By: Tyler Schneider
Two years ago, Matt and his wife Jennifer Harmon launched Harmish Guitars out of their home. The custom crafted luthier business was the combination of Matt’s 30 years of woodworking experience and the passion he has had for music ever since he got his first guitar as an eight year old.
“It really started out as just me repairing instruments out of my house for a few people,” Harmon said. “It was mostly through word of mouth at the time.”
When Covid-19 hit in March of last year, Harmon, 43, found himself in many ways ahead of the curve on the business end of things.
“It seemed like once everybody was stuck inside, a lot of people kind of decided, ‘I want my lifelong guitar, my dream instrument’,” Harmon said, adding that business “has been booming” in part because he has no overhead costs or physical location weighing down the margins.
In his first year of operating under the Harmish Guitars banner, Harmon had initially opted to build a handful of guitars and offer them up for sale to gauge how the market would react to his craft. This year, he says, “everything has been commissioned.”
Harmon’s ability to master the trade in just under three years has been nothing short of remarkable. In a year’s time, the Topeka native has crafted roughly five to six hand-crafted electric guitars per year, on average, and about 40 under his belt in total. He had completed a dozen of those instruments before Harmish Guitars was even established. On average, from start to finish, a guitar will take about four or five months to complete. These days, he will be working on several at a time. And while he had extensive experience with woodworking, Harmon wasn’t immune to the steep learning curve that accompanied crafting a product with an added sonic dimension.
“Sourcing wood for furniture and for musical instruments are two very completely different things,” Harmon said. “I also had to dig deep to teach myself the basics
of electrical theory. Fortunately, there are now so many (online) resources like YouTube tutorials where you can get your questions asked and watch and learn through somebody else who has perfected the process.”
Harmon has a handful of individuals he has formed online business relationships with. His first stop is to his “wood guy,” Derek Kimball, who runs his own shop in New Hampshire. It was through Kimball’s connections that Harmon was able to track down some of his rarest materials yet: the “extremely rare” sinker quilted maple with spalting and a sample of golden camphor burl — both of which can be found on the Harmish Guitars website.
The price of these luthier builds is primarily determined by the cost of the wooden materials used to make the body of the guitar. Once Harmon and his client or clients have selected the wood type, he will add 20 percent of that cost to the sum of the hours he spent working on it to determine the final price — a figure that typically lands somewhere between $3,000 to $5,000.
Aside from the technical knowledge required to craft a top-shelf instrument, Harmon will often listen to specific music for each client and use that element as another inspiration for their one-of-a-kind finished product.
“One client wanted his guitar to take inspiration from Jack White. I had to go back and listen to some of his work again as I made that one,” Harmon said. “In general, I try my best to be in touch with recent music, because that can affect build quality, the sound that you’re going for.”