Jim Hays Interview

For Jim Hays, finding a guitar that suits his style can be a little frustrating. The Athens resident plays the guitar left-handed and finding quality lefty guitars can be a challenge.

However, it’s a challenge that Hays, 69, isn’t afraid to take on. The retired technical manager, who had previously worked on such projects as the first IBM laptop and Saturn rocket, decided to build a guitar for himself. “It’s not rocket science,” he said, adding that although it’s tedious, it’s pretty plain and simple.

Building hand-crafted guitars allows him to create his own vintage sounds. The guitar builder has produced 18 guitars in the past four or five years. “I started real slow,” he said. “It was a hobby. I needed something to do after I retired.” Hays built his first guitar in 1983 from a Martin kit. “I had done a little repair work when my brother, Don, had a music store, but that was the first time I had ever built one,” he said, referring to the Jefferson Street Library of Music, which was once located across the street from LuVici’s in Athens.

“About four or five years ago, I started tinkering around with it again,” he said. Hays credits guitar builder John Arnold for a lot of what he has learned. “He is a very good luthier.” Hays recalled catching a television special where Arnold and another man cut a huge Adirondack spruce tree and followed the process of guitar building from beginning to end. In the special, Lynn Dudenbostel, a well-known acoustic guitar and mandolin craftsman, was the luthier. Hays saw the special and decided to give Arnold a call. The two became friends. “He gave me old guitar patterns,” Hays said . “We just hit it off.”