Local Luthiers Tell Stories With Each Handmade Guitar

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Wilmore Guitars hang on the wall at Long Beach’s boutique gear shop, Dawn of the Shred. Photo by Sarah Bennett.

There is no sign out front of Tom Wilson and Randy Baranosky’s workshop where the first guitars to be made in Long Beach are crafted—just an entrance is in the back of a warehouse off of Junipero where wood scraps, plastic chairs and ladders are stacked.

Inside, however, the space where Wilmore Guitars are made is immaculately clean and emanates with the heavy smell of dust and wood. Machines like the drum sander and the band saw (no puns intended) are looming in the corner, teasing with their constant reminders of middle-school shop class. Wilson, co-owner and musical visionary, stands in front of a series of metal clocks—all dead and out of batteries—mounted on the wall.

“Everything is hand made,” Wilson says of his company’s guitars, which found their way into the first local brick-and-mortar retail outlet earlier this summer. “We don’t have fancy machines that we’re paying bills on that make our guitars for us. Our four hands are what make the guitars in this business.”

Wilson grew up taking everything he could apart and putting it back together, so becoming a guitar-maker—or luthier—was not a stretch. He started out building skateboard ramps and then he moved on to disassembling his guitars and reassembling them. What Wilson found was that the guitar he owned was made out of plywood. And it was cheap.

From this experience, Wilson learned that the most important aspect of the guitar was the quality of the wood and the most integral and time consuming part of the guitar-making process is blending together different types of wood and shaping the body in a precise way to reach new and original sounds.

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Randy Baranosky (left) and Tom Wilson stand in Wilmore Guitars’ workhop. Photo by Joseph Lapin.

After moving around a lot as a kid, Wilson settled in Long Beach with his family. And the development of Wilmore Guitars was completely organic from there. He started out making guitars for friends and he loved it so much he decided to start a business. So, when the time came to pick a name for the shop, he started to look at the origin of Long Beach. Once Wilson discovered that Long Beach was once named Wilmore City after the 19th century pioneer William E. Willmore, Wilmore Guitars was born.

This, clearly, isn’t just any ordinary guitar workshop. It’s an artist’s space from which comes not just guitars, but stories, too.

“There are probably parallels that can be drawn between journalism. You’re creating a story,” Baranosky says on the process of taking a hunk of wood and transforming it into a guitar. “You’ve taken a blank piece of paper and put words on it, and it’s not just a piece of paper with words on it anymore—it’s a story.”

Baranosky, Wilmore’s other luthier, is at one of the tables in the shop, sanding down a new guitar body while Wilson walks towards the back corner of the shop, where a guitar is displayed like the holy grail—the body color a frequency of red somewhere between maroon and redwood. On the table is Wilmore’s original 2nd Street model—an axe that Wilson is proud to name after the Long Beach street he now calls home.

“I wanted to identify where I planted my roots,” says Wilson. Through the organic creation of their models, Wilmore Guitars, literally, has begun to take the shape and style of Long Beach. So far, the company has four standards: the 2nd Street, the 7th Street, the Termino, and the Shoreline.

“The 2nd street is more of a flashy, high-end model. The 7th Street is very basic, stripped down,” Wilson says. “You can identify the different neighborhoods in Long Beach [through the model names] and it would make sense.”

And while they do have some guitar-style standards they riff on, Wilson and Baranosky want to create affordable guitars that match their customers’ identities and individualized-playing styles. The Termino model, for example, was originally built for singer-songwriter Andy Zipf.

“It’s very interactive. If we can interact with the customers, it’s always exciting. Because you start to learn about them and who they are connected to,” Wilson says. “To build a guitar around who someone is and what they want to do with it is part of the satisfaction.”

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Andy Zipf playing his custom guitar, which eventually became Wilmore’s Termino model. Photo by Sarah Bennett.

As Wilmore Guitars’ journey forges into the future, Wilson has a vision of a new line of salvaged guitars that has originated, somewhat, out of his day job at Habitat for Humanity.

“It starts out with the idea of old growth wood…sequoias, redwoods…stuff that’s really old,” he says.

In his shop, Wilson has pieces of redwood from the mid 1940s. He also has some material taken from a house that was built in 1927. The wood was going to be dumped, so Wilson thought, “Why not put it into a guitar?”

“The old growth wood is more stable—the grain is tighter,” he says. “The rings are tighter on the tree. It had longer to solidify and grow and develop as a tree. It’s going to tend to be more resonant.”

Wilson is a practical person and he sees treasure in tree stumps, old doors and old furniture. Maybe it’s also a bit of nostalgia, but it all goes back to playability.

“It’s going to have natural defects,” Wilson says about Wilmore’s upcoming salvaged series. “It’s going to have holes where nails used to be…That’s kind of the appeal. This guitar was made out of pieces of a home from the early part of the century. That’s a story to tell about your guitar. We want people to have a story to tell. Songwriting and music is often story telling. And if their instrument can be a part of that story; if our story can overlap into their story, then it just kind of has this bigger appeal to it.”

For more information about Wilmore Guitars, visit the company’s website.

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