You might never know that tucked away in what use to be the old Public Works building in Burlington are several artists hard at work.
"I try to stay a little hidden; guitar players like to talk," said Creston Lea, a builder of custom electric guitars. "I think guitar players can be finicky and it's always like -- I really like this thing, I just wish three elements were different."
Gina Bullard: "What's the different between your guitars and going into a music store and picking one up?"
Creston Lea: "They're all made to order and I don't do any two alike and I try to not do replicas of things you can buy somewhere else."
It's not just the shape and designs that make Lea's instruments special, he likes working with wood that has character, often using old barn beams. "This is an area where you want some strength because that's where the neck attaches," he said.
"Everybody else is making guitars that are perfectly pristine, so somebody should make them a little funnier," Lea said.
But with old wood comes imperfections, like knots that need to be replaced.
Gina Bullard: "These are OK, These cracks in it?"
Creston Lea: "Yeah, anything goes. They don't go very deep. It's part of the charm."
Lea has been at it for six years and his average guitar costs around 2-thousand dollars. The custom painted designs are also done by a Vermont artist. Most of his clients are out of state. His typical customer is in the music business -- whether weekend gigs or full time touring acts. The very modest guitar maker revealed that some even back big artists like Ray Lamontagne and Bob Dylan.
"I kind of went pro before I knew what I was doing at all which led to a couple of panicky years," Lea said.
Originally going to graduate school for fiction writing, he made a go at becoming an author. But after several disappointing publishing ventures -he put his writing to the side and concentrated on guitars.
"It was just something I was doing in my basement. I never imagined it could turn into a job," he said. Ironically, years later, he landed a book deal. "I had gotten over any kind of disappointment of -- this is never going to happen -- and I fell in love with guitars, so the book finally coming out was nice -- a little dollop of gravy on top."
His solid body electric guitars take around five months to make and he typically works on 15 to 25 at a time. "These are derived from real assembly production lines in the 50s where you take a neck and body and bolt them together," Lea said.
Gina Bullard: "So they're not the ones people are slamming on stage and breaking apart?"
Creston Lea: "My guitars are unbreakable."
With buyer input every step of the way he hopes the final product strikes a chord. "I want people to keep the guitar forever and mean something to them. And guitars get traded around and sold so often that I want mine to stick with the person that ordered it," he said.
A Made in Vermont product that's taking center stage.
Tuesday, May 21 2013 6:00 PM EDT2013-05-21 22:00:03 GMT
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