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Tuesday, 01 January 2013 00:00

If you build it, they will come (and play)

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art frPulling into a row of unimposing metal garage-sized storage units on Frazier Street in Waynesville, the sound of buzzing is heard.

You think maybe the truck heater is finally kicking on and combating the cold December morning, or it’s the usual hustle and bustle of traffic on the highway bypass. Yet, the source of the noise seems to be echoing from a slightly cracked garage bay at the end of the row.

Stepping inside, it’s an electric handsaw headlong into a guitar-building project.

The noise stops and two sets of footsteps emerge from the back. It’s Tim Brown and Nate Mack, co-owners of T and N Guitar Repair.

Opening the establishment this past June, the duo felt there was not only a need for local guitar repairs, but also for quality handmade instruments from the musical hands of Western North Carolina.

“We just want people to come in and see where their guitars are being worked on,” Mack said. “It’s like a mechanic; you don’t just drop off your car for someone to take it to someone else; you like to talk to the people doing the work and see what’s going on.”

Not only friends and business partners, Brown is actually Mack’s stepfather. The two held a mutual love for music and each had interest in building their own guitars. They had kicked around the idea, but it wasn’t until Brown, who was a bridge builder, couldn’t find any work that push came to shove. He began seeking out lutherie institutions, where one learned to build and repair guitars from the ground up.

“I had a little money set aside and started looking around at schools,” Brown said. “I always wanted to do that, so I decided I was going to do something I wanted to do, and not had to do, to make money.”

After they both attended and graduated from the Atlanta Guitar Works School of Building and Repair, the search for a business location began. On a chance encounter at Headwaters Brewing in Waynesville — housed in the same set of metal garage buildings — Brown began talking to the brewery owner Kevin Sandefur about the empty unit next door to the brewery.

“At the time, Nate and I were just working out of our houses, with our tools scattered everywhere,” Brown said. “Kevin told us about these units, how reasonable the rent was and that one was open right next door.”

With their dreams starting to come to fruition, the space is moving along, finding its identity as a source of reliability and creative ingenuity amid the backdrop of Southern Appalachia.

“There are rules in building to keep it a playing instrument, but in terms of design, wood and creativity, there are no rules, and that’s what I love about it,” Mack said.

Utilizing an array of wood products, ranging from hickory to oak, the intent is to provide a product of world-class quality from local hands.

“There are so many musicians around here, and the climate in the mountains is so destructive to the instruments,” Mack said. “Virtually no wood for them comes from around here, so by using wood from this area, it’ll stay in the condition it’s in, and it’ll play well for a long time.”

“Our main focus is a homegrown guitar,” Brown added. “The aim is to not use all these fancy imported woods to make a great sounding, beautiful guitar.”

Taking their talents to the road at the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival this summer, attendees were immediately attracted to the booth full of musical goodies provided by T and N.

“People were all in there and enjoying it but were afraid of touching the guitars,” Brown chuckled. “We told them to take them down and play them, they want to be played.”

The boundaries are seemingly endless for what one might come up with. The hope for Brown and Mack is that consumers and those curious will find their way to Waynesville for an item made in their backyard and not a factory across the country or around the globe. They also make custom guitars.

“No matter how crazy an idea you may have, odds are we’ll be able to build it,” Mack said. “Just being able to meet the person who built your guitar is great, and we want to offer that.”

Though they uphold the value of their instruments, T and N will continuously put forth a conscious effort to keep prices affordable for musicians.

“We’re not trying to get rich and buy a yacht here. We’re trying to keep the interest in music going,” Mack said.

And with offering repair services for any model of guitar, it never ceases to amaze the duo at what comes into the shop, like the recent repair of a 1930s ukulele that was broken and in dire need of reconstruction, which was a worthwhile option considering the rarity of the item.

“You know, a person could drive a junky car, but then they have a Martin guitar sitting right at home,” Brown laughed.

Wandering through the shop, freshly made acoustic and electric guitars hang like trophies along the tables, eager for a hand to reach out, plug in and let each note float through the air.

“I love playing; it’s very therapeutic,” Brown said. “No matter what troubles there are in the world or in your life, you pick up a guitar and everything else just goes away.”

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