Creating a Path Forward for Emerging Artists
Welcome James! Can you tell me a bit about JK Custom Guitars, and how you guys got started?
Thanks! JK Custom Guitar will be celebrating 10 years this upcoming April, but I have been building guitars for 13 years. It all started when I blocked off half of my hand with a table saw; I had this accident, went to physiotherapy and ultimately the doctor said “Hey you can go back to doing the things you wanted, or things you like doing” which at the time was playing my guitar. So I went back and learned to play guitar with my, you know, messed up mangled claw of a hand. At the time, my guitar was very crappy and old. With me being on assistance and disability, I didn’t have money for a new guitar, and I really wanted one that sounded and played better. I ended up thinking to myself, hey, I could probably build one. I soon realized I was wrong, and I couldn't. This wasn’t because of my hand, but because I had no idea what I was doing. I read books, I did the YouTube thing, and still my guitar turned out like garbage. I wasted more time on that than I did on anything else. Eventually, I looked online and booked a course, which was an actual Master’s Degree in luthiery, and a year and half later, I started building guitars! About a year and half later, after this course, I started the company in 2012.
So where are you guys at now? Can you tell me about the team?
We have a team of four full-time staff, plus myself, and we've been growing since the pandemic, believe it or not, because I'm not the kind of employer to lay off my staff. I actually took a side job, so I work part time at Amazon in the mornings, and when I’m done, I come into the company. The Amazon revenue just keeps my life going, and all the revenue the company is making, I’m reinvesting back in. Why am I doing this? Well for one, this way I don’t have to lay off staff, and two, it’s the best I can way, for now, to invest into the company and let it grow.
What are the services offered by JK Custom Guitars?
So we offer everything across the board, from guitar setups, repairs, offering and building guitar workshops, and we also offer custom builds. We’re actually a couple of years into fine tuning our product line because JK Custom Guitars has a sustainable mission. So for every guitar and product sold at the shop, as well as service provided, we’re now planting a tree. We just entered a deal with One Tree Planted, it’s a nonprofit organization, and they worked with Starbucks and a couple other big mining companies... they'll be helping us achieve our goal a lot quicker and more efficiently.
What’s on the horizon for JK Custom Guitars? You know, with everything kind of reopening, what are you guys up to this year?
We are focusing very heavily on releasing products to the store in more abundance, and we’re focusing on tailoring workshops to fit individual needs. One of the biggest workshops we are going to announce in the very near future is going to entail making your own pickups from scratch.
We also have a separate workshop on building your own guitar. This program is something we’ve mastered over the last 6 years, and we’ve had countless numbers of students complete their project and are completely satisfied. In fact, many of them still sign up for a second repair workshop just because they like what they’re doing.
Very cool, and when is that happening, the build-your-own guitar workshops?
The upcoming workshops are actually taking place on April 2nd, 3rd, 9th and 10th. But we are able to run them any time because we can do a custom schedule whenever an individual is interested. It’s their own project, and everyone has their own work schedule, so we create a schedule to fit their needs.
Let’s say I was someone who was interested in the workshop, and you know, I’m not entirely sure if it’s for me because I don’t have that much experience working with different raw materials. What would your advice be?
I would definitely encourage them to come in and take a look at the shop itself, and get to know the staff that would potentially be helping them, as well as to see some of the student builds. This way they can see if they’re interested, and if not, they could probably let us know and we’ll give them a fair price to do a custom build for them.
Can you tell us more about the Fuck You Coronavirus campaign?
The Fuck You Coronavirus campaign was developed in December during our "umpteenth" million shutdown. Whether it’s the music industry not being able to play venues or restaurants, whether it’s the mandates that just prevent people from going about their everyday life. We’re tired of it, and we know musicians are tired of it. The only thing musicians are capable of doing during these times is pre-recording a lot of albums or, you know, working on that kind of stuff. So they’re touring, they’re not doing half the stuff they want to do, and their revenue is drastically reduced. How are you supposed to create? Or, you know, fund an album when you don’t even have funds from gigging, or whatever the case may be.
So the idea behind this campaign is while we’re into the reopening phase, we want to be able to sell as much of the merch as possible, and give 25% of that to local artists right here in Montreal, to help them with those bills that they need to pay.
That sounds like an excellent initiative. How do all the musicians potentially get in contact with you? Or how will you get in contact with them to arrange that?
We have a brand new platform on our website. There is a reason the website has been down for a little bit, and it’s because we were adding in a new online store, so that people will have direct access to the merchandise without having to come directly to the shop. The new website is officially up and running, it was launched on Monday, March 7th.
Generally speaking, we want local artists to tell us “Hey I’ve been impacted by COVID-19 for the following reasons, and I would love to get a little bit of help to do this,” and with that information, we will turn around and find the ones that inspire us and have them involved. Obviously something to consider is that not everybody will be able to participate in it directly, because let’s face it, it’s limited merch space. But we want to pick the ones who need it most and who will benefit heavily from it. Along with that, we want them to reach out to us because they might need money for things like guitar setups or repairs, so we might be able to offer our services for those repairs for free. We just want to help as many artists as possible without breaking anybody’s bank, so that everybody can benefit.
How can musicians stay up to date with JK Custom Guitars?
They can follow us on all of our social media, or drop by the shop, introduce yourself and let us know that you’re interested in what we are doing, and that way, you can get a feel for the place. We are one of the few guitar shops that don’t mind people chilling at the space and getting a feel for how everything goes!