~ BEARD Guitars Celebrating 30 Years In "Reso" Nation ~
(Q & A) with resophonic guitar builder… Paul Beard of Beard Guitars!
Paul Beard was born in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1961 and amazingly was raised in the very same Western Maryland house he lives in today. As a child, he would roam the back fields and wooded area behind his property, dreaming of building airplanes. Why not, Paul's dad flew and serviced aircrafts at the end of WWII and his grandfather had worked at the Fairchild Aircraft Factory located only a few miles away. The active, energetic youth would literally be swallowed up by the giant shadows of some of America’s finest military flying machines passing overhead. It appears that manmade wings were an innate, multi-generational heritage among the Beard men.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Beard family when Paul was only 11, as his dad died unexpectedly. The youngster, fascinated with the outdoors, airplanes and trains was forced to carry on without a father figure. “My mom had her hands full raising me along with an older brother and sister,” he recalls. "My dad’s HO Scale model train set remains intact in my basement as a tribute to my father."
After graduating from North Hagerstown High School in 1979, Paul entered college and earned an Aviation Technology and Mechanical Engineering degree. He also obtained an Airframe & Powerplant License. His path to adulthood was paved and the future was clear, or so he thought. While many folks can attribute a variety of “people, things or events” that create who they are, Paul vividly remembers “that one moment in time” when his life changed. “I was driving to class one day listing to bluegrass music on WAMU," he recalls. (A rarity in itself for teenagers of the early 1980s!) I heard this instrument, a sound that caught my attention like nothing else had before. When the song ended, the announcer said it was The Seldom Scene. I went out that very night after class and bought their album.”
The following interview with Paul Beard will help understand how a young, inquisitive college student perfected his idea and soared to new heights. After three decades in business, BEARD Guitars is the professional standard for some the world’s finest musicians. These days, instead of building airplanes that circle the planet, Paul Beard is creating beautiful guitars with sounds that are resonating around the world.
AMR: Why did you change your career path from building airplanes to building guitars?
PB: “Just as I finished college, Fairchild was substantially cutting back on production, so there wasn’t much of a future for me locally. That was very disappointing as I really wanted to help build the A-10. Our military still loves that plane. I could have relocated but, really didn’t want to. When I was a kid, I was always building something with my hands, whether it was a fort out in the woods, model train sets, you name it. I had a job at Carpenter’s World Of Music in Hagerstown, and was helping with their guitar repairs and setups. When I heard Mike Auldridge play Dobro, that fascinated me so much that I wanted to build one."
AMR: Where did you learn how to build guitars?
PB: “I did my apprenticeship with George Morris at The Vermont Guitar Institute in Post Mills, Vermont."
AMR: Why did you choose that particular luthier and school?
PB: "George had and continues to have a super reputation and it was actually the closest location for me at the time.”
AMR: Was BEARD #1 built at VGI?
PB: “Yes and no. My first two guitars were built in Vermont. I was working on a resonator and a dreadnought simultaneously. I believe the dreadnought was actually completed first but, neither of my first two guitars built at VGI are labeled or have the BEARD logo. I guess you could call them my prototypes. Other than the two "apprenticeship guitars", I have a very accurate archiving system in place with serial numbers, dates and specific details. The official BEARD Guitar #1, that being the very first one built for a customer, is owned by the estate of Dale Sollenberger who has passed away. BEARD #2 is an 8 string resophonic guitar owned by Howard Parker and BEARD #3 is an electric, solid body guitar owned by a high school friend, Rod Morgan. Ironically, I have both BEARD #1 & #3 in the shop right now having some work done to them.”
AMR: Anyone can order the parts and build a guitar. What is so special about a BEARD Resophonic Guitar?
PB: “I’ve never made a copy of a guitar. I have changed a lot of features and am constantly trying to improve on the instrument. There are many facets inherently specific to a BEARD Guitar. The internal aspects are unique in many ways, even down to the way the screws are held on to the cover plate. Ultimately, I sincerely believe a BEARD Guitar has a sound of its own.”
AMR: Musicians want a guitar that plays well and sounds good. Are those the two primary focal points when you construct an instrument?
PB: "Generally speaking, we divide our efforts into thirds. People ask me all the time, how to get that BEARD Guitar sound. My generic response is usually consistent. It’s the setup, the construction and the resonator."
AMR: Elaborate on each “third” if you would.
PB: “The set up basically includes the height of the strings and the way the neck is adjusted. We take a tremendous amount of time when setting up a guitar. If you buy a factory made guitar, you’re getting something that is usually made in a hurry by assembly line workers focusing on a specific task. That person might not even know how to play a guitar."
"The construction is basically how the guitar is made and what materials are used. I have been constantly changing and modifying various aspects of the construction of my guitars to try and get a better sound. My guitars today are built nothing like they were 30 years ago."
"The third part of the equation is the aluminum resonator itself, which is the heart of the instrument. I make all of those by hand and I am the only one that spins them. You can have a well-built, fantastic playing guitar but, if you put a junky resonator in it, the guitar will sound terrible. Same goes for the setup. If the setup is not done properly, that too can cause the instrument to sound like crap. A resonator guitar is very mechanical. You need the right materials and the right setup to create the right sound."
AMR: Tell us about your relationship with Mike Auldridge.
PB: "First and foremost, Mike Auldridge is the reason I started playing the resonator guitar and he is the reason I have been in business for 30 years. I showed him the first guitar I built and he was receptive and very gracious. Mike had a golden set of ears and he knew exactly what sound he wanted. After I had built and sold a few guitars he started coming over to my shop."
AMR: What do you mean by, "He would come over to the shop“?
PB: "He would just come by and see what I was working on and give me his opinion on things.
I really appreciated his advice to say the least. Then one day, he showed up with his trademark 1935 Regal and asked me to do some work on it. That was a huge milestone in my career, as that particular guitar was the one he used on many of the early Seldom Scene recordings. Since then, I have taken that guitar apart and put it back together many times."
AMR: How did the Mike Auldridge model come about?
PB: "One day back in 2003, I took a guitar to him to try out. He said, this is it. This is the guitar I want to play. With the introduction of the Mike Auldridge model guitar, our business took off."
AMR: How did your relationship with Jerry Douglas begin?
PB: "Jerry and I have known one another since the mid-1980s. He came to my booth at the IBMAs one year and played a Mike Auldridge guitar. He liked it and in 2004, asked me to make him one. Jerry actually played the Mike Auldridge guitar on stage for a while. As a matter of fact, one night Mike and I were at The Birchmere and Jerry was on stage playing a Mike Auldridge model guitar. Mike and I both thought that was hilarious. He sure had a good sense of humor."
AMR: What is the origin of your Jerry Douglas model?
PB: "While Jerry really liked the Mike Auldridge guitar, he asked me to make some changes including the choice of wood. Jerry wanted solid mahogany which creates a warmer tone. However, all of the Jerry Douglas model guitars, including The Blackbeard, have “The Legend” cone which is named for Mike Auldridge."
AMR: What’s the latest at BEARD Guitars?
PB: “We’ve been getting a lot of orders for roundneck guitars. There is so much going on right now with resonator guitars. It‘s not just a bluegrass instrument anymore."
AMR: How do you receive most of your orders?
PB: "Obviously we are a 21st Century business and many folks look us up on the website. We do several events throughout the year from coast to coast like the NAMM shows, IBMAs and various music festivals. I personally try to attend as many of those functions as possible. However, we get at least one request a week for the traditional paper catalogue. Some folks may not have internet or maybe they just love to have that good old fashioned magazine to read.”
A BEARD Resophonic Guitar can be seen gracing the hands of an eclectic group of musicians representing multiple genres. Vince Gill, John Fogerty, Zac Brown and Keb' Mo' all own a BEARD Guitar. Here is what some proud BEARD Guitar owners have to say.
Mike Auldridge (Founding member of The Seldom Scene. Quote is from 2012): "I'm always happy to talk about my friend Paul Beard. I first met Paul back in the early 1980's when he brought his first guitar to me at the Birchmere, to get my opinion. I could tell from his first effort that he was a great craftsman. After being friends for 25 years, he and I spent a long time working on several prototypes of what was to become the Mike Auldridge Resophonic Guitar. I consider this guitar now to be a huge highlight and one of the greatest milestones of my musical career. I think this guitar will be around long after I'm gone and will always remain something of great pride for me and my family." Mike Auldridge
Jerry Douglas (Grammy Award winning musician / recording artist): "When I met Paul Beard back in the '80s, I loved his craftsmanship and knew I would see him again someday. I never would have believed we would be collaborating so closely on his great guitars. He is simply the best in his field. His gift is working out the mechanics of materials and shaping them to coexist in one beautiful piece of art." Jerry Douglas
Bob Minner (Longtime member of Tim McGraw’s band, The Dancehall Doctors): "I have known Paul Beard for many years now and I have endorsed his fine innovative resonator instruments for just as long. His workmanship and quality of resonator instruments has always set a new level of perfection and expectation for players. Currently on the road with Tim McGraw, I play an Odyssey 14 fret roundneck resonator and the new RFB 12 fret model." Bob Minner
Fred Travers (Current member of The Seldom Scene): “I have known Paul for many years. His designs, craftsmanship and attention to even the slightest detail of every aspect of his instruments, is second to none. That's why they sound so good. What impresses me the most about Paul, is his continual desire for innovation with his instruments, enhancing their sound in a particular direction, appealing to different players. Every time I see him, he always has some new design or part he has come up with that is really amazing. I think the fact that legendary players like Jerry Douglas, the late Mike Auldridge and many others, have contracted Paul to design and make signature guitars for them speaks volumes to me.” Fred Travers
For more information about BEARD Guitars go to: www.BeardGuitars.com or call 301.733.8271. (Incidentally, the BEARD Guitars phone number is the "only" phone number Paul recalls having as a child. This was previously his family phone number and has since been transferred to his business.) ~AMR