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At the Wilmore Guitars compound in Long Beach, Tom Wilson and Randy Baranosky work amongst a symphony of machinery, handcrafting and sanding down electric guitars with the same attention to detail as a pair of sculptors. Each model is named after streets in the LBC—2nd Street, 7th Street, Termino, Shoreline—an homage to the city where they have planted their roots. The sounds of their six-strings resonate with fatness—the sonic equivalent of how butter tastes.
Earlier this month, Wilson and Baranosky started production on a unique line literally pulled from the framework of their city. The Reclaimed Series—Wilmore Guitars' limited-edition run—are guitars created from wood taken from the beams, doors and furniture found in old homes, usually those foreclosed and slated for demolition. While Wilson wishes he could work full-time as a luthier, he needs to work a day job, too. One day, when he was demolishing a house in South Gate with Habitat for Humanity, the crew was pulling out 2-by-4s of Douglas fir and mahogany. The crew was going to dump the wood, but Wilson had a moment of nostalgia for the bones of a home built in 1927—though Wilson believes the wood is almost 200 to 300 years old.
Before anyone tossed the wood into the garbage, Wilson "started kind of tapping on it, seeing how it resonated and what it sounded like," he says, "and I thought, 'Man, let's give it a shot and make some guitars out of it.'"
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For Wilson and Baranosky, the quality of the wood is probably the most important element of making aesthetically and sonically pleasing guitars. Though he has been building them for more than 15 years, Wilson started Wilmore in 2008. Baranosky, a skilled craftsman and longtime friend, became his partner. With Ryan Dennee and Jeremy Hunt, they are fine-tuning the blending of different types of wood, trying to find their ideal sound. For the Reclaimed Series, they are working with wood that has been dried naturally, unlike at most guitar factories, where it is dried by machines.
"These pieces of wood have had time to dry out naturally," Wilson says. "The sap and the moisture inside crystallize, and that's what you're looking for in a guitar. You want that moisture to dissipate. You don't want to lock it inside necessarily because that lack of moisture allows it to resonate freely."
When Wilson brought the wood back to the compound, he noticed it was full of nails and chunks were missing. He tried to pull out as many nails as possible because it ruins their machines, but he eventually came to the conclusion the battered, historic wood actually related to Wilmore's overall vision. So he and Baranosky used the wood with the nails because they wanted the guitars to look and sound classic, and they wanted musicians to beat the shit out of their axes, creating an authentic and durable instrument.
"We allow the blemishes," Wilson says. "We allow the nails and the chunks. We're letting it all show. I think we live that way . . . in a genuine and real way. It becomes part of who we are. It's part of our story to be genuine, real people. We make genuine and real instruments. They have blemishes. We want them to look beat-up. That goes back to my identity: I've got plenty of blemishes; I've got plenty of chunks missing. I've got scars and nails in me."
Baranosky also views the Reclaimed Series as guitars with character. He sees the reclaimed wood as a continuation of the narrative of someone's home that would have been thrown in the trash. "These 2-by-4s," he says, pointing to a stack of wood, "came out of somebody's house. It was lived in. Now, it's being played."
Wilson adds, "We're trying to help people tell their stories. [The Reclaimed Series] tells our story of what we do here: the guitars we build, the noise we make."
Once all that wood from the home in South Gate is gone, the first run of the Reclaimed Series will be done. Wilson says no guitar will be the same, and he hopes the only reason anyone every sells one is because he or she is broke.
"The story of this wood creates the quality of the sound," Wilson says. "This thing that was essentially garbage to most people, we were able to turn it into a high-quality instrument."
This article appeared in print as "Wilmore Guitars Reclaims Long Beach: Plucking wood from a demolished house in South Gate gave these local craftsmen a bright idea."