Jordan McConnell can craft songs as well as the instruments on which he plays them.
The guitarist for local folk group The Duhks took a luthier course with Saskatchewan crafter David Freeman shortly after graduating from high school in 1999, and began constructing his own guitar soon thereafter.
Now, from a shop behind his parents’ North Kildonan home, he builds instruments for clients such as world fingerpicking champion Tim Sparks, The Avett Brothers axeman Seth Avett, and musicians in every genre from Irish folk music to jazz.
"I got to know a lot of these people that were my heroes at one point, and still are, really. They became my friends because we were traveling around," McConnell said. "It feels great to know that they have the confidence in me to allow me to build them their tool."
The starting price for McConnell’s guitars is $6,000, but can increase based on the amount of work and materials required to customize them. He sees the project through from searching for just the right wood all the way through to performing the final paint job.
"Most guitar-makers have their own sound, but they couldn’t really tell you how or why it is their sound," said McConnell, who estimated most projects take about four months to complete. "I can tailor the responses of the guitars, but they always sound like a guitar that I’ve built.
"It’s distinct despite subtle differences."
McConnell said the type of music a client plays is a major factor in how the instrument is designed.
"It’ll change the style of the body, first and foremost, and it will also affect how I build the instrument — whether it’s a bit lighter or a bit heavier. Those things will all affect the tone of the guitar and how it responds to the player," he said.
McConnell said being a veteran musician himself has aided him in his craft. In particular, he’s able to replicate elements of a guitar the client already likes, but he also has the artistry to allow the buyer some freedom.
"My ears have been training themselves for 26 or 27 years," he said. "My ears have been working at hearing subtle differences in what a guitar is doing.
"I understand what players are looking for when they say ‘I want this, or that’. "
Although McConnell has experimented with other instruments such as ukuleles and banjos, he plans to stick to making acoustic guitars for the foreseeable future.
As for performing, McConnell and The Duhks are set to embark on an eastern Canadian tour later this winter.