In her 34 years, Maegen Wells has-twice-been inlove at first sight.
When he was 7 years old, he picked up a nylon-string acoustic guitar for the first time and accompanied the soundtrack of “Grease.” She is in love.
And in high school, the first time he moved a chisel to a piece of wood, he was beaten.
For the Forestville guitar maker, those two moments ignited an explosion of energy and unlocked the music within him, he said.
Thatâs why he carved and assembled one-of-a-kind custom archtop guitars and mandolins in his Forestville workshop, located below the towering redwoods near the Russian River.
âI want to make guitars that bring live music to all of us,â Wells said. âThe music that we forget we have inside or the music that has not been unlocked. That’s it. “
Small music store in England
When the Michigan native was 9 years old, he and his family of four moved to England when his fatherâs company moved him.
There, he took his first serious guitar lessons, every week at a small music store. She learned from a journal full of songs she wanted to play, from Deep Purpleâs âSmoke on the Waterâ to The Beatles ââ Eleanor Rigby â.
At home, Wells did additional work to accumulate for a bright red electric guitar. Feeling that he was homeless after his familyâs big move, he clung to his guitar for comfort. That hole-in-the-wall guitar store, where he befriended the staff, became his happy place.
âMy guitar became my best friend,â Wells said. “It’s kind of my anchor.”
Then in 1998, Wells and his family returned to Midland, Michigan, where he fell in love for the second time. This time, he fell even more.
At Midland High School, Wells, then 14, took his first class in woodworking. As sawdust fills the air and settles on shiny chisels and large table saws, Wells is there, learning how to use a chisel to gently cut wood.
âWoodworking changed my life,â Wells said. âYou never thought you would have a second love. That’s all I liked, except for the guitars. â
For Wells, woodworking means taking risks. It takes courage and pushing past uncertainty.
âWhen you use a woodworking lathe, the wood rotates quickly and you stick a very sharp chisel to the wood as it rotates,â Wells said. âYou use scary tools and machines. I think there are a lot of fears you have to deal with in woodworking. â
This is one of the reasons why he loves the craft.
âThereâs nothing more enjoyable than overcoming your fears,â Wells said.
A guitar maker was born
In November of 2005, weeks after his 18th birthday, Wells was sitting in his room in Michigan playing his acoustic Taylor guitar and noticed tuners on the back of the headstock that read “Taylor.”
âI thought,â Gosh, this must be the best feeling in the world for Bob Taylor (co-founder of El Cajon-based Taylor Guitars) to see his name on every guitar and on every music tour in the world, ââ he said. Wells.
His âluthier lightbulbâ shone. It was then that he decided to become a professional guitar maker.
Over the years, he took every opportunity to learn the craft.
First he needs to learn the basics. To do that, he worked with a guitar repairer in the basement of the Mid-Michigan Music store. He polished guitars and did random tasks in exchange for lessons on how to make a good guitar playing.
In 2006, he attended the Galloup School of Lutherie in Michigan, devoted exclusively to professional guitar making. He then jumped into a job at Reverend Guitars, an electric guitar company in Detroit. He makes 20 guitars a day, collects them and places the strings.
And finally, in 2008, after meeting longtime luthier Tom Ribbecke at a guitar show in Miami, Wells moved to Healdsburg to begin a five-year apprenticeship with Ribbecke.
âIâm inside his store five days a week for 10 hours a day,â Wells said. âThat’s where I learned to make archtop guitars. I learned how to do everything from scratch. No computers or technology, just a few chisels, clamps and glue. I learned from one of the best. â
Today, in his workshop at his two-story home in Forestville, Wells spends nearly 300 hours on each one-of-a-kind archtop guitar-the hollow-body, six-steel-stringed instrument with a unique arched top and the rich sound you hear in a Chet Atkins song or Wes Montgomery jazz guitar solo.
Archtop guitars, considered a good niche, are traditionally larger than those made by Wells. But Wells âspecialty is creating a smaller guitar withoutâ robbing its voice and sound.
âI thin out my guitar tops, which makes the sound more resonant and responsive, acoustically,â Wells said.
His days consisted of hours of gluing, sanding, carving, drying and, most of all, testing the guitars, he said, laughing.
Wells typically works on four guitars at a time. The wood he uses varies widely, from redwood, ebony, maple and mahogany to walnut, sapele, spruce and koa. Each guitar sells for over $ 10,000.
When it comes to woodworking, Wells uses his intuition.
âI feel the wood through the tool,â Wells said. âHow is its behavior? Are we done? Did I go too far? This is a conversation. I let the wood tell me what it wanted me to do. â
Orders for Wellsâs creations are already flying in, and he usually has orders booked two years in advance. However, the guitar maker opens a waiting list every October, on his dog Lutherieâs birthday, to take orders for next year.
âI donât care who you are, if youâre famous, how long youâve been playing or how well you play,â Wells said. “If you take one of my guitars and you don’t want to put it down and you feel like it has opened up that music inside of you, I’ve done my job.”
You can reach Staff Writer Mya Constantino at [email protected] @searchingformya on Twitter.