Old North State Luthiers: Five Best Guitar Makers Right Here At Home

Jay Lichty - Lichty Guitars
Jay Lichty - Lichty Guitars

If you want a Martin, go buy a Martin. They’re damn fine guitars. Hell, they’’ve been making them for over 175 years. For some, they’re the perfect guitar. However for the collector and player alike, there is nothing that compares to the feeling of playing a guitar that is made specifically for you.

Luthiers are a special breed of people. They don’t build guitars for the money, and they definitely don’t build them for the accolades. Instead they design and construct unique and personal pieces of playable art for their clients because they love music, they love the process, and they are passionate about the way a guitar comes to life. From selecting the tonewoods and designing the body to shaping the neck, the process is intricate and time consuming. Only the most skilled craftsmen attempt to tackle instruments. We met five of North Carolina’s highest caliber guitar makers to discuss the many aspects of their specialized industry, learn about what drives them, what makes a guitar great, and much more.

Bob Riguad
Rigaud Guitars

Now focused solely on the design and development of custom acoustic guitars, Bob Rinaud works from his shop in Greensboro, NC. Bob’s guitars have won acclaim within the industry and symbolize outstanding quality, sound and beauty. He’s been featured in Guitar Player Magazine, and his guitars are currently being used on tour by world renowned artists Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt. He got his start back in 1979 as a repairman at a local music store where he received his first commission to build a resophonic guitar, or “resonator” which is commonly heard in bluegrass or blues music. The seed was planted and from there he established a home guitar shop, and soon had the privilege of building a cutaway nylon string guitar for legend Nokie Edwards (The Ventures). He also added custom-designed, carved electric guitars to his portfolio while also specializing in the repair and restoration of vintage guitars. He uses a wide variety of tonewoods like Figured mahogany, Curly Maple, Hawaiin Koa, Clario Walnut, Brazilian Rosewood, Ebonies, Bubinga, and more. A custom guitar from Rigaurd guitars averages at around $5,000. For more information, visit rgmusic.com.

Jay Lichty
Lichty Guitars                                                                                                                           

Jay Lichty, from Tryon, NC, is the personification of passion. One conversation with this man and it is evident that he is doing what he loves. Once a homebuilder, he transitioned into building custom guitars and ukuleles to fuel his ever growing addiction for collecting the stringed sirens. Amazingly, he built his first ukulele by watching a youtube video. He then went on to study under one of the world’s pre-eminent luthiers, Wayne Henderson, who has built guitars for a couple of guys you might have heard of, Eric Clapton and Doc Watson. After only 3 years of building under his belt, he has already built over 53 guitars, and 26 ukuleles, and has an ever growing list of renowned musicians on his client roster. He is a musician of over 38 years, and knows his way around an instrument. According to Jay, “Most custom builders add an element or quality to the instruments that the factories are just not set up to do. As a musician I know what that element and quality is and I put that into everything I build.” Everything about the Jay Lichty experience is custom and he’ll find out details like whose guitar or ukulele style you’d like to sound like, what types of venues you will be playing, and what types of tonewoods you’d like to use, well before he puts a cut on the wood. Jay’s guitars start at $4,000 and his ukeleles start at $2,000+ or if you are interested in learning to build your own guitar, Jay offers building workshops. For more information, visit lichtyguitars.com.

Ari Lehtala
LA Guitar Factory                                                                                                  

Ari Lehtela has been involved with music in some shape or form in North America for over three decades. Originally from Finland, He began as a professional guitarist and played in the US and Canada throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. Around 1990, Ari met a local Charlotte, NC guitar builder named Luke Lukuer and was impressed by the sound and playability of his instruments. Ari realized that handmade customs were the way to achieve the best quality in sound and design. As a well traveled connoisseur of music and instruments, Ari draws inspiration from all over the world. He builds the entire spectrum of guitars from jazz, acoustic, bass, electric guitars to entirely unique “hybrid” instruments that combine characteristics from several different types of instruments into one dual-necked axe. A beautiful example is his “Gitmando,”- a dual necked combination of a steel-string acoustic and a mandolin. His instruments look like functional pieces of art and his creative design and aesthetics are one of a kind. In addition to building, Ari also operates a school of luthiery out of his Newell, NC shop. The average price of Ari’s guitars is around $4,200. For more information, visit lehtelaguitarcraft.com.

Jason Pickard
Pickard Guitars

Jason Pickard came from a family of mechanically-inclined men, but felt more at home with a guitar in his hands then a wrench. As he grew older, he wanted to be able to build things like the other men in the family, and eventually fulfilled some of those ambitions by working on old cars. Once he started playing classical guitar in 1994, busting knuckles and breaking nails on cars was no longer practical. It wasn’t until he received a handmade guitar that had some integrity issues that he found his calling, and a mentor in famous guitar builder, John Gilbert. Both sons of machinists, they found a common bond and Jason got the inspiration and encouragement to start building his own guitars.  For Jason, it was the best of both worlds, combining music and mechanics. Jason currently resides in Concord, North Carolina and remains active in the music community in the Charlotte area as an educator, performer, and classical guitar builder. For more information, visit pickardguitars.com.

Chris Capozzoli
Capozzoli Guitars

Just like Jimi Hendrix, Chris Capozzoli was a left handed boy in a right handed man’s world. At age 14, Chris’ father bought him his first guitar from a local pawn shop. The fact that it was designed for a right hander could have left him discouraged, but again, like Jimi, he restrung it up left handed, corrected the intonation on the bridge, and started strumming. With that experience, Chris says, “I instantly thought to myself that I could make one of these. So before I was out of high school I built one.”  Chris further honed his skill set in a custom mill work shop building intricate entry ways and cabinet systems for the country club communities of the High Country. As a guitarist himself, he appreciates the warm tone of a jazz guitar. He also loves the crunch of an overdriven twin reverb tube amp in blues and rock and includes those abilities in the guitars he produces. In addition to guitars, Chris builds mandolins, ukuleles, electric bass’, electric upright bass’, electric lap steels, and classical electrics. Chris describes his work with his customers as “A Special process.” He wants to know what the person needs out of their instrument, what type of music they play, what type of instruments they enjoy, and then customizes his instruments to fit those needs. He uses traditional woods like mahogany, sugar maple, spruce, and rosewood as well as nontraditional woods such as black walnut and Appalachian spruce, both of which grow in his backyard. Capozzoli’’s guitars range from $1600 to $5500.  Contact Chris about his guitars at c_capozzoli@yahoo.com.