Ask Jim Shenk and Brad Baker at Wooden Music what makes their product cool and you’ll hear a bit of silence and a whole lot of humility.
Shenk has been making guitars for more than 30 years in Goshen. He made them out of his home until moving into a studio behind the Goshen Farmer’s Market twenty years ago. During that time, he has made close to 200 wooden guitars and mandolins.
To Shenk, making a mandolin or guitar is simply woodworking – a craft he has been studying since he was a child.
He recalls in high school when he was learning to play guitar, the instruction book had a diagram of a blown up guitar and all its pieces.
“I remember looking at it and thinking I could (make one),” he said.
In the past, the best guitars on the market were typically crafted from tropical woods like rosewood, mahogany and ebony.
A couple of years ago, Baker brought in a piece of wood that came out of Jefferson School, when it was being renovated 20 earlier in South Bend. He used it to make a couple of mandolins.
“It sounded great because the wood was really old and had been around a long time,” he said.
Shenk was then talking to a friend from Seattle who informed him that the “school wood” is plentiful out there. Soon after, he received a few pieces of wood out of the Ft. Vancouver High School’s gymnasium, which was built in 1888.
“These buildings were getting demolished or renovated and the wood was being gutted. We got some of that wood and it’s got a new life and now it’s a musical instrument, which will last for who knows how long,” Shenk said.
So, back to the original question: What makes your product cool?
Shenk, in his humble way, said: “What we do here is just what we do. We don’t do it because it’s cool. That’s the definition of cool — when you’re doing something and you don’t even know it’s cool.
“The product is a musical instrument, and then what’s cool about that is what some musicians can do with it. So in a way, the product is what it is but the real fact is that it ends up being a tool in some other artist’s hands and that’s pretty cool. So, it’s a much bigger cool than the cool of this one little guitar that I make.”
“The product is a musical instrument, and then what’s cool about that is what some musicians can do with it… So, it’s a much bigger ‘cool’ than the cool of this one little guitar that I make.”