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Guitars make a musical living for luthier

TAMPA

Before Charles Scroggins gets his hands involved, he first absorbs a guitar player's sound and style.

Then he'll discuss criteria: Solid body, hollow or a combination? Single or dual neck? Thick and wide or thin and narrow? How many strings and most important, what kind of wood?

He is a luthier — a maker of stringed instruments — and he's picky as his pluckers.

"Heart and soul . . . I obsess over every little detail," said Scroggins, a guitar player himself since age 12. He guesses he's made more than 40. Apprenticeships with several luthiers, most notably Maine craftsman-author William Cumpiano, helped refine his acoustic abilities.

Until a few weeks ago, Scroggins, 37, worked out of a workshop in his Land O'Lakes home. On June 10, he and his wife, Christine, and 2-year-old-son Dyllon expanded their family with the birth of son Liam. Three days later, he expanded the business with the opening of Scroggins Custom Shop at 3418 Handy Road in Carrollwood. He began a Facebook page this month.

"Nothing is premade," said Scroggins, who has repaired, adjusted and modified more than 10,000 guitars — electric, bass and acoustic — and worked on hundreds of folk instrument over the past dozen years. His reputation spread, and now touring bands often roll into town and call the guitar technician for preshow tune-ups.

"Musicians are very particular," he understates.

He's not talking about green M&M's in the dressing room.

Wayne "Animal" Turner, lead guitarist with the Bama Band, the country group backing Hank Williams Jr. for decades, commissioned a Telecaster of canary wood with a specialized electronics package.

"He liked my ideas and the quality of my work," said Scroggins, who had only been a luthier a couple of years when he took three guitars to show Turner during a Skipper's Smokehouse gig in 2000.

"You can see him playing it on YouTube," Scroggins said.

Growing up, Scroggins was that kid who'd rather take a toy apart than play with it.

"I've always been driven to find out how things work," he said.

He thinks that mechanical aptitude is inherited from his father, a computer-aided design engineer, family car fixer and handyman.

Charles Sr. also turned his son onto jam bands such as the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers. Mostly now Scroggins listens to local bands, clients like Shaun Hopper, an up-and-coming finger-style guitarist.

Safety Harbor music teacher-producer Michael J. Marth has been patiently watching the progress on his $4,500 solid-body electric guitar. Orders take at least four months and start at $2,000, depending on the complexity.

"The difference between a custom guitar and a factory model is like comparing dinner at Bern's to lunch at McDonald's," Marth said.

Scroggins has worked on all 12 of Marth's guitars, plus many more for his students. He stops by the workshop for some adjustment or other every few weeks since being introduced by the late guitar virtuoso Sal DiTroia.

"He has the ear of a musician to go along with the mind of a mechanical engineer," Marth said.

Scroggins stores a wide variety of wood in many colors, including exotics like mango, olive, pink ivory, and domestics such as ash and hard rock maple (perfect for rock stars). Calling his guitar hero "a walking encyclopedia on wood," Marth, 51, chose light and resonant swamp ash for the main body. The top and back are made of quilted maple accented with stripes of purpleheart wood. The neck is made of curly maple with an ebony fingerboard.

"He's close to finished, just a few coats of lacquer," Marth said.

He won't rush the process, even though he plans to order two more.

"They're works of art that work unbelievably."

No wonder Scroggins says parting with his guitars is as hard as making them.

"It's like every one of them is my baby."

About this series

Our community revolves around a diversity of jobs, some more unusual than others. Throughout the summer, we'll introduce readers to a variety of creative, hardworking people who have made interesting, some might say quirky, career choices. Suggestions welcome; email ascherzer@tampabay.com or call (813) 226-3332.

Guitars make a musical living for luthier 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 5:30am]
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