Joe Till Craftsman performs sweet solo making custom instruments
Guitar Hero Written by JOHN LOESING
Photos by RICHARD GILLARD
Joe Till keeps an eye out for unusual wood he can use to build his custom guitars, which may mean repurposing a redwood-burl coffee table or vintage bookshelves.
Do what you love, and love what you do. How many of us get to say that about our professional careers? In Westlake Village there’s a 55-year-old electric guitar maker whose whole life has been built around the love of his craft. Joe Till, who grew up in Calabasas and Agoura Hills and went to Las Virgenes schools, followed in his father’s footsteps and tinkered with carpentry at a young age. Joe preferred playing the guitar—he made a living touring professionally with the Box Tops and the Drifters in the ’80s—but when his stage career slowed down he decided to put his woodshop skills to use. “My drummer and I sat down after some $40 gig and decided to find something else to do. So I got into woodworking.” Joe moved into a dusty, 800-square-foot La Baya 14 beyond The Acorn.com | Fall 2015
Drive workshop in 1992 and began a second career as a carpenter and cabinetmaker. His foray into guitar building came four years later when he found a beat-up flying V electric guitar at a swap meet one day and decided to rebuild it. “My first chore was to see if I could make a new neck, and it just came to me. It was easy. . . . From that moment I knew what I wanted to do.” Joe remains a one-man band (he’s not married), and often toils seven days a week in a shop strewn with tools, hardware, wood samples and guitars in a various stages of production. Nothing appears orderly, but everything is in its place. He’s made more than 210 individually numbered guitars and basses. He used to sell them in retail music stores until the recession forced him to pull back. Today he marches to the beat of his own drum and only makes