Luthier Seth Lee Jones poses with one of his many custom-built creations. Jones also plays slide guitar and bass in several Tulsa bands.
Luthier. In case you’re not familiar with the word, it refers to someone who makes or repairs stringed instruments. The skill set required to create a high-end guitar, or to properly restore an old classic, is not easily attained. It usually involves specialized schooling, apprenticeships, long hours in the workshop, etc. Most folks just don’t have the time or patience for that kind of thing.
Seth Lee Jones is an exception, however. Guitars are his life.
At the ripe old age of 28, this Tulsa native has established himself as a custom guitar builder and repairman with a national client list. He’s also a sought-after guitarist/bassist sideman for local acts.
Working out of a tiny shed behind his midtown home, Jones says his interest in making guitars started before he even knew how to play one. While working at a downtown furniture repair shop at age 12, he had an epiphany.
“One day I picked up a guitar and I was like, ‘These are made out of wood. I could probably make one of these,’” Jones recalls. “So, I gave it a shot … and made some really terrible things at first. I destroyed a lot of material to get as good as I am. That’s where it all started for me. I just got the bug.”
Eventually, Jones moved to Los Angeles to attend the Musicians Institute, where he studied guitar craft. Graduating at the top of his class in 2006, Jones spent another four years under the direct tutelage of well-known guitar craftsman John Carruthers of Los Angeles. Afterward, he worked for Asken Guitars and Moser Custom Shop before putting in a six-month stint with guitar inlay artist Mike Peters of Los Angeles.
But L.A. proved to be expensive for a fledgling guitar builder, so Jones moved back to Tulsa in 2010 and started Seth Lee Jones Guitars.
“Out here there aren’t many people who do guitar work at this level,” he says. “Out in Los Angeles there are probably 25 professional shops. So, it just made sense to move back."
After attempting to run a storefront business for six months, Jones decided his backyard workshop was the way to go.
“It’s much better for me to do appointment work only,” Jones says. “I don’t need people walking in the door all the time. Then, I have to stop what I’m doing and I get distracted. This is labor, not retail.”
Most of Jones’ work revolves around restoration and repair, he says. He averages 10-15 repairs a week. But his orders for custom-built guitars are steady, and that’s what really excites him.
“Most people our age, if they’re making something, it’s computer related,” Jones says. “There’s not a whole lot of craftsmanship going on with this generation. Nobody makes anything in America anymore. It’s a bummer.”
Prices for his custom designs begin at $1,800 for a Fender-style model and go up from there.
“I don’t have stores carrying my stuff because as soon as I make a guitar, it’s gone,” he says. “They’re all made to order.”
When not creating musical works of art, Jones can often be seen around Tulsa playing slide guitar for Paul Benjaman, Dustin Pittsley or Jesse Aycock, or playing bass in Gogo Plumbay along with Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey members Chris Combs and Josh Raymer. Additionally, he’s currently working on a studio record with Travis Fite.
January’s best bets for live music
1/18 Junior Brown 10th CD Release Party, Cain’s Ballroom
Six-string wizard Junior Brown brings his old-school country and western vibe and his famous invention, the guit-steel (a double-necked guitar that combines standard and steel guitar) to the Cain’s. The event celebrates the release of his newest CD, “Volume Ten.” No matter one’s musical style, Brown’s flying fingers, good-time baritone drawl and catchy, up-tempo songs are more than enough to get toes tapping. Tulsa’s own Dustin Pittsley Band will open the concert. Doors open at 7 p.m.
1/22 Trampled by Turtles Cain’s Ballroom
Progressive bluegrass favorite Trampled by Turtles is known for its fast-paced songs and high-energy concerts. Drawing inspiration from Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Townes Van Zant, this group has gained a loyal alt-country following.
Get out and see what the fuss is about when they hit the stage at Cain’s. Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket opens the show. Doors open at 7 p.m.
1/24 Drive-By Truckers Cain’s Ballroom
Mashing together pin-yer-ears-back rock ‘n’ roll thump with heavy doses of country and rhythm and blues, Drive-By Truckers is a musical wrecking crew onstage. Don’t miss the beautiful cacophony. No opening act. Doors open at 7 p.m.