Off the Clock: A look beneath the surface of a guitar

Apr 22, 2016

 Guitarists can become household names in music touring the world… but they wouldn’t be able to do that without their technicians. Although it takes years of experience to master an instrument, the ability to fix a guitar on the spot requires an entirely different sort of understanding.

A man held a guitar broken into two pieces. As he stared hopelessly at the instrument, which fell victim to a small child, Luke Offield saw something he could potentially bring back to life… because he doesn’t see guitars the same way most people do.

“I guess it’s like a band,” Offield said. “Every piece has its function as far as the main purpose goes, but the whole band wouldn’t occur if one of those pieces were missing.”

Offield is a guitar technician at Guitar Finder in Columbia, a local music store and repair shop. The man with the broken guitar was from out of town, but said he was told that Ben from Guitar Finder could fix anything. He was talking about Ben Wade, the store owner.

“I’ve always tried to do as good a job as I possibly can on whatever comes [in],” Wade said. “So I think just over time, people know they can rely on me.”

Wade opened Guitar Finder 20 years ago, and he said he hasn’t stopped loving his job. Guitar Finder has allowed him to develop a special relationship with musicians in the local music scene… and his reputation as a guitar technician has allowed him to work on the instruments of some recognizable names in the music industry.

“Weezer, Modest Mouse, Ted Nugent, Peter Frampton, Cheap Trick, Wilco, Kenny Wayne Shepard… the list goes on, and actually pretty amazing,” he said.

“His knowledge level is through the roof,” Offield said. “And as someone I can work with as a friend and someone I look up to, it’s a fantastic working relationship.”

Offield said Wade has been an incredible mentor in his seven years at the store, but his fascination with the inner-workings of guitars started much earlier.

“I just started becoming as curious about how the guitar functions and how it does what it does as much as I was about learning how to play the thing,” he said. “I basically took it upon myself to start taking apart every guitar I could find.”

The thought of dismantling and rebuilding a guitar is something that wouldn’t cross most guitarists’ minds… which might be one reason Offield stands out as a guitarist in the local music scene.

“It’s made it easier for me, in a lot of respects, as far as trying to find my tone because I know that if maybe this pickup isn’t working for me, I already have experience to draw from and I can put that knowledge to work,” Offield said.

A pickup is the part of an electric guitar that captures the vibrations of a guitar string and converts it to sound. And though that may sound like a mere technicality, Offield says an inability to achieve a desired sound can be a real hindrance to some musicians.

“They might enjoy the guitar that they play on, but if it’s just not getting the sound that they want, it can get frustrating and then if you have a high level of frustration, you’re not enjoying what you’re doing and then your creativity can’t flow the same,” he said.

That’s why he said any time he feels that hindrance, he quickly makes the necessary adjustments… for himself, his bandmates and every instrument in the store. And though he said he can be parental sometimes in the way he micromanages guitars and equipment, Wade said it’s that kind of passion and attention that makes Offield a great technician.

“As a business owner, you almost always say when you speak with other business owners, ‘It sure would be nice if someone cared as much as you do,’” Wade said. “Well I have that. Luke cares as much as I do about the whole business… somedays maybe even more.”

Offield said that’s how smaller local music stores like Guitar Finder are able to compete with franchise stores with a much bigger inventory.

“Like if you walk into a mom and pop hardware store, the old dude behind the counter knows exactly what every part in that place does,” Offield said. “And if you walk into Lowes, some people are clueless about the materials they’re selling, you know?”

That mom-and-pop-shop mentality has helped Offield develop a lasting relationship in the music community on and off the stage, and it’s what gives Wade the reputation as the guy who can fix anything. As for the customer with the broken guitar, he donated it to the store after he and Offield decided it made more sense to invest in a new guitar than to pay for repair costs. Offield and wade will work on the instrument in their spare time with hopes of restoring it and donating it to the local Boys and Girls Club.

“We try to save as many guitars as we can,” Wade said. “It’s nice to see that they continue on with somebody else, that’s kind of important for me. I think it’s good to keep those instruments in play and in use because that’s what they’re for.”