Emmet McCusker has a rather intricate and time-consuming hobby.
When he’s not filling his role as deputy city engineer with the City of Colwood, McCusker spends his time building guitars from scratch, a hobby which is blooming into a side-gig, as notable musicians begin to take notice of his work.
His all-consuming hobby started in 2005 when McCusker’s wife bought him a Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Always a tinkerer, McCusker decided he wanted to try a different pickup (the device which picks up the vibrations in the instrument for electric amplification) in the guitar. When he took it apart he noticed the woodworking in the guitar and thought “I could do that.”
“That was the beginning of it and it just went from there,” McCusker said. “It’s kind of more than hobby, but it’s in an interesting place right now, it’s in a real transition.”
Now McCusker is starting to build guitars to order for musicians he knows, including American musician Marcus Eaton, who played guitar on the latest David Crosby album.
The guitar for Eaton is an acoustic, which McCusker has only built a few of. They present a whole other level of challenge because every choice you make will affect what the guitar ultimately sounds like.
“The electrics are fun to make, but basically the electrics are probably a little bit better than high-end furniture making,” McCusker said. “When you’re into an acoustic it’s science and magic.”
A player since the age of 15, McCusker has been in a couple of bands and continues to play back up guitar for some local musicians.
With a hobbyist background in woodworking, building guitars has seen passions merge for McCusker and has become a new obsession. His house is full of guitars and the walk to his front door is lined with slabs of wood drying for guitar building.
“It’s the sense of creating something and the absolute thrill of playing something you’ve worked, in the case of an acoustic, upwards of 180 hours on to build,” he said. “It’s a great thing.”
The concentration needed while doing the work is also nearly meditative, McCusker said.
His latest electric is made mainly from local maple, a material he said forestry companies often consider as firewood but is actually quite sought after by guitar makers for its distinctive rippling grain.
Looks come second for McCusker though, whose main focus is tone and playability.
“If I want to build something that looks nice, I’ll build furniture,” he said. “I’ll make them look nice, but it’s all about tone.”
Visit vicnews.com for a video of McCusker playing the first acoustic guitar he ever made.