By Marc Basham, Post Register
Boise, ID (AP) – There is little question that the focal point of most rock ‘n’ roll bands – aside from the lead singer – is the lead guitarist.
But where do rock gods turn when they need professional help repairing and updating the tools of their craft? Some turn to Idaho Falls resident Eric Daw.
For the last 25 years, Daw has made a name for himself in the industry, repairing and building custom guitars for musicians big and small. Artists such as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, K.D. Lang, The Black Crowes, and Jimmie Vaughan have sought out Daw’s expertise when touring through the Pacific Northwest.
But the Idaho Falls native always wanted to return home while continuing to follow his passion. After 15 years working out of a guitar shop in Seattle, Daw returned to Idaho Falls seven months ago with his wife, Melissa, and two kids. He’s working as his own boss in the trade he loves.
“I got married, started having kids, and thought Seattle’s nice, but I miss the small town,’’ he said. “Once we started having kids, we knew we needed to get back to small-town America.’’
What resulted in his move is Eric Daw Guitars. Operating out of a shop behind his house, Daw works on guitars sent to him from across the country. Through his guitar-centric podcast “The Fret Files,’’ Daw estimates that a third of his work comes from listeners across the country, with the other two-thirds coming from local residents and his contacts from Seattle.
The podcast’s impact on his business surprised Daw.
“It was slow getting going at first, but I started getting a number of listeners,’’ he said. “And it’s worldwide because it’s on the internet, so a lot of people began sending me work from all over the place. So all of a sudden, it doesn’t matter where I’m at now. I’ve got a bigger clientele.’’
The podcast was a simple start for Daw, but the connections he made throughout the guitar community in Seattle helped convince him that a move back to Idaho Falls could be manageable.
“Between my customers from the podcast and the connections I’ve made from my client base in Seattle, I was hoping enough people would send me guitars to work on so I would be able to make it,’’ he said. “And that has happened.’’
Daw started the podcast out of a love for talk radio. From there, the interest continued to skyrocket.
“Talk radio is kind of this old-school thing, and now there’s this new thing called podcasts, and you can find one about anything. Just pick a subject and they’re out there,’’ he said. “I wanted to find a podcast about guitar repair and guitar building, and at the time I couldn’t find one. I thought there’s got to be other people that want to do this and would listen. Just the fact that there wasn’t another one out there, I knew there would be an audience.’’
Since then, Daw has expanded his podcast to a bi-weekly venture. With his wife as co-host, Daw discusses the intricacies of different guitar-related topics and repairs on any given week, and answers questions from listeners.
Daw estimates that he receives 10 to 12 questions for every show.
“It just seemed like the perfect idea of blending my expertise – guitar repair – with trying to get customers from all over the place so we could move,’’ Daw said. “It’s been a great experience.’’
The Idaho Falls community has also helped Daw succeed in his new venture.
“I moved away 15 years ago and was repairing guitars then,’’ he said. “And there wasn’t a whole lot of work or money here for me. But that’s changed. I was blown away how many local players and collectors came out of the woodwork. I didn’t expect that. It’s been great, and I’ve been overwhelmed, honestly.’’
Idaho Falls guitar enthusiast Craig Green was one of many customers that were “over the moon’’ when Daw returned to the region.
“It was pretty much the greatest day of my year when he came back to town,’’ he said.
Green met Daw before his move to Seattle, and their relationship continued through a mutual love of guitars.
“He just has a really good intuition on how something should sound and play,’’ Green said.
Mike Doggett also recognized Daw’s passion for guitar mechanics before he even took off to Seattle. As the owner of Mike’s Music in Idaho Falls, Doggett has seen a fair share of music aficionados walk through his doors.
But the passion Daw expressed was different.
“He moved to Seattle and became one of the top guitar repairmen in the business,’’ Doggett said. “He can just do repairs that a lot of repairmen can’t do. He’s a real meticulous kind of person.’’
Since Daw moved back, Doggett has referred difficult repair jobs to him.
“We send a lot of work his way,’’ he said. “We re-string guitars and basic things, but if somebody has something that needs a guy who knows what he’s doing, and it’s work that we can’t do, we send them over to Eric.’’
Along with guitar repair, Daw also engineers custom-made guitars based off of popular brands from the past. In what he refers to as Pin-up Custom Guitars, Daw works to recreate classic guitars such as the original Gibson Les Paul, helping collectors get their hands on a piece of music history without paying the exorbitant price.
Daw’s custom guitars range from $2,200 to $2,500. So far he has produced 113 custom guitars for clients across the country.
“It is a challenge, because those guitars were made by craftsmen,’’ Daw said. “And now, guitar factories crank them out and everything is a little more automated for Gibson and Fender. I’m trying to do it the old-school way.’’
Daw handcrafts each guitar to the specific requests of each customer.
“I’m the only guy making each guitar,’’ he said. “I’m the only person involved. I make the pickups, I do the shaping and finishing. It’s a lot more detail-oriented and takes longer for me to make a guitar than if it were a factory situation.’’
With experience working on those classic guitars, Daw has been able to recreate the look, feel, and sound of those historic instruments.
“The golden era guitars, sometimes they’re worth $50,000,’’ he said. “A lot of players would love to have one, but they’re out of reach, because they’re so valuable. So what I do is recreate those guitars. It’s a new guitar, but it looks old. I try to do everything I can to make it feel and sound like those old ones too.’’
All of this is done from his backyard, and Daw would not have it any other way.
“I can’t overstate how happy I am to be back in Idaho Falls,’’ Daw said. “I grew up here and love this town. It’s just so awesome to be back in my home town and still doing what I love. I really thought that if I ever moved back I’d have to do something I didn’t want to do to make a living. I’m doing what I want to do and living where I want to live. It’s just a really great thing.’’
Eric Daw at work