Gordy Bischoff and Tim Brudnicki huddled around a work table, discussing how to turn nearby multigrained pieces of wood into high-end guitars.
“Look at this,” Bischoff said as he pointed to a figure of a phoenix drawn on a small piece of paper before him at his workshop south of Eau Claire. “This is going to be tough to incorporate. But it’s going to look so cool if I can make it work.”
Brudnicki shook his head in affirmation. Then he pointed to a nearby guitar neck emblazoned with a small map of Wisconsin, complete with a spot marking Eau Claire’s location.
“Look, there’s us,” Brudnicki said, noting the Eau Claire marker. “Now when are you going to make the Apostle Islands?”
Bischoff shook his head and laughed. “No islands. Don’t give me any of that,” he said playfully.
The two men then turned more serious and proceeded to debate various aspects of guitar necks, bodies, pickups and other parts. They talked about the sound qualities associated with different types of wood, how wood serves to transform the energy created by strumming strings into a distinctive, beautiful sound.
“If you use a good, dense wood, it will transmit energy more freely,” Bischoff said, his right hand moving to mimic such a flow. “We are going to make sure to create really good sound.”
Bischoff is a guitar aficionado. The energetic 63-year-old has been making guitars for the past four decades under the Bischoff Guitars name, having crafted the instruments for the likes of not only Grammy Award-winning Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon but respected regional and local guitarists Willy Porter, Billy Krause, Larry Heagle, Evan Middlesworth and others.
Brudnicki, 49, is an affable woodworker whose creations feature a mix of function and art. The owner of Eau Claire Woodworks and Tree Purpose of Eau Claire has become known for his distinctive style. Many of Brudnicki’s works are made of ash trees Eau Claire city officials are cutting proactively to prevent the spread of a disease carried by the emerald ash borer.
Now Bischoff and Brudnicki have combined their talents to form Eau Claire Guitar Works. They build custom electric guitars using reclaimed urban wood — much of it ash — from Eau Claire.
Eau Claire Guitar Works has its roots in Brudnicki’s creating furniture and works of art and in Bischoff’s longtime guitar-building efforts.
A couple of years ago, Eau Claire resident Dan Rouse, who owns three instruments made by Bischoff, approached Brudnicki about the possibility of turning ash trees marked to be cut down into custom furniture. Brudnicki and Bischoff later decided to turn some of that wood into a guitar for Rouse instead, a project they are working on now as that wood takes two years to dry fully.
Then, in late 2015 Brudnicki made a control desk for use at Middlesworth’s Pine Hollow Audio music studio south of Eau Claire. Shortly afterward, Middlesworth asked Brudnicki to make him a guitar with a body fashioned from repurposed ash. Brudnicki agreed, and he subsequently worked with Bischoff, who possessed the required guitar-making expertise.
“I knew how to create something from the ash wood, and Gordy knew how to make high-quality guitars,” Brudnicki said. “Our combined skills were a good mix.”
The duo enjoyed that process and decided to build another guitar together. They made another one and used it to raise more than $4,000 — one $10 raffle ticket at a time — to help pay for the $45 million Confluence Arts Center scheduled to open in downtown Eau Claire next fall. Eau Claire resident Richard Kelly won the guitar raffle.
“It felt good to do that, to use our skills to benefit something we believe in,” Brudnicki said.
As Brudnicki and Bischoff sold raffle tickets, they pondered forming a guitar-making business together. “What do you think about making this a thing?” Brudnicki asked Bischoff one day.
Eau Claire’s burgeoning arts and music scene that is attracting national headlines these days made such a venture seem doable. Bischoff decided to give it a go, and Eau Claire Guitar Works was born.
“I’m always looking for more projects,” Bischoff said. “I’ve spent most of my life making guitars, and this is one more way to do that.”
The Confluence Arts Center guitar helped publicize their new business. Bischoff and Brudnicki have received interest from multiple people wanting them to build guitars. Among those requests is one for lead guitarist Aaron Dessner of the acclaimed rock band the National.
Bischoff and Brudnicki appreciate the idea of using recycled wood to create guitars, which they view as works of art as well as musical instruments. They attempt to personalize each instrument for its owner and pay attention to minute details.
“This isn’t a trendy thing or just some hipster project,” Brudnicki said. “It is about creating quality musical instruments.”
That commitment was evident Thursday, when Brudnicki and Bischoff discussed upcoming guitar-making efforts at Bischoff’s workshop. They huddled over one work table and then moved to another, pointing at designs drawn on pieces of paper and holding blocks of wood as they described characteristics of the guitars they envisioned.
Their serious talk was broken by periodic banter. “We’re like an old married couple, my friend,” a smiling Bischoff told Brudnicki.
That camaraderie, and the melding of their skill sets, make the duo optimistic about their business.
“This works because we enjoy doing this work together,” Bischoff said. “We don’t know how this business will to go, but it will be fun to find out.”
Guitar aficionado and woodworker hope to make a lot of noise with their business partnership