Ethan Burns likes to make things. He made his fiancée’s wedding ring. He’s making his dad a bench. He also makes music, and when he teaches music lessons, he makes future musicians, too. But all of his making started with the coolest thing that Ethan Burns makes: electric guitars. “I had always loved to build things, to work with my hands,” he says. “I loved Legos and K’NEX, really anything where you made something out of something else.” When he was 21 and living in Blue Ash, he was still figuring out what he wanted to do. It all came together for him on Christmas, when his uncle gave him a DIY guitar repair book. Burns tore through it, and at the end he found an advertisement for the Bryan Galloup School of Lutherie in Michigan. “The light bulb went off: I should learn how to build guitars,” he says.
By July, he was enrolled and attending his first class. It was a challenge: Burns had never done any sort of woodworking before, apart from a shop class in eighth grade. “There are some things you can pick up, but a lot of it comes down to feel,” he says. “You really only develop that touch by doing it over and over again.”
After graduation, Burns and a classmate, Josh Kleiman, partnered to create Ivaldi Guitars, and they now work out of a studio in Oxford. The name comes from the Sons of Ivaldi, magical craftsmen in Norse mythology. Burns and Kleiman were drawn to the idea of building something that would be remembered for ages, so they craft guitars that they think are interesting or different, and they pride themselves on the quality. Continuing their work without the school’s equipment, however, presented its own challenges. Left without the funds to purchase their own state-of-the-art tools, they have had to come up with their own solutions.
It takes longer their way—at school, start-to-finish took about two months, whereas now it takes them about a year to fully craft a guitar. But the results have been worth it. They took Burns’s showpiece to a Nashville music festival, and those they met were impressed. “The person who stands out was George Gruhn—of Gruhn’s Guide to Vintage Guitars fame,” says Burns. “He looked at my guitar, said it was exceptional, and to my price of $3,000 said, ‘You could probably sell it for twice as much.’ ”
Burns has made six guitars since he started building in 2011 and already has plans for more. “Right now I’m working on making a fancy six-string, which is going to incorporate metal into the construction to make a really cool accent,” he says. After that, he’ll keep stepping it up: He’s looking to build either a bass guitar or an eight-string. Because when you like to make things, there’s always something next.
Originally published in the May 2015 issue.