Randolph’s guitar man
For the Cedar County News
RANDOLPH — Jesse Thomas is building for others what he can not play himself.
That’s why he has poured himself into becoming the owner and creator of Hummingbird Guitars which customizes in handmade versions of the instrument – one of which is displayed at the National Blues Museum in St. Louis.
But Thomas’ story is one of a man whose love of the guitar and a desire to play it was set aside due to nerve damage in his arm and so he went about creating various forms of the popular instrument for others to enjoy.
“I have been doing it for almost five years,” Thomas said. “It takes up my time so I am not running around. I like to build stuff and I love music so that is where I use my spare time. It’s not necessarily a business – I wish it was – but I don’t make enough money on it to make a living off of it around here. It is my dream of making handmade instruments.
“I sell a few here and there. I definitely build more than I sell.”
Thomas was building custom cabinets for a shop in Randolph and continued to learn more about wood work.
“I always saw kits online where you can buy and finish them and put them together,” Thomas said. “I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to start from scratch. I am still learning to this day. Each one I make I want to be completely different from any I’ve done or something you will see on the internet.
“I am always pushing myself to come up with new ideas. I am a high-strung person who has to be busy doing something all the time.”
Thomas isn’t an acknowledged guitar player, and with nerve damage in his left hand – he can only use one finger on it – he is limited. However, he admits, “I do come up with some cool stuff sometimes.”
Thomas does stick to building only the conventional sixstring guitar.
“The majority of my builds are three-string guitars,” Thomas said. “I have built a couple basses here and there. I suppose I have built close to 200 guitars.”
The first one was a mahogany “sub-nose” that sounded OK but was clearly a first attempt.
“It still plays, but it’s not up-to-par,” Thomas said.
Thomas admits he does live vicariously through building of guitars to fill the void of not being able to play them in full.
“I can’t play them, but I can build them,” Thomas said. “It gives me a lot of joy when I have an actual musician holding and playing something I built and make it sound the way it’s supposed to sound as opposed to me fooling around on it.”
He says it can take anywhere from a week to a couple of months to build one of his guitars – depending on his time availability. He averages about three weeks per instrument with only a couple hours per day when he gets dug in.
“Also depends on the detail I put into it,” Thomas said. “The more I do, the faster I get. But at the same time, haste makes waste, so you don’t want to fly too fast.”
His work has led to his guitars being sold for anywhere from $20 to $600.
“If you want to stick to just having a string on it, it won’t cost very much,” Thomas said. “But depending on parts and design, it will cost more I suppose. It’s really hard to price my guitars. I got done with one last week which I call ‘The Dumpster Demon’ – almost everything I put into it came from a dump site. Later I found out I put a pick up on it that was given to me that alone was $200. I might have to rethink my price on that one.”
To get a guitar built by Thomas, people contact him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HummingBird-GuitarsbyJesseThomas or call 402-750-7295.