View Full Version : Man teams with dad to manufacture homemade instruments

01-23-06, 01:05 PM
Man teams with dad to manufacture homemade instruments

When people are asked about their childhood memories, most see old pictures in their minds. Chris Scott's old pictures come with soundtracks.

"I grew up around my dad playing a stringed instrument or making one," said Scott, 30. "My earlier memory is dad playing a banjo. I also remember him making a guitar."

And ever since then, Scott has been learning at the knee of the master. He doesn't have to go back to memories of his father, Jerry Scott, playing music and making musical instruments. He has joined his dad in both.

They now play together for fun. They make instruments together for money, as well as the love they both have for the difficult craft of instrument making.

Chris Scott has teamed with his father to form a partnership called Melrose Music Supply, a small manufacturing business based at Jerry and Marie Scott's Melrose Drive house. In a shop behind the house and in a room inside the house, the Scotts make guitars, mandolins and violins.

Took Scott years to become luthier

To lay people, the Scotts are instrument makers. To the Scotts and others in their high-skill level trade, they are luthiers. "A luthier is someone who builds musical instruments," said Chris Scott.

It would take a few years before Chris Scott would become a luthier.

Not long after graduating from Boyle County High School in 1994, Scott joined the Marines. He served from 1995 to 2000 in the Marines as a communications specialist and was based at Camp Pendleton in California. From there, he was dispatched on assignments to Iraq, Italy and several African countries.

After leaving the Marines, Scott got job with Bluegrass Cellular, based in Elizabethtown. He worked there for nearly five years, serving as operations manager. In the meantime, he and his wife, Crystal, made Danville their home. The Scotts and their three children, ages 20 months, 3 years and 7 years, live on Rosemont Avenue. "I decided to leave Bluegrass Cellular," said Scott. "It was a good job, but I got tired of commuting, three hours total every day."

There was a job waiting for him at home - his father's home.

Jerry Scott is the longtime owner of Minuteman Press on West Walnut Street in Danville. But for years, he pursued his love of making and playing stringed musical instruments. In 1993, he turned his hobby into a part-time, home-based business, establishing Melrose Musical Instruments. He made guitars, mandolins and violins in the shop behind his house.

Two became partners in 2005

Chris Scott became interested in the work of a luthier in the mid 1990s and, in 2000, started building instruments with his dad. "It was an opportunity for me to learn from him. He taught me the fundamentals, and I have been learning from him ever since. Now I have reached the point where I not only have most of the skills down but am spending as much or more time developing ways to accelerate the manufacturing process and creating the manufacturing equipment to do it as I am actually building instruments."

The opportunity for Chris Scott to work with his dad in a more formal relationship came in April 2005 when the two became partners in a home-based business they called Melrose Music Supply.

Jerry Scott works part-time and will do so for the next two years until he retires from the print shop, while it's a full-time job for his son. In addition to making guitars, mandolins and violins, they make parts for all three instruments.

Crystal Scott designed the Melrose Music Supply logo that appears on each instrument - a big script "M" with a rose underneath it.

The Scotts obtained a home occupation permit from the Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning Commission and a business license from the city of Danville. They already had in place most of their equipment and facilties.

The equipment in the shop behind Jerry and Marie Scott's house includes a drill press, a jointer, two bandsaws and machines that bend and shape wood strips, including one that Chris Scott modified from a tile saw into a machine that has speeded up the manufacturing process.

In a period of transition

A room inside the house is used for finishing the instruments, and the equipment there includes a buffing machine and a room where lacquer is applied.

"Regarding our equipment and our manufacturing process, we are in a period of transition," said Scott, who specializes in the mandolin side of the instrument manufacturing business. "We recently added computerized machining equipment that has increased the accuracy of our instruments as well as volume of instruments we can make. We basically are moving from totally handmade products to mass production. "Last year, for instance, we built 20 guitars," he said. "With this new computerized equipment and new process, we will be able to double or even triple guitar production this year."

The Scotts obtain most of their woods from a supplier in Lexington that sells special kiln-dried hardwoods. But they also will go to sawmills to see what's available. Scott said they use black walnut, cherry, sycamore, maple, spruce, sassafrass and mahogany; different woods are used for the back, sides and necks, he said.

They buy the string for their instruments and other parts from a variety of different suppliers, he said.

The Scotts make three models of guitars, three models of mandolins and two models of violins. Depending on the model, Scott said the prices of the guitars range from $1,000 to $1,800, while the prices for mandolins range from $300 to $600 for beginner models to $1,800 to $3,000 for the more sophisticated instruments, and the prices for violins run from $1,000 to $2,000. "We sell to customers all over the country, and most of our business has come from word of mouth," said Scott.

Upgrades helping pair realize dream

The marketing and merchandising of Melrose Music Supply products is in transition as well as the manufacturing process, he said. "We have been selling directly to customers, but we are going to go through music instrument dealers and music stores," Scott said. Meanwhile, the Scotts are building a Web page and are accessible by e-mail, regular mail and phone.

The upgrades in equipment, process, marketing and merchandising are helping Scott realize his dream of turning the home-based business into a larger-scale, manufacturing operation.

"We are going from what essentially was a hobby/business involving handmade instruments to a small-scale mass manufacturer of computerized-machined instruments," said Scott, who puts in 12 to 15 hours a day, four days a week.

"And, as this building process escalates, we will one day need a bigger facility as well as more equipment and may eventually reach the point where we will be hiring employees. "But as we grow, we will not sacrifice quality for quantity," he said. "In fact, we are improving both."

While Scott looks forward to taking more steps toward realizing his dream of growing the company his dad began as a hobby type of business, he also looks back to the memories that predicted what his career would be - that forecast that Chris Scott would be chip off the old block.

"I remember when I was kid and Dad playing Bluegrass music and making the instruments Bluegrass musicians play," he said.

"Now, I'm doing the same thing - and I get to do it with the man who taught me how to play these instruments and how to make them."