For Stephen Ziegenfuss, it's easy to love wood.
Its strength, its smell, even its taste - wood is a noble material to work with.
That's why Stephen loves to make it sing as a guitar maker. An engineer by training, he loves to shape and bend the material into sonic works of art for his Ziegenfuss Guitars company.
Stephen has been building guitars since college, when he tried making his own bass. From there, he built more guitars for friends and family, especially the parents of friends who could help him pay for parts.
"They kind of paid for my education - they'd pay for the materials that went into it," he says.
From there, he worked on repairing guitars, learning about their inner workings, and before long he had a name brand and a website set up to sell his custom bodies.
More than that, Stephen likes to make things with his hands. Woodworking was prevalent in his home, he says, and he's always enjoyed tinkering and making. That's how he got into engineering. It was his artistic side - both in guitar playing and photography - that helped shape his guitar projects.
It started pragmatically enough. Stephen remembers seeing a guitar that he would've liked to own, if it weren't for the high price tag. What would happen if he tried to mimic the design and build his own guitar?
"There's a certain group of people with my personality who say, 'I'll just build it myself,'" he says. "Making a guitar was the perfect crossroads of all those things: working with my hands, engineering, and music."
That first guitar didn't exactly hit the mark. But over the years he's built his skills up enough so that he can build his own guitar at that level that originally inspired him.
Business-wise, Stephen is working on forming relationships with artists and getting name recognition in the boutique guitar industry. It's one thing to make a quality guitar, but it's another to make yourself known to the instrument-buying public.
When it comes right down to it, though, Stephen makes guitars to participate in the magic of music making. And to get his hands dirty in the process of making.
His senses get involved, too: Stephen loves the smell, and the taste, of the woods he uses, like African sapele (tastes great) and rosewood (the smell).
"The variability of the material is so cool," Stephen says.
“I would prefer to make guitars and give them away, if it was feasible to do that.”
Walnut, cherry, sassafras, spruce, ash, hickory, walnut - these are his raw materials, and he appreciates the engineering quality of wood, too. Stephen says that wood, as a composite material, is great to work with. It's robust and durable, and its strength-to-weight ratio is top notch.
Which is why Stephen makes other things out of wood, like bike frames. Stephen says he could make a bike frame that competes with metal in terms of durability. And, he says, the ride on a wood-frame bike is really smooth because the material absorbs high-frequency vibrations.
"Certain days, you just feel inspired to build different things," he says. "And I love using wood as my medium."
Stephen, along with his wife and three daughters, loves the lifestyle that Jackson affords.
"The pace of life here, for us, is just right," he says. "If I was somewhere else, I wouldn't nearly have the time to pursue things like this. It's such a tremendous value added to life."