Earlier this year, I had to chance to catch one of my favorite bands on tour – The Cure. But during that, I also had the opportunity to interview Johnny Docherty and Andy MacFarlane of The Twilight Sad who were the opening act during their US tour and currently touring with them on the European leg. Their performance blew my mind. Watching Andy, I noticed he was playing and getting some of the best Jazzmaster tones I’ve ever heard. From my location, the finish was different and I was thinking it may be the Thurston Moore signature Jazzmaster. Before the start of our interview, I had a chance to see the gear up close, and what I saw was one of the best looking Jazzmaster style guitars I’ve ever seen. This guitar was a Copeland Guitar custom Jazzmaster. I needed.. to learn more about this business!
Johnny was also sporting a Copeland Guitar baritone as well – and this was equally beautiful. The first thing about Andy’s guitar that caught my eye was the finish. Andy mentioned it was ‘burnt’ and sealed. What? I’ve never heard of this, but what I know.. it’s looks amazing.
Since the interview with Johnny and Andy, I started following Copeland Guitars on Instagram (seriously.. great IG account @copeland_guitars) and thoroughly looked at their website. The craftsmanship and quality is out of this world.. and pricing is absolutely affordable for this caliber of guitar. Copeland Guitars is Matt Walker, and I had the privilege of sending him a few questions about the biz. I think you guys will enjoy!
Talking with Matt Walker of Copeland Guitar
– Where is Copeland Guitars based out of?
I am based out of Austin, Texas.
– What inspired you go start Copeland Guitars?
I’ve played guitar as a hobby since I was a teenager. Like a lot of players, I couldn’t resist the temptation to modify some of my cheap guitars by changing out the electronics, pickups, hardware, etc. I also spent a lot of time looking at message boards like OffsetGuitars.com to see what mods other players were doing to their guitars. On the message boards I kept seeing people doing scratch builds and documenting the process. I couldn’t resist giving it a try for myself so I jumped in. I’ve always enjoyed building things with my hands so I loved combining that with my guitar obsession. I realized that I could build a lot more guitars if I started building for other people so that’s what I set out to do.
– How long has Copeland Guitar been building guitars?
I have been building guitars for around two and a half years now.
– How did the name Copeland Guitars come about?
Copeland is my son’s middle name. I named it after him in the hopes he can take it over one day.
– What particular woods do you like to use on your builds and why?
I primarily use Alder. It’s easy to work with, is a nice weight, and is durable. My second most common wood to use is Swamp Ash. I use it when I want to do a finish that shows of the grain of the wood. I’ve also done builds with Walnut, Cedar and even Oak. The Cedar and Oak builds were guitars I built out of reclaimed wood. The reclaimed wood guitars get a lot of attention when people see them. I haven’t done any of those lately but I have a pile of reclaimed wood in the corner that I’ll get into again one day.
So far most of my builds have been built to order. I have plans to build some standard configurations so I can have stock on hand but I just haven’t had the time to do that yet. As soon as it looks like I’m caught up on the custom builds I’ll get more orders. I work with each customer individually to build their list of specs before I start the build. Sometimes the customer knows exactly what they want down to the tuners and strap locks they prefer. Other times they know the general direction they want to go but they aren’t sure of the specifics. I’ll help them through the process by discussing the pros and cons of different hardware, pickups, etc. for what they are trying to achieve. There can be a lot of back and forth during this part of the process but it’s important to me to build them exactly what they want and help them stay within their budget. Based on the feedback I’ve received from customers, they also appreciate the process.
– Let’s talk about Painting with Fire. What got you into that? And what is the process?
My “Painted with Fire” finish is my own take on the Japanese technique known as Shou Sugi Ban. I can’t take credit for coming up with the idea by any means, but I’ve tried to make it my own. I have a propane torch on hand that I use for my branding iron that I brand my guitars with. I’m constantly getting distracted with ideas in the shop so one day while I had the torch out I grabbed a scrap piece of wood and gave it a try. I liked the results and was determined to try it out on a guitar build as soon as I could. Luckily Andy of The Twilight Sad was up for it so I tried it on his Jazzmaster build. I did not expect it to be so popular but it is by far the most requested finish from my customers.
They say it’s all about “who you know” and that is 100% true in my case. I’m fortunate enough to have been friends with their tour manager, Chris, ever since high school. The thought of having a band that I’m a fan of playing one of my guitars was awesome. I flew up to Chicago to watch The Twilight Sad perform their first album in it’s entirety and before the show I was talking with Andy and just threw out the possibility of building him a guitar. He was open to it so I got to work on a solid-body Jupiter. I delivered that to him when they were back in Austin for SXSW and I got to see him play it live. Now, two years later, I’ve built two guitars for Andy and two guitars for Johnny. Andy’s second guitar from me was the “Painted with Fire” Jazzmaster and that has become his number one guitar on stage. I got to see him play it a few times in the US while they were supporting The Cure. Very cool to say the least. Johnny’s guitars are a solid-body baritone Jupiter and a P-bass. Andy’s Jazzmaster and Johnny’s bass are both on the European leg of The Cure tour right now. I love seeing pictures from the shows with both of my guitars on stage at the same time. I can’t say for sure, but there have been a few conversations with both of them about future builds. We’ll see where it goes.
I mentioned it’s all about “who you know” and that continues to be true. The Twilight Sad have been very generous to me and have helped me spread the word about my guitars through word of mouth and on social media. Earlier this year they introduced me to the guys of Frightened Rabbit and I recently delivered a guitar and bass to them when they passed through Austin for ACL Fest. I’m also currently working on a build for Mike Vennart, who is currently on the road as touring guitarist for Biffy Clyro. Another exciting build that I’m about to start on is for Jeff Schroeder of The Smashing Pumpkins. I don’t want to share the details of that one just yet but I’m very excited to get started on it.
– Are there any new models/builds that you’re thinking about for the upcoming future?
I have so many ideas floating around in my head. I’ve put some of them on paper but most of them are just ideas right now. I love staying busy with custom builds but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I hope it slows down a bit so I can start to bring some of these ideas into fruition. My goal for 2017 is to introduce a couple of new models as well as offer some new customizations to the models I’m currently offering.
– For those interested in purchasing a guitar/bass from you, what is the process? And what are the general price ranges?
The process starts with the customer reaching out to me to inquire about a build. I can be reached through my website, Instagram, Facebook or directly by e-mail. I touched on the process earlier but I take the time to discuss all custom builds in depth with each potential customer. I’m willing to try just about anything so people shouldn’t hesitate to contact me with their ideas. I’ll be honest and let them know if what they want is beyond my capabilities. I recently had to that when someone wanted a guitar made out of metal. It was a cool idea, I’m just not setup for that.
My prices vary based on the specs chosen by each customer but the average range is $1,500 – $2,000. With that said, some models such as a “Painted with Fire” P-bass come in quite a bit below that.
– What is your philosophy about getting the word out and advertising your brand?
For me it’s all about taking advantage of the free resources we’re lucky to have these days. I am by far most active on Instagram and that is where a majority of my customers come from. Social media has it’s issues but it can also be a great tool for small businesses. Beyond that it’s mainly word of mouth. It can be a slow process but if you build a quality product and get that product in people’s hands the word will get out there.
– As a business owner, what are your biggest challenges to keep the business growing.
Time. As a one-man operation it is very hard to find the time to grow. Copeland Guitars is just me. Every guitar you see is built by me from start to finish. Every post you see on social media is done by me. This leaves very little time to work on new ideas. With that said, I’m going to keep my head down and keep working hard to create a quality product for my customers. At the end of the day it’s seeing my guitars in the hands of other musicians that keeps me going.
Alright.. as you can see… Copeland has some cool stuff going on! Let me know what you think by commenting below!!