Hand-crafted guitars, made in Onset
If you’ve attended a Summer of Love concert or an Onset Bluesfest in the last seven or eight years, you’ve likely had the chance to buy a raffle ticket to win a homemade guitar.
The man behind the guitars is David Gurney of Yenrug Guitars.
“I love music and I want people to enjoy it,” he said.
Gurney, who retired from Roby’s Propane in West Wareham four years ago, has been building his own guitars for decades — plus a few lap steels, ukeleles and one banjo (never again, he said).
Gurney grew up in a family of musical tinkerers, the son of an engineer who regularly brought home coworkers to jam after work.
“We were supposed to be sleeping, but how can you do that when there’s horns and drums?” he remembered. “My dad could pick up any instrument and play it.”
Gurney first learned to play accordion, then trumpet, which he played in the school band until 7th grade.
When Gurney saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, he fell in love with guitars, he said.
He built his first guitar in 9th grade woodshop — not particularly successfully, Gurney remembered. He built the body out of pine and the strings were so high off the neck it was hard to play.
“Everybody knew how much I loved the Beatles,” Gurney said. “I first heard Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 70s and I fell in love, and I’ve been in love ever since.”
He briefly attended Berklee, but was frustrated by the school’s focus on jazz when he wanted to play rock. He recalled showing up to an early guitar lesson with his Lynyrd Skynyrd books only to get sneered at by his teacher who said it was “not real music.”
So Gurney turned full-time to carpentry, honing the skills he now uses to build instruments.
“The carpentry part has always been in my blood,” Gurney said, explaining that his grandfather was a part-time barber and part-time builder who constructed houses based on instruction books.
Gurney worked for Boston Whaler where he built wood cabinets and fixtures for boats — and built another guitar.
“I just wanted to play,” he said, adding that he had gotten away from music for some time.
Then his cousin needed a bass player for his band, Flashback. Gurney purchased a Beatle bass in installments and played with the band for more than a decade.
Throughout his career, music came back into his life. Like his father, Gurney got into jamming after work with coworkers.
Gurney said he got back into building guitars partially because the instruments are so expensive. He said he wanted to see if he could build a guitar as good or better as those commercially available for less money.
“Most of the guitars have some sort of sentimental value or are guitars that I always wanted,” Gurney said.
He’s recreated the guitars from that Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan Show and those of the entire Lynyrd Skynyrd line-up of guitars.
On the sentimental side, Gurney made one guitar from the lid of one of his mother’s hope chests. The body of the chest had molded and wasn’t salvageable, but he used the wood from the lid to build a guitar he called the “Joycaster,” in honor of his mother, Joy. That guitar now belongs to his cousin.
He built a replica of B.B. King’s guitar, Lucille, for his friend Wolf. Wolf got him back into playing in public for the first time in more than a decade through performances at Shenanigan’s. Gurney had usually played rhythm guitar, but Wolf got him playing lead and helped build his confidence.
“Real good friends do things like that for friends,” Gurney said. “It got to the point that that was the only guitar he played.”
Gurney also buys broken guitars on Ebay to fix up and sometimes works from blueprints or kits, which still require him to do all the inlay, assembly and finishing.
“They’re meant to be played,” he said of the instruments he builds.
Now, Gurney plays music with his siblings and extended family. He’s also part of the band Rebooted, which opened this year’s Blues Fest.