Calgary man creates one-of-a-kind guitars from reclaimed wood

Gullion started making stringed instruments out of reclaimed wood seven years ago. He doesn't plan to stop any time soon.  (James Young/CBC - image credit)
Gullion started making stringed instruments out of reclaimed wood seven years ago. He doesn't plan to stop any time soon. (James Young/CBC - image credit)

A decade ago, Kevin Gullion wouldn't have guessed his last job would be creating one-of-a-kind guitars from pieces of old furniture and barn wood.

But now nothing sounds sweeter.

"I don't plan on doing anything else in the future," said Gullion, the proprietor of The New Vintage custom guitars.

His business revolves around reclaimed wood. He takes anything from broken furniture to family pianos and breathes new life into them, turning them into stringed instruments capable of music.

"That's probably the best part of it, watching guys play them and enjoy them, making them sound incredible, something I built with my own hands," he said.

So far, Gullion has made roughly 650 instruments. So many that he no longer keeps track.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Gullion, of Calgary, started making the guitars seven years ago, after deciding to make a change in his life.

For 20 years, he'd worked as a water treatment technician, often on the road, missing his family. After he quit his job, he started working with furniture, making pieces out of old wood.

Not long after, he started experimenting with guitars.

Quickly, Gullion realized there was a market for custom stringed instruments, and he never looked back.

But figuring out how to make a guitar look beautiful and sound beautiful was a challenge.

"It's not as easy as cutting out a piece of wood and putting strings on it," he said.

Crafting a legacy

The learning process has continued to this day, Gullion says, noting that designing instruments involves tricky technical details and careful math.

Of course, the wood makes a huge difference. Lighter woods, like those used to build barns (pine, poplar, Douglas fir), produce a warm, soft sound, Gullion explained.

On the other hand, harder woods, such as maple, produce a greater resonance due to their density.

"It's difficult to find authentic wood," Gullion added. "So, I've been known to dumpster dive or go to places where they are tearing down buildings or things like that to reclaim wood."

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Many of Gullion's projects are legacy pieces, where someone brings him wood connected to their family, whether it be a heritage home or family piano.

"It's something that they'll keep forever, because it is part of their history," he said. "Where if you buy a guitar at a guitar store, you might sell it or trade it over time. Get tired of it. With legacy pieces, you're going to hold onto them forever because they mean something to you."

Gullion takes custom orders and sells pieces through an exclusive partnership with Roosters Acoustics in Canmore, Alta.

Joel Martens, the owner of guitar store, said his shop takes every guitar Gullion builds, mounts it in the shop and posts it online. Roosters Acoustics handles all of the distribution.

"[Gullion] just loves building guitars," Martens said. "He doesn't necessarily want to be involved in those day-to-day details."

The partnership with Gullion started about a year and a half ago.

"Right in the early stages, he brought in a couple guitars and we started chatting," Martens said. "I was impressed with the quality, and whoever was buying them was extremely happy with them."

Submitted by Graham Martens
Submitted by Graham Martens

The price tags on Gullion's guitars are anywhere from $1,600 to $4,200, depending on the amount of detail in the piece.

While Gullion has created hundreds of unique instruments over the years, he says he's also solidified himself a singular job.

"I'm pretty much the only guy in Western Canada that's doing what I'm doing," he said.