Luthier Eron Harding and Steve Cox, owners of Backwood’s Guitar LLC, are finding they are fast becoming the musician’s friend and on-call 911 doctors for all sort of stringed instrument repair.
While Cox runs the store-front, Harding, as the luthier, repairs banjos, guitars, violins and other stringed instruments in the business’s basement.
This week Harding will fly to Spokane, Wash., to speak at a conference for the Guild of American Luthiers.
“I’m a member of the Guild of American Luthiers,” Harding said. “And I’ve got friends who are in the guild and in the trade. One of them’s got a shop out in Ohio and one of them owns a shop in New York City. The guild does a deal every two years out in Tacoma … and they asked me to join them to do the presentation this year.”
Both men not only buy and sell vintage guitars and amps and repair stringed instruments, they are also musicians and members of two local bands; Cox’s band is called Oxline Road, and Harding plays with Darryl Grandfield in Cedar Creek Band.
The evolution of becoming a luthier for Harding stemmed from both men playing together in bands in the past.
“We played together for … I can’t tell you how many (years),” Harding said. “We played together up until 2000 or something.”
“And a lot of it (repair) was just needed,” Cox added. “There wasn’t anybody that was good that did it.”
“I started doing it freelance,” Harding said. “Because there’s nobody around here that does honest-to-God fret work — you have to go to Kansas City or down to Nashville to do it. And it just snowballed. It’s a full-time job in itself.”
The men said they take care of all guitar repairs for Leroy Van Dyke and Jimmy Nace, of the Nace Borthers.
“We do (repair) for most of the musicians around here,” Cox said.
Repairs are all done in the basement workshop, except painting. Harding paints in his garage at his home.
“Paint is big money because there’s a lot to it,” he said. “To do it right is an art. I spray with nothing but nitro lacquer, the old-school lacquer, it just takes a long time. I’ve got the buff wheels and stuff — so it’s the real deal, when we do it. Most of the stuff we get is anything from structural bridge stuff on acoustics to rewires on electrics. It runs the gambit of what you see.”
When repairing guitars Harding always remembers not to leave any physical trace behind.
“That’s the whole M.O. of a luthier — to not be able to tell that I was ever there,” he added. “It’s supposed to be totally invisible. If you can’t tell what I did, then that means I did it right.”
The most difficult instrument they have repaired was a hand carved, ornate U-Harp that took approximately 40 hours.
“There’s a guy that brought in a family heirloom, it’s a 1914 Gibson Style U,” Harding said.
The large instrument has two necks and six strings, plus 10 sub strings and is similar to a guitar-shaped harp.
“It was handed down through the years, and was his mom’s,” Harding said. “It sat in the corner and someone bumped it and it fell forward and it knocked, literally, a whole chunk out of the front. This thing is huge and rare around these parts especially — who would have ever dreamed you’d ever see one in your hands. I’ve never seen a luthier have one, even on their bench … and that one was tough.”
Cox said many times guitars only need a little tune-up and they do what’s called a set-up, which may only take 15 minutes.
“Guitars after a while all their wood and stuff moves, so he’ll set them up,” Cox said.
Due the humidity and changing seasons, the men recommend bringing guitars and other stringed instruments in twice a year to fine-tune or set them up.
“Twice a year everything moves, spring and fall,” Harding said. “When the weather changes wood moves too, naturally. Your action will move and get higher or lower — kind of like a tune-up on a car.”
“On a daily basis I get a lot of people who come in and want their strings changed,” Cox added. “It’s not real hard, but there is a correct way to do it. (Harding) does all the in-depth work, I just do some small truss-rod adjustments and stuff.”
Although the men keep regular business hours they are open to performing emergency service for working musicians in need, even if they call while at a gig.
“We always let all our friends and musicians know, if you need something give us a call on our cell phones, our telephone numbers are on the door,” Cox said.
“Our whole deal when we opened, was to open a store for the honest-to-God musicians that are literally working to put food on the table around here,” Harding added. “There’s guys that go to a gig somewhere, and a bad cord will go down or something will bust and then you need a 911 call. It’s really like going to the doctor. If you find somebody you can trust it’s a big deal.”
“I’ve taken amps out, I’ve taken strings out, I’ve done a number of different things,” Cox said.
“And if they drop off repairs and need it done by ‘this show,’ we can come out out and meet them at the show and save them a trip,” Harding added.
Backwoods Guitar, only open for 10 months, wasn’t open during the Missouri State Fair last year and the men are curious about how busy they will be during that time.
“We’ve just been talking about that,” Harding said. “We’re really anxious to see what happens.”
Although the business is fairly new, the men have already shipped a guitar as far away as Russia.
“Eron restored a 62’ Epiphone Coronet and a guy from Russia bought it,” Cox said. “We’ve also shipped to Seattle and Oregon.”
“We’ve got guys here that literally live across the street and don’t know we’re here, but we’ve had guys that will come in from St. Louis and Kansas City,” Harding added.
Many of the vintage guitars they offer for sale are uniqu,e such as an old Gibson J 50.
“A lot of the stuff we get in, you don’t see everywhere,” Cox said.
They have old tubes, fuses and parts that are difficult to find elsewhere, too. And if a musician wants to play a $10,000 vintage guitar, such as the 1962 Les Paul, the men said that’s not a problem.
“We’ll let them play whatever they want,” Harding said.
At present Harding is repairing a 1950 Gibson J 50 that he said he hopes to have completed before the Missouri State Fair opens.
“It’s not the perfect collector quality, but it’s definitely player quality,” he added.
Backwoods Guitar LLC is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays; they are closed Sunday and Monday. For more information call them at 851-2233 or visit backwoodsguitar.com or facebook.com/BackWoodsGuitarRepair.