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Guitar man

Beard instrumental in helping big names make big music

Beard instrumental in helping big names make big music

November 21, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

Like a lot of budding musicians, Paul Beard found inspiration in a constellation of personal idols as a young adult.

Since he began making guitars, the stars have become Beard's customers and friends.

Tuesday, one of those customers became a two-time Country Music Association Awards Musician of the Year. Jerry Douglas plays with Jimi Hendrix finesse on a variety of guitars, including five bearing the Beard label, Beard said.

"It's a real thrill," said Beard, a Hagerstown man who began making guitars almost 21 years ago in his basement. "It's a dream come true because when I first started in the field, I didn't know these guys, and they were idols."

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Beard Guitars, which has been housed for two years in a modest brick building on Leitersburg Pike not far from the Pennsylvania line, now employs eight workers, including Beard and his wife, Bobbi, and puts out 200 to 300 guitars a year from rough-hewn boards, selling for an average price of $3,500 each, Beard said. Factories in China supply hundreds of less-expensive starter guitars, Beard said.

Owners of Paul Beard guitars include John Fogerty, formerly of Credence Clearwater Revival; members of Tim McGraw's band; and bluegrass musician Mike Auldridge, Beard said. The resonator instruments are modeled after Dobro-style guitars. They are instantly recognizable with a metal coverplate like a hubcap dominating the front; a metal cone underneath vibrates when the strings are strummed, creating a sound that's loud and bluesy.

Beard said he fell in love with the instrument's distinctive voice when he heard it on the radio more than 20 years ago at the ago of 17 or 18. At that time, Dobro guitars dominated the resonator-guitar universe, and they were the first Beard tried playing, he said.

"These guitars are more akin to speaker cabinetry technology than guitars. That's another reason I was attracted to it. It's just bizarre, it's kind of a weird instrument," Beard said, picks on his fingers, a guitar on his lap.

Beard started off wanting to learn to make good music. He says that desire drove him to work on making a better guitar.

Beard, who initially considered a career in aviation, said he was 23 when he made his first resonator guitar, which he eventually showed to two of his idols - Auldridge and Douglas. Auldridge, whom Beard calls "the king of tone," now plays and signs off on the instrument maker's best-selling line of guitars.

The Dobro-brand resonator guitar, which is made by guitar-maker giant Gibson, has not changed substantially since it was invented in 1927, Beard said. To help the company innovate, Beard said he worked for two days in 1999 as a Dobro-guitar consultant.

Wood shavings and boxes of metal coverplates with different designs cover the spartan offices of Beard Guitars. The company also boasts a growing line of metal cones - the thin funnel-shaped pieces that fit inside resonator guitars to produce their distinctive sounds, Beard said.

Beard has collaborated with his idols from his first guitar more than two decades ago. Auldridge, of Silver Spring, Md., and Douglas, whom Beard calls "the Jimi Hendrix of resonator guitars," are sounding boards and consultants for model improvements, he said.

The company now is putting out 20 20th-anniversary guitars. Customers can wait up to a year for some orders, Beard said.

"Am I gonna keep one? I guess I better. I usually don't, but I guess I better. My problem is I want to keep them all. You know, you put so much time and energy into them, it's tough to see some of them go out the door," Beard said.

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