From classic to steampunk: SE Tech’s guitar thing

Niche biz, but stable (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

I’ve written about the band-instrument repair program, and MPR News colleague Elizabeth Baier has written about the school’s violin repair program.

I thought I’d drop in on the two-year guitar repair and building program.

Aaron Paul, a 30-year-old from Austin, Texas — and he came HERE for instruments? — is checking his sanding on a guitar for class.

He already has four other instruments under his belt, though, including a mandolin and a steampunk-themed electric guitar. (In the second year, you can get a bit creative.)

Paul checks the sanding (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

He’s already got a job lined up — with Warmoth Custom Guitar and Bass Parts in Washington state. He’ll be working on guitar necks — doing final sanding and shaping, and installing small parts such as frets.

“As a guitar player, I’ll be making sure they feel right and look right,” he says.

On the weekends he hopes to build up his own business by constructing the types of instruments he wants to build and then selling them. (He has already sold one of his guitars to his neighbor. It sounds like he’ll keep the rest as mementos.)

Paul says people used to be able to show up at guitar shops and get hired on to learn the business.

Anderson has only 10 ours to go (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

But now “that apprenticeship situation is fading fast,” he says. “It’s hard to find them nowadays.”

Someone with similar goals is Jon Anderson, 24, of St. Paul.

The jazz and folk player is working on a Selmer 807 — a “Gypsy jazz and swing” guitar Anderson says was made in France between the 1930s and ’50s. He has spent almost 300 hours working on it, and has another 10 hours or so to go.

Anderson has his eyes set on shops in Stillwater and Des Moines as possible first jobs.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” he said.

(If you want to see the students’ work, check out the Southeast Technical Guitar Show Tuesday afternoon, where you can check out dozens of newly built guitars. You can see them on display and in some performances.)

Steampunk instrument (Alex Friedrich / MPR)

Instructor Steve Rossow says he doesn’t have job-placement figures, but says “there’s something out there for everyone.”

About 10 percent may land at large manufacturers, he said, but others may end up at small operations or repair shops.

He estimated that those going into the field could make $25,000 in the beginning at smaller jobs, and $30,000 to $40,000 working for large companies.

It’s a niche business, Rossow says, but “it’s pretty stable. The popularity of guitars and stringed instruments isn’t going away.”