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Buster Brown’s hand crafter guitar are a labor of love

Buster Brown of Mountain City has always had a love of music, from the sounds of the 50’s, rock and roll, country and bluegrass. Since his retirement, Brown has taken his appreciation of music to a new level as he perfects the art of building acoustic guitars.
A hand-made acoustic guitar is a labor of love. Beginning in 2006, Brown’s first custom guitar took two months to complete. As he has become more adept at this art, he has whittled his time down to three weeks. Brown enjoys making six-string, steel-stringed guitars in a style known as Dreadnought. This particular style of guitar was named after the British battleship, HMS Dreadnought. A popular guitar, the Dreadnought is characterized by square shoulders and bottom. It is typically used in bluegrass and country music. Brown has also made a smaller orchestra style guitar known as OM, or orchestra model.
Brown’s father, Marvin Brown, was a woodworker. Buster has delved into woodworking making some furniture, tables and an oak grandfather clock in addition to the guitars.
It took Brown six months to create the jigs necessary to build his guitars. Jigs are a template used to create a copy of any piece that is to be reproduced. The acoustic guitars that Brown creates are made up of 100 individual parts.
The size, shape and wood that is used influences the tone of a guitar. Brown believes the use of hardwoods in acoustic guitars gives the instrument a much clearer and distinctive sound than soft woods. He typically uses mahogany and Indian rosewood for the back and sides of the guitar. Adirondack spruce or Sitka spruce are the woods he prefers to use on the top of the instrument. Cocobolo rosewood, an expensive wood, also produces great sounds.
Brown gives credit to renowned luthier, Wayne Henderson, for the vast amount of information that he has shared with Brown. A luthier is someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. Henderson lives in Rugby, Virginia, approximately an hour’s drive from Johnson County. According to Brown, Henderson has over 40 years of knowledge creating acoustic guitars. Henderson, known world-wide for his guitar building and playing, has made custom guitars for musicians Eric Clapton and Doc Watson, among others.
Brown is working on creating his 18th acoustic guitar. “Right now it’s more of a hobby than a profit thing,” he says. “I enjoy building guitars a lot.”
Brown has sold guitars to customers in Knoxville, Lenoir and West Jefferson. He has also sold to local residents of Johnson County. He is planning on setting up a booth at the Music Fest in Sugar Grove, North Carolina this July.
Brown built a custom guitar for local musician Kody Norris. Norris travels throughout much of the country with his traditional bluegrass band known as “Kody Norris and the Watauga Mountain Boys.” Norris’ instrument made by Buster Brown reflects his style of dressing as it is decorated in mother of pearl trim with his name across the neck of the guitar. According to Brown, Norris wanted it to fit his image. “He’s a fancy dresser,” said Brown. Norris always gives credit to Brown for his custom, deluxe guitar during his concert performances.
The price of a handcrafted guitar varies according to the woods that are chosen. Typically, a guitar created by Brown will cost in the range of $1,000 to $1,200. Should the more expensive cocolobo rosewood be chosen, the price can run as high as $1,500. “All of my guitars are built by hand from solid wood,” said Brown. He orders his supplies from Luthiers Mercantile International (LMI). He can order his woods, tools and any materials such as adhesives, dyes and finishes from LMI. The wood arrives in large one-piece sheets, ready for Brown to fashion into a guitar. Brown invests $500 to $600 worth of material for each guitar he crafts. “Every part of the guitar is handmade,” he added. He is hoping that his love for crafting guitars will develop into a business.
According to Brown, not all guitars are handmade. Many are machine made and imported. The sound “does not compare” to handcrafted custom guitars he said. But when someone is just learning to play, buying the cheaper guitars make more sense, he explained.
Although Brown and his wife, Peggy, are retired, he works just about every day on his guitars. It takes him roughly 120 to 150 hours to build one. Brown admits that playing the guitar is not his forte. “I’m not very good,” he said. He also works on guitar repairs and set-up. “The string action has to be right so it will play,” said Brown.
In his father’s barn, Buster Brown found an old guitar that his father had bought at Walmart. He used it as the model for his very first handcrafted guitar. With a smile on his face, Brown shared, “I’m keeping that one.”