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Posted on: Wednesday - Apr 20, 2016

Tennessee is well-known for its role in the development of American music including rock and roll, blues and country. One of the common factors throughout these genres is the use of the guitar.

What better way to celebrate “International Guitar Month” than by visiting a custom guitar shop right here in Tennessee? We had a chance to tour Guitar Mill and Mario Guitars located in downtown Murfreesboro to see what this custom guitar maker has to offer.

“Guitar Mill is a 4,000 square foot shop in Murfreesboro that most people don’t even know is here,” said Jack Brunson, head of sales and marketing for Mario Guitars and Guitar Mill. “But despite that fact, we still make about 75 custom guitars and send out about 600 guitar parts each year.”

The custom electric guitar shop began as a startup company in a two-car garage. Mario Martin and his wife Shannon started making guitar parts out of their home 10 years ago. Mario’s love for guitars started at a young age when he began his career as a musician. After his music career ended, he took a job at Gibson Guitar where he worked for over three years. After working at Gibson, he took a job at Fender and worked there for about seven years. The concept to open his own guitar parts shop came from Mario wanting to continue the skill and craft that he had learned while working at Gibson and Fender, but at his own shop.

In the early stages Guitar Mill only produced parts, but the company responded to customer demand and now builds fully custom guitars. There are now two companies working out of the Murfreesboro shop: “Guitar Mill,” the custom guitar parts company, and “Mario Guitars,” the high-end, custom, fully-built guitar shop.

“Mario Guitars came as a natural evolution from the Guitar Mill side of things,” said Mario Martin, founder of Guitar Mill and Mario Guitars. “At Guitar Mill we started out making parts, components of the guitar if you will. We did the bodies for a long time, then we expanded on that by building necks. Guitar necks led to customers requesting us to put the guitars together and there you have it. We started building fully custom guitars.”  

The entire process takes six to eight months, varying of course on the type of customization the customer wants. The company uses paulownia wood, which makes their guitars the lightest of their style. They get the raw paulownia lumber, plane it, bind it and use a CNC machine to carve the guitar shape. After the shape has been carved out, the team sands and finishes the guitar by hand. The next steps include a timely, repetitive process of painting the guitar, letting the paint dry and sanding it. After the nitrocellulose paint has finally set, the shop buffs out each guitar and either assembles it or ships it as parts.

In 2006, Guitar Mill moved from the Martin’s garage to its current location in Murfreesboro.

“Tennessee is great hub, especially Middle Tennessee,” Martin said. “We’re right smack dab in the middle of so much in this region. Being close to Music City certainly doesn’t hurt us either. We’re able to make contacts in the music community that we probably would miss out on if we were located anywhere else, so I think Tennessee is the ideal location.” 

The company prides itself on doing every step of production in-house. Mario is very particular about the type of wood that goes into his guitars. Guitar Mill uses only wood that is produced in Tennessee and adorns every Mario Guitar with a Mario Martin signature and “Made in Tennessee, USA” stamp.

To learn more about Guitar Mill and Mario Guitars, go to http://guitarmill.com or http://marioguitars.com.