Terry Fritz’s stringed instruments are works of art
Sometimes the road not taken takes awhile to find. In Terry Fritz’s case, it took him until middle age to veer off the beaten path and chase his bliss. But once the decision was made, there was no turning back. And that has made all the difference.
Fritz, 61, was in the midst of a lucrative and successful career in Philadelphia as a pharmaceutical sales rep for Pfizer when he was offered a position as VP of sales and marketing for a startup pharmaceutical company in Greensboro. He moved here in 2000, was laid off in 2006, but stayed in the industry as a management consultant until about seven months ago. It was then that he transitioned from a hobbyist into a full-time second career as, of all things, a luthier. (For anyone who doesn’t know, luthiers make and repair string instruments that typically have necks and sound boxes like a guitar and violin.)
“I could not have done it without such a good 35-year career,” Fritz explains. “I’d gotten both my kids through college and didn’t owe anything, had most of the woodworking tools already, had played guitar all my life, so it seemed like a natural progression.”
At the behest of a craftsman friend, he took a class under a former machinist for the C.F. Martin & Co. and built his first guitar in 2006. He then enrolled in a luthier school in Atlanta and started doing repairs, eventually converting into building.
“I just fell in love with the process,” Fritz says with a smile. “I can work a 14-hour day and not feel like I’ve worked at all.”
Three years ago the Ohio State grad launched his own brand, Fritz Guitars, and in that relatively short span has made a name for himself as a premier builder of one-of-a-kind, boutique guitars. They are not, mind you, for the beginner, but rather the professional and/or collector with discretionary money. Prices range from $2,750 to $6,900.
“One of the finest compliments I ever got came from a guy I built an electric guitar for who said, ‘I don’t know whether to play it or hang it on the wall as a work of art,’” he said. “He recently called back and wants me to build him an acoustic.”
It is that perfect combination of sound and beauty that is the ultimate goal for Fritz. “I try to find something unique in look and feel in every guitar I build,” he noted. Toward that end, his acoustic instruments have four features almost never found on one instrument: a transitional arm bevel, a player-side soundboard, a radial grain rosette, and a torrified front wherein all the resin and sugar is cooked out of the cell walls of the wood.
“Not only does that look good, but it gives it a different resonance. It makes a brand new guitar sound like it’s a hundred years old,” he notes.
Currently Fritz builds on commission as well as selling at events such as the N.C. Folk Festival, International Bluegrass Music Award IBMA shows, Piedmont Blues Preservation Society PBPS Blues Festival and MerleFest. Two of the artists who play his creations are David Holt and Lakota John.
“I’ve got seven in my inventory right now,” he affirms. “I’m building between seven and nine a year, but I’m getting faster.”
Chances are, he’s going to have to. — Ogi Overman OH