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Old St. Matthews shop sees music, handmade creations again

Former Gar Gillies shop reborn

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Allan Beardsell, in his new shop, tunes a freshly-strung, seven-string, fan-fretted multi-scale guitar he built.

PHOTO BY SEAN LEDWICH Enlarge Image

Allan Beardsell, in his new shop, tunes a freshly-strung, seven-string, fan-fretted multi-scale guitar he built. Photo Store

A luthier who has been toiling away in a one-car garage in Wolseley for 10 years has officially opened his new workshop in a West End building with its own storied musical history.

Allan Beardsell, of Beardsell Guitars, has designed and built custom guitars for likes of Lou Reed, John K. Samson, Greg Lowe and Veda Hille.

About three weeks ago, Beardsell moved into a brick building at 706 St. Matthews Ave., which he said was the workshop of Thomas ‘Gar’ Gillies, the inventor of Garnet Amplifiers (think The Guess Who’s American Woman sound), for 20 years until his death in 2006.

"It’s just cool, really, more than anything, to think about some of the people who have been in here," said Beardsell, who met Gillies at the shop in 2003. The famous amplifier inventor, in his 80s at the time, was working on an amp and "turned it up to stun level," Beardsell recalls.

As Beardsell put the finishing touches on a seven-string, multi-scale guitar in his new shop last week, he said he’s invested about $90,000 renovating the building.

Upgrades included climate control, ductwork, electrical, plumbing, windows, insulation, and alarms.

"Basically the whole place had to be gutted," Beardsell said.

Since opening he’s been enjoying the extra space (about six times what he had before), and efficiency.

"It’s fantastic. Instead of just having one bench to work on I can basically run a few jobs at once," he said.

"Just having a separate room for machine tools in order to keep the dust, and noise, separate from the bench area… and having a place to store wood, it’s good."

It takes Beardsell about two months to create one of his custom works, and he muses that his two-year backlog of orders might shrink due to his improved working space.

Before coming to Winnipeg 10 years ago, Beardsell made his living repairing guitars in Toronto. Since coming here he’s focussed mainly on building instruments, but has now taken on John Sharples — former owner of acoustic guitar shop Sled Dog Music — to handle repair work.

"I just wanted to get back into (repairs), partly as a way to keep in contact with the local music community, and partly to keep the income happening," Beardsell said.

As a builder, Beardsell hand-winds his own pickups and makes wax molds of guitar hardware that are cast elsewhere.

It’s part of a "unified aesthetic" he strives for.

"When you sell a hand-made guitar you want to be able to sell something that’s completely unique."

He doesn’t make strings, or the complicated tuning knob machinery.

"Not yet, anyway," he jokes.

His expansion plan includes hiring more people to learn the art and take on some of the hardware work.

"I want to be able to have some new younger builders come in and start developing that kind of small-based manufacturing."

For more information about Beardsell Guitars and to view some of his one-of-a-kind creations go online to www.beardsellguitars.com

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