How many professional, super star guitarists plucked their first string on a toy guitar, lighting that lifelong flame in their youth? Likely more than a few.
But how many of those musicians play a guitar as adults made by the same person who made their childhood instrument of inspiration? It is quite possible that luthier Brian Calhoun has created a generation of rock stars.
Calhoun comes from Rockbridge County, Virginia by way of the ancestral Calhouns of Scotland. He co-founded the Rockbridge Guitar Company in 2002, where – alongside three friends and business partners – he crafts about 65 professional-grade custom guitars a year.
“Most of our clients are professional musicians and serious players,” Calhoun tells Celtic Life International via an email exchange. “We basically found a formula for building really great guitars early on and have just stuck with it and honed our skills.”
Over the years, Rockbridge Guitar has crafted six-stringed axes for the likes of Dave Matthews, Keith Urban, and a bevy of other high-profile guitarists.
“In the old days, I would reach out to bands all the time to try and show them guitars. Now, it is much more about word-of-mouth – that is, usually, our customers find us.
“Our guitars have a unique sound,” Calhoun continues. “It is hard to put into words, but you can feel it when you play one. The main feedback we get from customers is that our guitars are incredibly balanced and very versatile. Rockbridge Guitar Company makes many different models of acoustic guitars; my current favourites are the SJ, the OO, and the SmeckJ.”
Calhoun shares that he is pleased with where the company is these days, feeling as though Rockbridge Guitars has hit a steady stride.
“I am really happy with Rockbridge Guitar Company right now. There is not much I want to change, though we are considering making a few electric guitars.
“When we started the company, I was building guitars all day. I do much less building now, but I am still involved in the building process. I primarily spend my time running the business; getting orders, helping customers figure out what guitar to have built, meeting artists, that sort of thing.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, though, Calhoun recently created a second guitar manufacturing business – toy guitars.
“My newest company, TinkerTar, produces children’s guitars, designed to get kids started playing music at a really young age,” he notes, explaining that TinkerTars are one-string instruments with a colour-coded fingerboard that corresponds to provided teaching material. His first TinkerTar creation was a one-stringed dinosaur. “Now we have a variety of shapes and styles, from tigers and leopards to pizza and rainbows.
“I believe they are the easiest way to introduce kids to stringed instruments. TinkerTar is currently being marketed as a toy, but I want to slowly shift that and get it into more and more schools and early childhood music centres. I think it is an incredible tool for sparking a love of music in young kids, and I can’t wait to watch it grow.”
Whether he is crafting precision instruments for hard-core rockers, or tiny twangers for tots, the joy Calhoun gets from seeing his work being enjoyed by musicians across their lifespan is the same.
“I really enjoy working with three of my great friends in this company. Happy customers, hearing amazing musicians play our guitars, and knowing that most of our customers will play these instruments forever. And now with TinkerTar, the reward is seeing kids play their first song, and realizing it could be the beginning of a lifetime love of playing music.”