Only One Way to Play

Purveyor of boutique instruments sticks to handcrafted

THOUGHTFULLY MADE
Eddie West and his boutique guitars.
Photo by Karin Strickland

Eddie West knows guitars. He has to: As the owner of Area 22 Guitars in the heart of Brevard, it’s his business to know what musicians want in American-made acoustic guitars, plus electric guitars, other stringed instruments, and accessories. But for him, it’s more than business: It’s a lifelong passion, even an obsession.

West, a North Carolina native, describes his first guitar as a “piece of junk.” The strings were so far off the neck that it was nearly impossible to play, much less tune. He soon upgraded to a better instrument. “But after playing for four or five years, I realized I wasn’t getting significantly better,” he recalls with a laugh. So he signed on with a teacher in Asheville. “He set me on the right path to really learn the guitar,” West says. “Theory, harmony, all that stuff.”

He was hooked. “So in 1982, I went over to UNCA to see what kind of courses they were having,” he recalls. “They said, ‘Well, we just added a music program.’ And I said, ‘Sign me up.’” West studied music and audio engineering, and upon graduation, he and a friend opened a studio of their own, Heart Recording.

But as much as Western North Carolina is a hotbed of musical activity today, in the late ’80s West may have been a bit too far ahead of the curve. “The music scene in Hendersonville just wasn’t going to support a recording studio,” he says. “So in 1990, we moved the studio down to Charleston.” 

It thrived in the coastal city, but West was homesick. “I missed the mountains,” he says. In 2004, he and his wife moved their family back to Western North Carolina. Once settled, he started teaching guitar. And he started thinking out loud about opening a guitar shop. He knew the kind of quality, craftsman-made guitars he liked, and he believed he wasn’t alone in his desire to avoid mass-produced instruments. 

The delight is in the craft-made details. Area 22 specializes in small-batch, American-made instruments.
Photo by Karin Strickland

Guitar manufacturers Fender, Gibson, Martin and others are globally popular makers, with price tags for new guitars ranging from the mid hundreds to the tens of thousands (certain vintage models sell for millions). But in his dealings with fellow musicians, West was convinced that WNC, with its long-established creative culture, would be a good market for thoughtfully made guitars and amplifiers that didn’t roll off an assembly line under a high-profile name. He believed that many of the region’s musicians prefer the kind of gear that’s hand built by artisans, not factory workers. 

So he opened his shop in 2007, carrying electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, and banjos made by small-batch luthiers, as well as pedals and amplifiers built by artisans including Fred Taccone at Divided by 13 Amplifiers in California. (West also sources gear through local Port City Amps, based in Fairview.) 

“Some of my guitar builders could be a four- to five-man shop,” West says. “They just want to make a good product, and make a decent living doing it. It’s small-business America with these guys, and I love being a part of it.” 

Handcrafted goods are heirloom goods, with the expected price point. But West manages to maintain a range of inventory; for example, an Eastman MD 305 mandolin runs $500-$600 and a Weber Fern mandolin tops out near $9,000, with several options in between.

Once you play a good boutique instrument or experience a craft-made amp, “you never go backward,” West insists. Even the pandemic hasn’t hurt business much: “I’ve been alright during COVID,” he says.

West adds that for anyone serious about buying a quality guitar or accessory, there’s only one path. “The first thing they’ve got to do,” he says, “is do their research. And then get to a shop and play something.”

Area 22 Guitars, 212 King St. A, Brevard. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10am-5pm, and Saturdays, 11am-3pm. For more information, call 828-884-2222, see area22guitars.com, or check out the store’s Facebook page.

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