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Making guitars, Vashon-style

Vashon Guitar Company’s Bob Krinsky, left, and Josiah Palmer play two of the company’s guitars in Krinsky’s recording studio.   - Susan Riemer/staff photo
Vashon Guitar Company’s Bob Krinsky, left, and Josiah Palmer play two of the company’s guitars in Krinsky’s recording studio.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/staff photo

By SUSAN RIEMER

Staff Writer

One could say that Bob Krinksy’s life-long love for music began with a near-fatal bee sting at age 5.

He was at his family’s summer home in New Jersey when the bee stung him, triggering anaphylactic shock. The next door neighbor, a physician named Harry Feinberg, saved the young Krinsky with a shot of adrenaline to his heart.

The two formed a bond after that experience, and when Feinberg began to study guitar five years later, Krinsky, because of that bond, followed suit.

“He played a Gretsch guitar with nylon strings,” Krinsky remembered. “Over the years I often wondered what happened to that guitar.”

A lifetime of music unfolded for Krinsky. He played in high school bands at posh gigs in the Catskills, formed a reggae band before reggae was popular, created a recording studio that filled his Vashon home, worked with some of music’s luminaries and recorded a CD of his own. Recently, he added another verse to his musical life and founded Vashon Guitar Company.

The company, which Krinsky began just one year ago with his wife Delilah, offers 29 guitar models — all made with quality materials, careful craftsmanship and attention to detail — the kind of detail that he and his colleague Islander Josiah Palmer say is hard to find in the mass-produced guitars on the market today.

“The guitar industry is an industry dominated by a few 800-pound gorillas,” Krinsky said, noting that companies such as Fender and Gibson are buying up smaller companies — and the result, in his opinion, is not a positive one.

“That’s why I am doing this,” he said, “for the love of the instrument.”

Krinsky, 57, a trial lawyer by day and father of three, still has a recording studio in his Wax Orchard home and attends the National Association of Music Merchants conference every year. It is the largest music trade show in the world, he said, and he goes and looks at products and checks out gear.

When he attended in 2004, there amidst the large displays of the guitar-making giants — Fender, Gibson, Gretsch and the like — Krinksy spotted a small display of Korean guitar makers.

“I recognized the guitars were similar to the guitars I play,” he said, and in talking with the people of the company, learned that they wanted to change their focus from mass producing guitars to making much smaller numbers each year with higher quality.

When pressed for details on how it happened that he went from noticing guitars at a mammoth musical convention to suggesting to the company that they work together to create his own guitars, he gave a simple answer: “The idea grew.”

After months of e-mailing with the guitar company — sometimes tricky because of the language barrier, he said — they reached an agreement, and Vashon Guitar Company was born.

Using that company’s guitars as a foundation to work from, Krinsky said he retains the best features of the instruments and requests changes that he believes will improve the guitar and appeal to musicians here. After agreeing upon final specifications, the Korean company makes the guitars and ships them here, where Krinsky and Palmer, a professional luthier, methodically examine each one, making sure every element meets their exacting standards.

Krinsky has lived on the Island since 1973 and says he has great affection for its places and people. When it came time to name his guitars, Krinsky sat down with a map of Vashon, considered the names of some of Vashon’s places, thought about images they evoked and how those images fit with the guitars. The results speak for themselves: the Vashon Green, a forest green electric guitar with ivory-colored trim and white and green mother-of-pearl inlay in the fret board; The Crux, the company’s most popular electric guitar — a chambered archtop, in the musical trade — with a black finish and chrome pick-ups and tuners, named for the now-closed teen club Krinsky’s son Ross started a few years back, and the Luana, Krinksy’s most popular acoustic guitar, a solid wood guitar with a vintage sunburst finish.

Of the 29 guitars, more than a third carry Vashon place names, and all of guitar heads say “Vashon” in mother-of-pearl.

Many guitars today are made of plywood, but 40 percent of the Vashon Guitar line includes solid wood: mahogany, spruce, rosewood and maple, Krinsky said. The wood affects the look of the guitar, of course, but also the sound.

“Each wood has a characteristic tone,” Krinsky said. “Most players have a picture in their head of what the woods sound like.”

The manufacturer hand-selects and cures the wood for the guitars, Krinsky said, and builds the guitars with attention to the grain of the wood and its fluctuations.

The hardware of the guitar, such as the pick-ups — which convert acoustical energy to electrical energy — are also high quality, Krinsky and Palmer said.

“I have no interest in making a crummy guitar,” Krinsky said. “The world is just inundated with good-looking but low-quality guitars.”

Vashon Guitar Company is now in its fourth production run, Krinsky said. They have sold more than 100 guitars, and have a distributor — who had planned to meet with Krinsky for about 15 minutes, Krinsky said, but stayed for more than four hours. The guitars are in Ted Brown Music, which has four stores around the state, and will be in more stores as the company grows. Krinsky also has a showroom in Tacoma, in the former conference room of his law office, and Krinsky says he will bring any guitar to Vashon that any Islander might want to see.

In addition to their beauty and quality, Krinsky said, his guitars are a fraction of the cost of many others, one-third to one-half less, he said.

“Our price point is way below the giant competitors,” he said, “and our quality point is way above our price competition.”

Some people familiar with the guitars have suggested he charge more for them since some potential buyers may not realize their quality because of their belief in the common adage “you get what you pay for.”

“You don’t,” Krinsky said, dismissing the idea.

The company is in its infancy at a year old, and its future is unknown. Though optimistic, Krinsky is also philosophical. “We expect to succeed,” he said, “but if for some reason we do not … we will have contributed hundreds of beautiful guitars to the world.”

And as for Dr. Feinberg’s Gretsch guitar that inspired Krinsky’s musical soul all those years ago, it is a Vashon guitar of sorts, too.

Dr. Harry — as he was known to Krinsky — died about 40 years ago. Six years ago Mrs. Feinberg died, and Krinsky said he got a call from his mother. One of the Feinbergs’ sons, whom he had not seen in 20 years and who knew nothing of Krinsky’s musical path, said they had found the old guitar in a storage room and wanted Krinsky to have it.

“There was an angel choir singing when I opened that box,” Krinksy said.

It’s in his home office now, just outside the door to his recording studio and nestled amidst Krinsky’s always-growing collection of 18 guitars, still offering its inspiration.

Business facts

Vashon Guitar Company

Phone: 463-2712

E-mail: info@vashonguitar.com

Web site: www.vashonguitar.com

Showroom: 1546 Market Street, Tacoma

 

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