Meet luthier Wesley Wilkerson, of Reno Guitar Repair. A luthier is a craftsperson who builds or repairs string instruments that have a neck and a sound box; the word is originally French and comes from the word for lute. Learn more at renoguitarrepair.com.
How did you get into this business?
I always tinkered around with my guitars as a kid, and was never very successful at it. Then in high school, I got told that there was a guitar-building school in Phoenix, and in 2008, I went out there and did the school program for about 8 months, graduated and have been doing it ever since.
You told me a story once about working at Gibson guitars.
I worked there from 2010 to 2016 after about two years of kind of doing my own thing. I just applied to them; they were doing new hires. I was actually living in Albuquerque at the time and flew there for an interview. I did a few interviews with a whole bunch of different companies, because I just wanted to leave the Guitar Center; I was done working at a dead end job. On the day that I was thinking of taking another offer from a guy up in Vegas … I got the phone call from Gibson saying, “Hey we need you out here as soon as possible.”
How did you choose to move to Reno?
I just kept on looking, and about six months before I left Gibson, I just started looking at every single town on the West Coast that I could think of, and just typed in “guitar repairs” to see who my competition would be, and I just happened to stumble upon Reno as a place that didn’t really have a giant selection of high quality guys, or at least guys who were going to be in the market for a long time. You had a few guys who were, you know, 35-plus-year veterans, and I assumed that they had to /be calling it a day soon, so I figured I’d come out here, and by the time they were done and retired fully, I’d be established. I’ve never been to Reno before. I moved here and just opened up my own business in 2016.
How did you establish yourself?
I just pretty much went out on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday nights to every place that I could find a live gig being played, and I sat around for a few songs, threw a few dollars in the tip jars, throw a few cards in it, and just kind of worked my way around—”street beat,” as I called it. It was just word of mouth after that. … I’d say 90% of my clientele is from word of mouth.
Have you done work for any notable musicians?
I have done work for a few. One guy, his name is David Diamond, he is the guitar player and keyboard player from Berlin; they were really huge back in the ’80s. He lives up in Truckee. He’s been in my shop a few times and had me do a whole bunch of guitar work for him. Now and then I’ll get the random guy who’s coming through town who might need something random that they just don’t have the capabilities of doing … like I had the opportunity to work on a guitar when Willie Nelson came through town. I had a chance to work on a guitar that was supposedly a backup guitar. I got to go to the concert that night, and his son played the guitar the whole night, so I obviously did a good job on that.
What was business like during the pandemic?
Honestly, I had my best financial year during that time. My shop is more oriented toward repairing and restoration, things of that nature. You had a lot of people at home who hadn’t picked up a guitar in forever. … I had a lot of my gigging musicians who had put off these big jobs for so long, because they were still using the instrument, who finally decided it was time to get it done
How do you see your business in the future?
I’d love to grow to the point where I have maybe one or two people doing what I do, then maybe just kind of step back a little bit and do more of the bigger jobs. … The ultimate goal is to build my own guitars, but that’s a that’s a 10-15 year plan down the road.
What do you think about the local music scene right now?
Oh, it’s awesome. I moved here from Nashville. I know a lot of people think I’m crazy for moving from Music City to Reno, but to be honest, the music scene here is way more diversified, and if anything, we have way more venues to play because you have all the casinos, and then all of the smaller bars that are trying to compete with these casinos. … I think the music scene is healthier probably than it has ever been in the five years that I’ve been here.