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John Brown owns Brown’s Guitar Factory in Inver Grove Heights

Takes love of guitars to a whole new level

August 19, 2012
By Jeremy Behnke - Sports Editor , The Journal

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS - To say that John Brown takes his job and his reputation seriously might be a bit of an understatement.

Brown, who owns Brown's Guitar Factory in Inver Grove Heights, has taken his love of guitars and instruments to a whole new level.

He builds custom guitars for his customers and he takes great pride in making sure the job is done 100 percent right the first time. He says he's woke up in the middle of the night many times worrying about building the perfect guitar.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
John Brown with one of his creations, the Bumblebee Fretted/Less bass.

Despite the sometimes sleepless nights, Brown has built a business that has a high reputation around the state with its customers.

Brown is the son of William Brown, who owned Brown's Music in New Ulm. He learned how to deal with customers and listen to them very close, something that he takes with him to this day.

"I learned that from my parents when I worked at their music store in customer service," Brown said. "I learned to pay attention to detail and I learned the importance of consistency. We have people that require the best of the best. I believe throughout the years that's the only reason that business has continued to succeed, because of the consistency and the paying attention to detail.

"There's times where I've sanded guitar, and it just looks gorgeous, and then all of a sudden my eyes will look deep into the finish - I've woke up in the middle of the night before and visually see scratches, not literally, but in my mind. It can drive you nuts."

When Brown graduated from high school in 1982, he wanted to pursue a career of some kind with music. He decided to get an education at a vocational school in Red Wing, for as he put it, "something to fall back on."

Not long after graduating college, he hit the road playing music. He did some recording, but after a while, he realized that he wanted something more out of life, and he started his own guitar shop.

There, Brown's Guitar Shop opened and he specialized in building custom guitars for those who have a specific style in mind but are unable to find it anywhere else.

The business opened in the mid 80s and ever since, he's been building guitars for musicians all over. He works alongside Adam Meyer, Carson Lulic and John Bueno to form a strong working nucleus.

His grandfather and father both got him involved with music. His dad was involved with concertinas and John wanted to focus on guitars since it was an instrument he played and knew very well.

"What got me building was, at the vocational school, I got educated on how to repair and build guitars," he said. "I guess you can say I got my training wheels in a lifelong pursuit of knowledge."

While he also does restoration and repair work, the custom building is a large part of his business.

"It's a big part in the sense that it's hand made," Brown said. "It's a big part of what we do. Another part is I have a restoration business, and I think just being around all of these guitars has educated me in a sense of what works and why does it work."

As far as building a custom-made guitar, Brown says it depends on the job, but it usually takes about a year if he builds it from scratch.

"Right now, if somebody calls, I say it's a year," Brown said. "Interesting enough, if people are attracted to what we do, they don't hem and haw about that, they're like 'oh, ok.'

"But there is a little bit of research that goes into it," Brown added. "For instance, sometimes we do a demo model first."

Each one that he custom builds is as unique as the individual he builds it for. There are many large and minor details that go into each guitar, and he has to make sure he meets all of those needs and wants specifically.

"Each one is all on its own, fortunately they're all not the same old thing," Brown said. "We made a cool bass for an artist in L.A. - he's got tons and tons of projects lined up and that was a cool bass.

"We also have another bass that we can plug into an electronic keyboard and just get some incredible things," Brown added. "It's not that it's the first of its kind, but it's how it's all put together that makes it what it is. The musician and the player realizes that, that it's not just run-of-the-mill - it's combining all the technology into one."

He said that working with guitars has been something that just seems to come natural to him since his younger days. It's a job that that's rewarding to him every day he shows up to work.

"I learned a lot of instruments as a kid, but I gravitated towards playing guitar," Brown said. "I think since Day 1, I've been very experimental about it. One thing is whether we're building tools or instruments, the designing of is where I get enthusiastic, it kind of gets me to work.

"But being innovative, and not trying to re-invent the wheel, there's things we do where people say 'yeah, we get it.'"

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