Sounds of distinction are his business Manchester man specializes in custom-made stringed instruments By: Tom Osborne

March 18, 1991|By Evening Sun Staff

JIM TAYLOR stands at the workbench in the small shop behind his house. He's putting the finishing touches on an electric guitar he built from leftover parts, and he's expecting the buyer to arrive soon to pick it up.

As he works on the instrument, it's easy to see Jim Taylor is enjoying what he calls a "laid-back thing, not too many hassles any more."

Taylor has his own business. He builds, repairs and restores stringed musical instruments -- guitars, banjos, mandolins and violins.

Five years ago, he was a quality control supervisor at the Black & Decker Manufacturing Co. plant in Hampstead, Carroll County, where he had worked for 32 years. Then came the news that Black & Decker was closing the plant, and Taylor knew he would soon be out of a job.

"It was a big change going from the industrial world to a one-man shop," Taylor says. "But it's real self-satisfying when you can do a good job for somebody and it's appreciated."

After leaving Black & Decker, Taylor, 54, decided to do full-time what he had been doing part-time for about 10 years -- build and repair stringed instruments. So he expanded the shop he built himself behind his Manchester home, hung a sign on the mailbox and he's been making a living at it since 1987.

Although the bulk of Taylor's business comes from repairs, he gets the most satisfaction from the instruments he builds. And, a lot of what he builds is far from your garden-variety electric guitar, although he sells about five or six of them a year. He also sells about five or six custom-made banjos a year.

Taylor has built a double-neck instrument, sort of a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. One part of the instrument is a six-string electric guitar, the other is a five-string banjo. That way, a player can switch from guitar to banjo without missing beat. "I only know of maybe two or three others like it," Taylor says of the unique instrument.

He's also built several mini-guitars. Designed like a standard solid-body electric, they're about half the size and are pitched an octave higher. He's sold four of them, and he's currently working on a double-neck version that combines the mini with a standard-sized guitar.

Taylor started out with sort of a built-in market. He's played guitar and other stringed instruments in country bands around Carroll County for about 30 years. "Most customers come through word-of-mouth," Taylor says. "As a local musician who knows an awful lot of other local musicians, I get a lot of work from them."

"Also, 30 years of playing helped me meet and work with other musicians and to find out what problems they've had with their instruments," says Taylor, a Carroll County native. "I've heard just about every problem there is."

In addition to his shop work, he plays in a local country band on weekends and teaches 25 guitar and banjo students in a studio next to his shop.

He began working on guitars for a simple reason. "I'm left-handed," he says. "Thirty years ago you could hardly find left-handed guitars for sale, let alone anyone to repair them."

So he started doing simple repairs himself and built on what he learned. He also holds a two-year degree in electronics. "So many of the newer guitars have active electronics -- circuit boards and chips," he says. He does some "hot-rodding" of these guitars for younger rock players.

"I also do a lot of restoration work of old guitars, violins and banjos. People up here are looking for someone who does the old-fashioned hand work, and there are not a lot of shops around that do it," Taylor says.

He cites as an example a woman who came into the shop with a 200-year-old violin. "It had pearl inlays in the tuning pegs, and one was missing. So I carved one that matched exactly, and that made a big difference in the value of that violin," he says.

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