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Dream guitars

September 23, 1999

PARAMOUNT - He works in a world of drills, chisels and jigs. In a place where bodies line the shelves and hang from the rafters - guitar bodies.

Paul Beard is a luthier.

In his workshop behind his home just north of Hagerstown on Marsh Pike, Beard, who is the founder of Resophonic Outfitters and Beard Guitars, said he and his part-time "elves" make "dream guitars."

[cont. from lifestyle]

At an average cost of $2,500 each, Beard's resonator guitars boast more volume and richer tones than other brands, the luthier said.

Also known as "dobros" in homage to their original manufacturers - John Dopyera and his brothers - resonator guitars feature built-in speakers, or resonators, that increase the instruments' volume.

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"I took a basic design and incorporated ideas I had that I thought were better," said Beard, 38. "Basically, we've changed the designs to offer better quality, better playability and most importantly, better sound."

Beard instruments feature such "high-end" materials as exotic solid woods like Bubinga, brass soundscreens finished with chrome or 24-karat gold, ebony fretboards inlaid with either mother-of-pearl or abalone shell, hand-spun resonator cones, gold or chrome coverplates with higher palm rests for extra string clearance and German-made Schaller tuners for quick string changes, according to the Beard Guitars Web site, www.beardguitars.com.

A professional guitarist who once toured with the Shippensburg, Pa.-based bluegrass band Keystone, Beard said his business was born of necessity.

"I was disenchanted by the fact that I was playing this instrument, and I wanted a high-end piece, but I couldn't find it," he said.

Available dobros were made of plywood and lacked high-quality sound, he said. So the longtime "tinkerer" decided to build his own.

A certified aircraft mechanic and mechanical engineer, Beard said he learned how to repair guitars after he started working at Carpenter's World of Music in Hagerstown in 1980. He built upon his skills during a four-month stint in 1985 as the apprentice to a master luthier in Vermont.

After returning to his native Hagerstown, Beard toted the two guitars that he made in Vermont - one regular acoustic model and one resonator guitar - to a local bluegrass festival, he said.

The two dobro orders he got at the show comprised his first year's production.

Beard continued to work at the music store while building guitars in his basement. The demand for his instruments jumped to four in 1987, and mushroomed to 16 the year after that.

"It was exponential," Beard said.

In 1990, Beard said his business began to boom, and he began making resonator guitars full time. He moved to an outdoor shop in 1992, and began hiring part-time help three years ago.

Beard has produced more than 200 guitars since he launched his career as a luthier 14 years ago. Beard Guitars and Resophonic Outfitters - a supply company dedicated to providing resonator guitar players with hard-to-find items - has gained national recognition within the music industry.

Beard has sold guitars to some of the top names in bluegrass music, and to rock legend John Fogerty. His instruments were featured in a March article in "Guitar Player" magazine.

Plans are in the works to increase the size of the business while maintaining the same attention to quality, Beard said.

The luthier credits his success to his knowledge of the instrument and the market.

"I am very fortunate in that I started with a small niche and stayed with it," Beard said.

His "perfectionistic" and innovative nature also have pushed him to produce the finest materials for guitar players, he said.

Beard created a miniature model of his resonator guitar for traveling musicians. He patented a new and improved capo, which is a tool used to change a guitar's pitch. He invented a long-lasting third string to replace those on the market that wore out quickly.

"Again, I was trying to improve on what was out there," Beard said. "Give me enough time, and I would've been on the moon first."

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