By Barbara Allen, Contributing Writer
Grafton – Steve Beckwith was already living the dream before he and his wife Jan relocated to Grafton from Bolton this past fall. Beckwith, who left behind a high-stress, senior management position to launch his second career as a luthier – a craftsperson who builds and repairs guitars and other stringed instruments – is hoping that the move will make that dream just a little more visible.
“Bolton was a great town in which to start the business,” he acknowledged. “But I needed a better location to bring it to a different level.”
Beckwith hopes that his new location on 26 North St., in the heart of Grafton, will make it more convenient for customers to find him. He previously operated his business, known as Beckwith Strings, out of his Bolton home, which was set back from the road at the end of a long, shared driveway.
“Customers used to say, ‘Wow, you’re really back in the woods,’” he recalled, with a laugh. “Now we’re right in the center of things, just under a quarter of a mile from the town green.”
Beckwith said that Grafton is a great move for the business in other ways, as well.
“There is a very strong artisan community here,” he pointed out.
The new location will also enable him to finally have a custom workshop separate from his home, where he will be able to work more efficiently. Construction of the 1,000-square-foot building is already under way, and Beckwith looks forward to its completion in April.
Prior to the move to Grafton, he had built his handcrafted acoustic guitars and repaired stringed instruments in a workshop that, while in his home, was separated by a set of doors from the rest of the house. It was a situation that he found challenging. Besides the lack of space (“I was constantly moving things aside or away to have a place to store instruments in line for repair,” Beckwith recalled), handling the dust generated during the instrument building or repair was problematic, as well as maintaining a standard temperature and humidity for the instruments.
“I’m pretty particular about that,” Beckwith admitted.
He is “pretty particular” about everything related to his business. A self-taught craftsman, Beckwith picked up his skills along the way, developing his own techniques, making some of his own tools, buying others, finding suppliers for wood for the different parts of the guitar. During the 10 years in which he has worked as a luthier, Beckwith has built 50 guitars – standard as well as custom models. For his custom guitars, he likes to involve the new owners in the building process, letting them choose the different woods, and showing them photos of the work in progress: a pictorial history of their guitar’s birth.
“My customers are looking for a guitar that feels really good and sounds great,” Beckwith said. “[At a music store] you have to go through a lot of guitars before you find what you like. And you usually end up with a compromise: you may like the way it sounds but not the way it looks, or vice versa. I work closely with my customers to adjust the guitar to their specific needs.”
Customers sometimes ask why he hasn’t considered selling his guitars on the West Coast, but Beckwith tells them that he is content to “live the dream” locally.
“I want to take care of [the repair needs] and build guitars for people in central Massachusetts, and to stay local,” he said. Then, perhaps thinking back to his once-upon-a-time high-stress days, Beckwith added: “and manageable.”