Students tour guitar company
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.
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.
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.