BEMIDJI, Minn. — Kent Barcus said he couldn’t afford to buy the kind of quality guitar he wanted. So he decided to build one. Then he built another. Then nine more.
Barcus, 63, has always enjoyed working with wood. He has built everything from cabinets to furniture, snowshoes, decoys and toboggans. You could even say woodworking was in his blood, since he spent most of his career working in lumberyards. But after he retired, Barcus decided it was time to build that guitar he always wanted.
“Since my earliest recollection I’ve always had my hands into wood,” he said. “After I started playing guitar (about 10 years ago), I was down in the Twin Cities and went to a guitar shop and got to looking at some of their custom stuff. I went back to my room that night in my hotel and got on the internet, found a couple of YouTube videos on guitar building and I thought, ‘You know, I think I can do that.’”
So he bought a book and started studying the art of guitar building.
“One day I happened to come across a really nice piece of mahogany and decided to give it a stab,” he said.
Before he glued it together, Barcus brought it to his friend Mark Hendrickson of Bagley, who has been playing and building guitars for 50 years. Hendrickson gave it his approval, then asked Kent when he planned to build his second and third guitars.
“He said no one ever builds just one,” Barcus recalled. “And he was right. So I’m 11 later and still at it.”
Mike Naylor, a well-known Bemidji musician, has purchased two of Kent’s guitars. He said the quality of Barcus’ work is incredible.
“There’s one word that describes it all — perfect,” said Naylor. “You can’t get any better than perfect, and that’s what Kent is. Everything he touches turns to gold.”
Barcus says he appreciates listening to someone like Naylor play the finished products. Kent considers himself a novice at guitar playing. “I play for my dog, and for my own enjoyment,” he said.
Barcus grew up in Shevlin and graduated from Bagley High School. After attending vocational school, he worked for lumberyards in Crookston, Fertile and in North Dakota before coming to Robertson Lumber in downtown Bemidji. He later worked for United Building Center in Bemidji before managing and then purchasing Bemidji Building Center with his wife, Connie. They sold the business in 2007 and retired.
While he still enjoys making other things out of wood, Barcus says he has been bitten hard by the guitar building bug.
“It’s what keeps me awake at night, and it’s what gets me up in the morning,” he said. “I’ve built lots of things, but this is one thing that just keeps me coming. When you’re building an instrument you’re thinking about the next one. It seems to be a hobby that never stops. You never stop learning.”
Each guitar takes about two months to build. He recently completed his first mandolin, which takes nearly twice as long because of the carving that is required.
“There were many times I didn’t think this was going to make it to the end (with the mandolin),” he said. “I didn’t think my patience was going to allow me to keep persevering. But there was something that said ‘you’ve got to do this. You’ve come too far.’ My next project is a guitar, but the memory of this (mandolin) has to go away. I’ll definitely build another one.”