Elkin native Ken Hooper welcomed friends, family and customers to his home Saturday to celebrate the first year of his new business.
Hooper and his wife Robin opened their home to clients and friends on the first birthday of Hooper Guitars, Hooper’s handmade guitar and mandolin shop.
More than 60 guests gathered for lunch and a picker’s session with some of the many instruments he’s created. The family’s backyard and his woodworking shop were turned into an outdoor amphitheater as the musicians played bluegrass music and celebrated.
Hooper began building handmade guitars and mandolins full time Nov. 2, 2012, after a decades-long love of playing both instruments.
Hooper began creating his own instruments with mandolins. After graduating from Appalachian State University, Hooper bought a book on to build your own mandolin and got to work.
It was not until later he began creating guitars, which have since become the mainstay for the business. Hooper said the mandolins are much more labor intensive, requiring as much as four times longer to build than a guitar.
A typical guitar takes between 18 months and two years to complete now that Hooper is working full time. To keep up with demand he keeps several stages of guitars going simultaneously.
Hooper specializes in pre-World War II guitars, based on 1930s Martin and Gibson designs. He uses the original wood options — mahogany or Brazilian rosewood — and the original style of hot animal hide glue to build the guitars.
He left his job at Candle Corp of America last year to build full time, saying he did not want to wake up one day and never have seen if he could do it.
Each guitar is handmade in a woodworking shop behind the family’s home.
Hooper stays to the same work schedule he had before to insure the business succeed, getting in the shop between 7:30 and 8 a.m. each day.
But, as Hooper reminded, when you love what you are doing you never “work” a day in your life.
Each guitar is etched with its own serial number, the word Hooper, and “I Corinthians 10:31” on the headblock on the inside of the instrument.
Hooper gives God the glory for his ability to turn wood into works of art. The verse “Whatever you do, do for the glory of God” is a reflection of that thankfulness.
He made a few guitars that he calls “good enough.” The musical community thought higher of his handiwork than that, and he has since received more and more orders.
The instruments have left the Elkin shop and traveled all over the globe in the hands and cases of their respective owners.
Publicity from sources like Bluegrass Unlimited magazine got the word of mouth rolling. Hooper even has his own forum thread on the Unofficial martin Guitar forum page.
A board in Hooper’s shop lists the customers’ orders and their destinations. From New Zealand to New York, Japan to California, the guitars have made their way far from home but never far from their creator’s heart
He can still remember the work that went in to each one and recognizes them on sight.
During the get-together Saturday number 10 was back in Hooper’s hands getting a bit of maintenance. He worked for half an hour in his shop while friends played Hooper-made guitars and mandolins in the shop.
Hooper puts his products to good use in the band Beyond the Blue. The bluegrass gospel band is a result of Hooper and friend Quinn Slawter’s informal music sessions around church services.
Hooper plays the mandolin while Robin provides the vocals. Their daughter Mary-Claire also performs with the band.
Slawter joined many other thankful musicians in celebrating Hooper’s first year. Hooper’s world renown has brought many new friends into his and the family’s life, and the future looks bright for a budding Elkin business.
Hooper can be reached at 366-7742 or at email@example.com. He also operates a website at www.hooperguitars.com and a Facebook page under the same name.
Reach Taylor Pardue at 835-1513 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.