Gate City Journal
The Guitar That Greensboro Built
How Terry Fritz is literally pulling strings and uniting a community
By Grant Britt
Terry Fritz is a dream weaver. But you won’t find him in the graveyard at midnight waving a black cat bone around or diggin’ up a mojo hand to create some spiritual hoodoo havoc. Fritz’s work is more down-to-earth, building dreams with his hands — and yours. From his shop in Summerfield, Fritz builds custom handcrafted acoustic and electric guitars. But what sets him apart from other luthiers is his willingness to let his customers in on the process, not just in design but construction. It would seem a giant leap of faith to let untrained, untried hordes of heathens have hands-on
access to delicate expensive equipment. But Fritz has been doing just that since his shop opened in ’06.
The very first guitar Fritz made was with the help of a former Martin guitar factory worker who had set out on his own, teaching novices to build a guitar from scratch in one week. “You started with a pile of really nice, high-end oak wood and you go through the steps of bending the side, joining the top and the back and creating a guitar of your own,” Fritz says. “With the proper instruments and the proper instruction, people with absolutely no experience can come up with a beautiful guitar.”
Providing that opportunity for the general public is a special enough achievement, but Fritz is taking his guitar building to a higher level with his latest enterprise. The Guitar that Greensboro Built is a unique project involving the hands-on building of a high-quality instrument by local and national musicians. Having participated in the construction of the guitar, the artists will perform on it around town. “There are a number of nationally recognized folks that play the Greensboro area I would love to get involved in this,” Fritz says. “ I’m thinking of (having) Rhiannon Giddens, David Holt, Chris Daughtry come in and add a piece of themselves to it.” But Fritz also wants venue owners whom he says pump up the arts — Mack and Mack, Natty Greene’s and Triad Acoustic Stage — to participate as well. “I’d like for several folks from any of those groups involved in making this guitar, just dip your hand in there and do one tiny step of it and say, all right, I had a hand in making this guitar.”
The instrument will not only represent Greensboro, it will be created from material from the site of one of Greensboro’s most revered landmarks, Blandwood Mansion.
Through a woodworker friend, Fritz learned of a 100-year-old willow oak on the property that had to be cut down before it fell on someone. Fritz was apportioned only a limb, but that was plenty for his communal guitar. “Some of those limbs are the size of normal tree trunks,” Fritz says, adding that white oak bends very well. “It was something unique. Guitars used to be made out of oak. They rarely are today.”
To amp up the Greensboro heritage, Fritz will build the instrument at the Forge located in the Flying Anvil building at the foot of Lewis Street. The Forge is being touted as a makerspace, a place that provides tools, training and a workplace for young entrepreneurs to learn and hone their skills in a hands-on environment.
Fritz gives credit to his fiancée Rita Parham for the idea. “She was telling me, ‘We could do this, be a gift to the community, a gift to you.’ And I added, ‘Boy, if we could get a piece of wood that had some connection to Greensboro, that would take it up another notch,’” Fritz says.
To further tie the project to Greensboro, each participant will have the opportunity to sign the inside of the guitar. Additionally, the building process will be recorded and posted on social media. Upon completion, the guitar will serve the people of Greensboro in venues throughout the city as well as paying homage to its roots with a concert at the Blandwood Mansion.
Fritz has applied for a Spark Grant through Action Greensboro to help fund the project, but he vows to bring the project to fruition no matter what. “I’m gonna build this thing, I’m gonna do this,” Fritz insists. “I would love to have the support of the Spark fund, but if I don’t get it, I’m still gonna do this project. It’s too important to let go.” OH
Grant Britt frequently weaves stories about music for O.Henry.