Sparrow Guitar Co.


Michael Kissinger, Vancouver Courier

Published: Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Time has not been kind to the electric guitar. Once a dangerous and revered tool in rock ‘n’ roll’s arsenal, the mighty battle axe and amplified phallic symbol has been castrated over the years–smashed to pieces and set on fire by its wielders, all but ignored in hip hop circles and rendered obsolete by the World Air Guitar Championships and video games like Guitar Hero.

But there is hope, young grasshoppers. Although Sparrow Guitars occupies an old greeting card factory in one of the grottier sections of Vancouver’s East Side, the only thing warm and fuzzy produced there nowadays is the sound emanating from its flame-covered creations.

Head honcho Billy Bones–yes, that’s the name on his driver’s licence–started designing guitars several years ago while working at a high end-furniture making shop because, as he puts it, “any knuckle-dragger can do it.”

After the shop closed down, Bones took a month-long one-on-one guitar building course in Calgary and got into the guitar design business. He launched Sparrow Guitars three years ago.

“What I figured out was building the guitars from scratch by myself, I could make two maybe three guitars in a month, but I’d have to charge two maybe $3,000 a guitar,” says Bones, leaning against an old dusty pinball machine at Sparrow headquarters. “And even if I could sell a lot that way, it didn’t make me very happy thinking here’s some poor kid and I’ll make him a fantastic guitar, but he’ll have to pay through the nose.”

So the kind-hearted guitar maker devised a way to import bare bone guitars from factories in Asia–the same ones used by “American made” guitar companies like Gibson and Fender–dismantle the instruments and completely overhaul them with new hardware, fretwork, electronics, paint and artwork informed by what Bones calls “classic cool ’50s greasy stuff.” In other words, hotrods, motorcycles, pinball, tattoos and rock ‘n’ roll.

“The goal is to make a guitar that a kid can afford to play that’s going to sound great, so the last three years has been us trying to develop that,” says the 32-year-old father. “It seems like these last eight months we’re kind of in the pocket, putting out a great guitar that competes with all these lousy guitars on price and competes with all these expensive guitars on quality.”

Sparrow offers five guitar models in seven finishes and various styles of pin-striping and flames with names like Big Daddy, Rat Rod and Twang Master. Prices range from $450 to $1,500.