In 1982 Jean Larrivée guitar manufacturers (which began in Toronto in 1967) moved from Victoria to Vancouver, establishing the city as a hub of guitar making.
Despite now being based in California, a lot of talented luthiers came up through the ranks at the Larrivée factory in Vancouver and set up shop on their own when the company moved on.
“They trained a lot of people who went through their workshop and, subsequently, a lot of those makers went out on their own and kept making guitars,” says local luthier Rye Bear of G.R. Bear Guitar Making. “There are actually quite a few guitar makers in Vancouver and then also there are people who specialize in other aspects of the industry.”
Bear, who spent most of his life in Australia, says that when he was looking for somewhere to establish his guitar business Vancouver seemed like the perfect place because of the connections to everything from world-class finishing to guitar parts. “I can also hone my craft by learning from all the different people here,” he adds. “In a place like Vancouver, because you have all of these experts around you, it's so great to tap into those resources.”
A lot of small-business guitar makers work out of tiny studios or their garages and don’t have access to things like professional spray booths which Bear says start at $15,000. So having someone like Rob Bustos, of Vancouver Guitar Finishing, to outsource that project to is a real asset and according to Bear, who says "his finishing is the absolute best in the world."
Bear also shouts out Yusuke Kawakami, a third-generation luthier from Japan, and the owner of Japart, a Japanese guitar part importer. "I worked alongside Yusuke to develop a set of tuners that were custom and only available on on my guitars but they were made by one of the best tuner manufacturers in the world, Gotoh in Japan, and so by having the sort of specialty that he provides, in this city you have access again to such an amazing resource," says Bear.
He also points out that we have access to a lot of the instrument wood that that gets exported to factories all around the world such as Sitka spruce and Western red cedar. "B.C. is probably the largest exporter of maple for specifically electric guitars as well," he adds.
Vancouver's proximity to the United States also makes it a great place for guitar makers to set up shop for ease of travel and to get a foothold in the US market.
The perfect storm of factors culminates in a community of luthiers and people in guitar-adjacent professions all in one place. Here are six to check out:
Prestige Guitars in North Vancouver has been around for 16 years and has an award-winning collection of solid body and semi-hollow electric guitars, basses, and hand-carved acoustics. Many of their guitars look like art pieces just as much as instruments and are used by professional musicians in bands such as Guns ‘n’ Roses, Slash and the Conspirators, Big Wreck, The Guess Who and Shinedown.
G. R. Bear makes classical concert and steel-stringed acoustic guitars utilizing modern bracing techniques. The steel strings come in an orchestral model and Grand 00. Bear says he is also able to make small modifications or customizations to the guitar upon request.
Riversong developed its reputation by developing a patented Neck-thru design which increases resonance by decreasing bulky bracing. They have a collection of acoustic electric guitars and ukuleles but they also do custom builds. They have also released one model of electric guitar, the T2.
Nicole is one of the guitar makers who got their start at Larrivée. She has been working in the world of luthiery since 1999 and studied under Geza Burghardt, another Larrivée alum, who mentored many of the local luthiers and teaches guitar making on Granville Island. Nicole opened her own shop in 2003 and restores classic guitars and violins while also handmaking guitars. She frequently speaks at the Vancouver guitar show.
Meredith Coloma is recognized as one of the youngest professional guitar builders in the world and creates custom builds out of her East Vancouver shop. Her business was bought out by Pacific Wood Lab and she offers lessons and sells guitars through them, though her Instagram is still active.
Formerly a luthier in Hungary, Geza Burghardt is a legend among the local guitar-making community. In 1996 he opened his business on Granville Island specializing in guitars and other string instruments. He does repairs and restoration for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as well as other Orchestras in Canada and the USA and has been mentor to many luthiers in the city.