dur­ing a shop tour Thurs­day, Aug. 24.

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