"Three years ago, I was happily building houses, not watching the news," says Jay Lichty, who built custom houses in Tryon, North Carolina. "I had great clients and a great career. But then the housing market collapsed.
At the same time, Lichty, a long-time musician, was learning to craft musical instruments. "I started building ukeleles as a hobby when I was rehabbing from a shoulder injury. First I bought a kit, then I built one from scratch looking at YouTube videos. They turned out really well."
When well-known guitar maker Wayne Henderson was doing a workshop in his area, Lichty wanted in really bad. "The workshop was limited to four people, and by the time I found out about it there was a waiting list of five." Against all odds, Lichty believed it would work out somehow, and when he got a spot, Lichty felt it was meant to be. "The universe is lining up for this. I knew I had the basic skills to build and sell these things."
Creating Custom Guitars
The workshop turned out to be a magical moment. "The guitar I built in the workshop – I could do no wrong. I got the neck angle perfect on the first try." The second guitar didn't come together as easily, but Lichty was learning fast. He loved the work and one night he came home from house-building and told his wife Corrie that making guitars was his calling. "She was 100 percent behind me," Lichty says. He built a shop on the side of the garage where he could control heat and humidity to cure the wood and began making guitars. "There was no big moment of fear because I figured I'd just build them full-time until the construction business picked up."
His guitars aren't cheap – they start at $4,000 and rise into five figures for show-stopper models with hand-painted art. Lichty began to build a fan base for his instruments by selling them at a loss to key people – musicians who might get others to buy. "Selling them for a steal made me sick to my stomach because I think people appreciate things more when they pay more. But we had to get them into people's hands," Lichty says.
Gradually, his client base grew. Today he's working on his forty-fourth guitar. Each one takes 120 to 160 hours to build. Two members of the country band, Gloriana, play Lichty guitars, as does blues artist Geoff Achison.
Lichty has never worked so hard. "I'm out in the shop, working like an addict. I'm very tired, but I never dread Monday. I try not to take for granted the sheer joy of this work. I hope I never have to go back to building houses."
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