You’re making acoustic guitars?
Yeah, I run it with my dad. It’s kind of a hobby project — it’s a company, but we both have full-time jobs elsewhere. So it’s kind of just been a labour of love thus far, but we really want to get it moving. It’s called Van R Guitars.
How are the guitars built?
We design them and buy all the wood and then they’re manufactured in China by a luthier that hand-builds guitars. The wood all comes from Canada, then shipped to China and they’re hand-built in China and shipped back to us.
How many are you making?
We had a pretty long prototyping process back and forth and then we just received our first 30. They’ve been here for a couple of months just sitting and adjusting to the humidity and stuff like that.
Is there anything that sets these guitars apart?
The thing that we’ve really gone for is to be a high-end guitar for more or less an affordable price. It depends on the demographic, but they retail at $1,100 compared to, say, a high-end Taylor, which is a little over $2,000, and they compare in quality to that.
You play in Fist City, which is not really an acoustic band. Have you been using your own guitars?
I do kind of a solo project which is more of a mellow thing and I use them for home recordings and stuff. I haven’t been playing much acoustic guitar lately, for the last couple of years, but it’s what I learned and grew up with. Everything I write is on an acoustic guitar, but I’ve never performed on an acoustic guitar.
What kind of wood are you using for these things?
The top is triple A Sitka spruce and the back and sides are mahogany and then the fretboard is rosewood.
Obviously the wood’s important, how much of a difference does it make?
It’s a big difference. Just as far as blasting quality is concerned and the sound, for sure. A Sitka spruce top is really kind of a classic sound and is fairly common.
Are you planning a trip to China to see these things put together any time soon?
Well yeah, my dad’s done that once and I’m sure he’ll be back, depending on how we do with this first run I guess.
Is this the first project you’ve worked on with your dad?
Yeah, it is. It’s kind of a neat thing. We just sort of saw the opportunity and jumped on it together.
What’s your dad’s name?
Where would you like to see this go?
Just for now, a local, boutique sort of thing. I also run a record label, Mammoth Cave, which is kind of how I’m used to operating things, so I’d like to kind of run it like that. This is our first run, our first 30 and they’ll each be hand-numbered. In that vein, a sort of rare, high-quality boutique item. With that reputation but at an affordable price.
Is the plan to make this your full-time job or just play it by ear?
Yeah, just play it by ear. I’m sure one of these things that keep me so busy will take over one day fully. It’s great though. I like to keep really busy and work hard. I don’t mind working hard for not a lot of money, which is what all of these things amount to. So far anyway.
As the owner of Mammoth Cave, what does that entail? Are you recording everything as well?
I have a partner in Lethbridge named Paul Lawton and he kind of does a lot of operational stuff and he produces the singles that we put out. I handle a lot of logistics for that as well, I do financial stuff and all the graphic design for it. Also, we have a big project coming up where we’re releasing some reissues from this Canadian band, Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. That’s kind of been my thing for the last... it’s been a long two-year process with a lot of back and forth.
That probably helped get them into Sled Island?
Yeah, that’s been my baby.
What’s your role with Sled Island?
It’s sort of been vague since the beginning. I’m the production and logistics co-ordinator now. So I’m basically booking and handling all the contracts and immigration for the bands that apply to play the festival; not the headliners that we pick, that’s separate. Also organizing events that lead up to the festival and kind of separate events during the festival.
Are you doing that year-round?
I actually just started. I just moved back to Calgary from Lethbridge. I just finished school out there. I think my contract with Sled is until June, the end of June, at which point I’m going to go on tour for a couple of months with Fist City.
What were you taking in school?
I got a BFA in new media, so it’s mostly web design and graphic design.
You’re all over the place.
Yeah, I know.