Teenage luthier turns Falmouth basement into guitar-making shop

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FALMOUTH — Jack Kilbride says his shop is probably the only place in the state where he can make guitars, lift weights and trip over laundry all in one day.

A lot of teenagers have dreams of becoming rock stars, but Kilbride would be as happy to provide larger-than-life musicians with their instruments.

The 17-year-old Falmouth High School senior works in his basement, which doubles as a weight room and laundry, experimenting on different techniques and tricks to build electric guitars.

He has only been building guitars since last summer, but Kilbride has already completed two and is busy crafting a third – his first paid work, commissioned by his aunt.

Before he started making the instruments, he said he’d never touched the power saws, sanders and drills needed to make a guitar.

“It’s easier than you’d think,” Kilbride said last week at his home on Old Powerhouse Road. “There’s so much information on the Internet.”

Kilbride started playing guitar when he was 14, after a short stint on clarinet (which he said he “despised”). Other kids in Falmouth played guitar and told him it was a blast, and he had become a pro at the video game “Guitar Hero,” so he asked for a guitar for his birthday and received one.

Jack’s mom, Kathleen Kilbride, said she wasn’t surprised when her son’s interests turned from simply playing the guitar to tinkering with it. She said he has always been a curious kid, who dives head first into new hobbies. She recalled his coin-collecting, bee-keeping, rock-identification and metal-detecting phases.

“He just always wants to know more about whatever he’s doing,” she said. “He’s always been very inquisitive.”

Kilbride started the way most guitarists do, changing out the pickups (the magnetic gadget that turns string vibration to electronic sound) on his guitar.

After that, he got more curious. He started watching YouTube videos about “scalloping” his guitar’s neck, carving out the wood between the frets for a different kind of look. He sat down during the Super Bowl with a marker wrapped in sandpaper and finished the job by the time the game was over.

“It worked pretty well,” Kilbride said. “That just made me wonder what else I could do.”

His first guitar was modeled after a Fender Stratocaster, a classic electric guitar form. Necks are the hardest part of a guitar to make, so he bought one from a retailer. He fashioned the body out of mahogany and said he bought the “best cheapest” hardware he could. He wired the pickups, dials and selector himself, and made adjustments to the body and neck.

The project took about 20 hours, he said, completed between school and work over three months. Kilbride works part-time as a busboy and server at the Portland Yacht Club, which finances his guitar projects.

Kilbride said he’s entirely self-taught. He reads message boards and watches videos online to learn best practices. Sometimes he shoots questions to the people who posted the videos. Sometimes they respond with answers. There’s a lot of experimentation, trial and error.

Luckily, he said, there hasn’t been much error.

“Usually you can find someone credible to help,” he said. “It’s great, because that’s free, pro advice.”

Kilbride was hesitant to play one of his guitars in front of a stranger, even just to prove that it worked (which it did). He plays mostly rock and blues, but said he doesn’t really listen to it. One day, he said, he hopes to play like Eddie Van Halen. But for now, he’s having fun playing by himself and becoming a better luthier.

Kilbride is starting to look at colleges and said he wants to study business management.

“I would love for this to be a future career,” he said. “But I don’t know if I can be competitive enough right now. Maybe someday.”

Mario Carmine Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

Sidebar Elements

Jack Kilbride, 17, plays a guitar he made this summer. The Falmouth High School senior has been making guitars for only a few months, but has already finished two and is well on his way to a third. He learned to make guitars by watching YouTube videos and reading Internet message boards.