Initiated by AGAME (the Mile-End Business Association) with members on a mission to support local business, community & positive evolution of the neighbourhood we love.

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Mile End Guitar Coop

Luthier Nic Delisle shares his love of guitar-making despite being self-described as a “really shitty guitar player”.

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#mecoop2#mecoop1Hi Nic!
Did you start the Mile End Guitar Coop?

Nope! Mike and Jeremy started the coop, in 2008 I believe, back when they finished an apprenticeship with Sergei de Jonge who is one of the big figures of Canadian guitar-making. I joined the group in Summer 2010 and we were six or seven at the time. Jeremy builds classical guitars and goes by the 52 String Instrument Company. Mike is a steel string guitar builder and goes by the Indian Hill Guitar Company.

The Mile End Guitar Coop is the name of the space, more or less, and everybody here has their own thing. Not everyone is at it full-time, some people are here just evenings, weekends or afternoons. It’s a full on coop so everyone has equal ownership of everything. All the costs are split up for things like glue, sandpaper, drill bits, everything. And everybody here is awesome.

What’s your company called and what types of guitars do you build?

I go by Island Instruments. I mostly do electric instruments, mostly electric guitars. I do one or two acoustic guitars a year as well. Electrics are my bread and butter.

Are you a musician yourself?

“I’m a pretty shitty guitar player.”

What’s the road that led you to making electric guitars?

Eons ago, I was in film school at Concordia not having a particularly good time. Despite being a really shitty guitar player I always really enjoyed having guitars and I was always into the building. I’d spend time on guitar forums watching luthiers — that’s the term for string instrument builder.

I ended up meeting Lenny of Daddy Mojo (who makes cigar box guitars) years ago and I convinced him to hire me one or two days a week. So that’s how I got started. I left film school to go to a guitar-making school just outside of the city and I quickly dropped out after a year. I met Mike and Jeremy through one of their open houses or shop concerts … or maybe it was Nuit Blanche where they opened the shop all night and had a party … Anyway, I met them there and we kind of hit it off.

I wasn’t enjoying the guitar-making school and I knew it wasn’t going to give me the capacity to do this professionally after the three-year course. It was clear. I built a bit of a relationship with the coop at the same time they were moving into a bigger space. That was it. Seven years later it’s crazy to think about.

“At that point I was like, f*ck it. Might as well get a bench in there and I will have more education having luthiers around me.”

Who do you make guitars for?

Everybody. A lot of my stuff is inspired by old electro guitars you could get in a Sears catalogue in the 50s and 60s. They were old, shitty, cheap brands that had a cult following over the years especially with Jack White and The Black Keys and bands like that, people who were responsible for the revival of that kind of thing.

The original is the Harmony H44 Stratotone and I pretty much copied that shape because I have a weird affinity for that guitar. It’s the guitar that got me into guitar making so I appropriated it. I have my own unique take on those. My stuff tends to be more contemporary. Not really jazz but that sort of half folk, half jazz, kind of scene. If you go on my website I have an artists page. This is going to a jazz guy in Belgium (points to newly made guitar).

#mecoop3Do you sell mainly overseas? What’s your most popular model?

Yep! Definitely my Traveller model. It’s a small guitar. The body is almost ukulele-sized, only 30-some inches long and costs between $2,300 USD – $2,500 USD. The Traveller model has been really successful in the past year, a bunch of working musicians have bought it which is cool because it was the goal.

The initial idea was to make a travel guitar that wasn’t this diminutive toy. There are travel instruments out there but they are kinda shitty, sub-instruments. So I was like, I’m going to make one that has all the good stuff about a handmade guitar, just a smaller size.

This one guy in Brooklyn named Charlie Rauh, who just doesn’t stop working, posted online the other day that he’s been on twenty recording sessions in seven different countries with my Traveller guitar in the last year, trekking it all over the world.

Have you built guitars for many local musicians?

Not that many locally. It’s funny, I haven’t sold too many guitars in Canada which is weird. I’ve sold a bunch in Australia and I just sent a guitar to Thailand to a free jazz guy in a ska band that’s pretty big. They go by T-Bone Ska.

“I actually just sold an electric ukulele to the creator of Bob’s Burgers which is pretty cool.”

#coop5Wow! Maybe your electric uke will end up in the show!

I almost wanted to ask him, “Yo, could you illustrate something with the instrument?” I didn’t even know it was him. We were corresponding for over a year while I was building the thing and he was just kind of like, “Okay I’ll have my managing agency send you a cheque”. I thought, Who is this guy? I Googled his name and oh shit! Turns out it was him!

Who is your fantasy client? Someone you’d kill to design for.

Marc Ribot. He’s the guy that pretty much got me into guitar-making through his music. I didn’t care about guitar music for a long time and he changed all of that. I’ve met him a couple of times. It sucks because every time I’ve met him I haven’t had a finished guitar so I’ve showed him photos. He told me, “You’ve got to bring me one once it’s done”, but I never have. He does a lot of weird experimental stuff but at the same time he is a prolific session player for all sorts of people across a huge range of styles. He recently created an album with Diana Krall and Elton John and he has worked with Tom Waits a lot.

#coop6#coop3#coop4Please explain the guitar-making process the way you would to a five-year-old kid.

You take a block of wood. You’ll use a template to draw the shape. Then you cut out the form using routers and template bits and other stuff. (Takes a piece of wood)… So here’s a hunk of wood. It’s big enough so I could go straight to cutting but oftentimes they’re not so big so you’ll have two pieces. In that case, you’ll have to surface the wood, glue it together, and then take a template and draw the shape, cut it out, rout it.

#coop1#coop9What types of wood do you mainly use?

Almost all Canadian. I like to use a lot of local wood as much as possible and reclaimed stuff. I got a whole bunch of spruce from an old stable built in the late 1800s and I have wood that has been dug out of the bottom of rivers. I try to limit the use of exotic woods and stuff that’s getting clear cut. We keep the room at a controlled humidity level, it’s super important for the wood.

Where can we buy one of your guitars?

What do you like about working in Mile-End’s ‘creative ghetto’ ?

This street (av. Casgrain), I don’t know if it still is but, it used to be the postal code with the highest concentration of artists in North America. People settled here because it was affordable. It’s still relatively affordable but it’s changing. Ubisoft now owns something like half the block! Even this building is filled with a bunch of tech startups. I can’t afford to get a coffee downstairs anymore.

#coop7#coop8On a walk around the Mile-End, what spots do you usually hit?

Cheskie’s mostly for the babka and I usually get the donuts which they don’t always have but when they do they are the best donuts in town. We usually end up at Bishop and Bagg if we’re going for a beer. Ta Chido. Dary Dépanneur. We have a Friday night ritual which is drink beer and throw darts. So we get beer at Dary and the chicken sandwich at Serrano is usually a part of that too … What are the boundaries of Mile-End? This is up for debate …

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Nic's M-E

Story by Sarah Di Domenico
Photography by Wedge
Illustration by Mathieu Dionne