Interview, Meet Your Maker

Meet Your Maker: Bryan Galloup

In V1E6 of TNAG Connoisseur, Dave Hunter chats with renowned builder and famed educator, Bryan Galloup, as we explore the science of sound behind Galloup Guitars.

Having begun, like so many, with the humble origin story of a kid who was simply fascinated by what made guitars tick, Galloup Guitars of Big Rapids, Michigan, has grown into an enterprise boasting a lutherie school, a dedicated repair shop, and a custom shop with three master luthiers including founder Bryan Galloup himself. And through all that, the flat-top guitars that bear the Galloup logo are still among the most respected hand-crafted acoustics produced in the world.

What differentiates this maker from many out there, though, is that while the instruments are still the product of a great and experienced hands, heads, hearts and ears, Galloup himself has literally founded a science for defining and cataloging the tonal properties of myriad woods used in the process. The result of that effort is a formula for crafting consistently great-sounding guitars, and a short cut of sorts to the generations-deep practices handed from master to apprentice throughout the golden age of old-world instrument making.

Even so, it all started with a kid’s fascination with a box full of bolt-together garage sale guitar parts, and a desire to consistently push the results to the next level. 

Considering where you’ve found yourself in the guitar world today, what triggered your interest in the instrument in the first place? 

It all started for me back in the ’60s. My parents had guitars around the house, and of course I never really took an interest in the things until I was in my teens. I guess like most people you were just trying to fit in, meet girls or something, and you pick up the guitar and start playing it. But I was very fortunate, even in my small town there were some great players hanging around, and they introduced me to some good instruments. Some people, their first guitars are really terrible, so I was fortunate.

When I was about 14, Eldon Whitford moved to my little town of Reed City, which is about 4,000 people, who later was the author of Gibson: Those Fabulous Flat-top Guitars. He was our local guitar junky, so we were lucky. As things progressed, I was kind of like everybody else. There wasn’t a lot to do, I didn’t join bands, but I did get turned on to some great music from Eldon and others, listening to Doc Watson, Norman Blake, David Grissman, it all progressed pretty innocently. 

So, please tell us what got your from bolting together a box full of parts—albeit great vintage parts—to thinking, “Hey, I can make great acoustic guitars from scratch!” 

[Laughs] Well, in the first place, I was always kind of messing with my acoustic guitars a lot anyway. Because I was trained to be skilled by my father, certain things were achievable to me, and certainly finding that Stratocaster and screwing it together on my parents’ table got me hooked—it was pretty rewarding. 

What kind of segued into that was I ended up putting a small guitar shop in my parents’ basement and buying garage-sale guitars and fixing them up. And after a while people started hearing that I could work on stuff, and they started bringing things to me, which amazed me. I was 16, 17 and always had things to work on: broken pegheads, frets, fret leveling, putting in bone nuts and saddles.

And another big thing for me was when Dan Erlewine moved to the neighboring town of Big Rapids to be close to his mother and brothers. That’s where I live now, but then it was 22 miles away from where I lived in Reed City. He is obviously a world-famous guy these days, and he was very nice to me; he didn’t take me on as an apprentice or to work—I was far too young, and I think a burden on his system—but over the years I kept with it and we ended up working together by about 1982. 

What I was working on primarily was Martin repairs and restorations. I had moved into refinishing stuff and I had a spray booth, so by 1982 even before the vintage explosion of prices I kind of got my chops down on working on old Gibsons, working on old acoustics, and on Fender guitars. You know, I was sitting there working on guitars and I remember at one time I had a dozen ’50s Teles all lined up that I owned. You could buy them for $125. And then all of a sudden everything exploded, and for price they were $250, then $750, $1,500 and $3,000 then $6,000. But I already had my chops down, and that’s when it kind of became a business for me. People were seeking me out, they were UPS’ing stuff to me, and that’s how it all really got started. 

For the full interview, download "TNAG Connoisseur" in your app store and check out Edition 6!

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