FACETIME- Mr. Calhoun: The man behind the... guitar
Charlottesville is rife with musicians to an almost comical degree, and the everyman nature of the guitar makes it one of the instruments most likely to be heard echoing from under the awning of the Paramount on any given afternoon. Despite local six-string luminaries like Jamal Millner and Sam Wilson, though, it's 27-year-old Brian Calhoun who may understand the instrument best.
Then again, it's not really an apple-to-apple comparison. Calhoun doesn't play guitars– he builds them. His Rockbridge guitars are beloved by the few locals– such as Peyton Tochterman of High Society and Jesse Harper from Old School Freight Train– who've been lucky enough to get their mitts on one.
Calhoun's first attempts at luthiery, the official name for making stringed instruments, came in the form an apprenticeship with a Lexington mandolin builder. Within a few years, he had moved on to violins– all of which he built without the benefit of a player's insight.
"Guitars just seemed like a more logical instrument for me to build, since that's what I played," he says. He took the plunge in 2001 at the urging of his Lexington tutor, Randall Ray. Together, the two cranked out a handful of instruments, and the results were good enough to convince them to start the company the following year.
Wilson, who plays lead in Sons Of Bill, is a Rockbridge customer as of last summer.
"Every single Rockbridge I've played is of the utmost quality," Wilson raves. "I wanted to get one before he blows up, before there's a three-year waiting list and it's $5,000."
Already, Calhoun– who's churning out about one new guitar a week– has managed to get himself partway to the big time. The wait for a Rockbridge is a year and a half, and the price is now $3,500 and up.
That kind of money buys some serious fretboard bling.
"When people make custom orders, we can vary the way the guitar sounds by choosing different woods," says Calhoun, "but the time when people go really out there is with the inlay work."
Indeed, the inlay gallery on the company's website includes fretboard art from birds to boats and butterflies– and elsewhere, some unidentified mammal clambering up a tree trunk.
While Calhoun's wife, Ann Marie, has been capturing headlines of her own lately, having played violin for Ringo Starr and the Grammy broadcast in February, Brian remains committed to his craft.
"We're all obsessed," he says. And his guitars are starting to make their way into the hands of the professionals playing with Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, and Tim McGraw. At one guitar a week, Rockbridges may never gain the ubiquitous acclaim of Martins and Gibsons, but those in the know will likely covet them for years to come.