– Words by John Atkinson
When Trevor Woodland and Reuben Forsland chinked beers in a hot tub back in the summer of 2018, little did they know that less than four years later they’d be launching the first Victoria Guitar Show (VGS).
Yet the pair, who both custom-make guitars on Vancouver Island for a living, hit it off on the eve of Woodland’s wedding to the point where they grew a friendship. And a year later the seed for the VGS was planted.
“We’ve both been to several guitar shows throughout North America and felt Vancouver Island is home to lots of builders who rarely get the credit they deserve based on the quality of their craft,” said Woodland, 32, who runs Vigilant Guitars.
“The island has some world-class builders who ship their guitars to major international performers, but don’t have an opportunity to showcase those skills in their hometown. Reuben and I felt we could tackle such a project.”
VGS was originally slated for the spring of 2020, before COVID-19 scuppered that plan. But with things improving, the pair took a chance in September 2021 to book the Victoria Conference Centre for April 23, 2022.
“We’re hoping to drive as much traffic as possible to our free event,” said Woodland. “Musicians, woodworkers or artists will all find something to enjoy. We also planned to attract some cruise ship visitors to give exhibitors an international audience.”
After Forsland, 48, moved to Sooke from the Comox Valley, he and James Bay-based Woodland began collaborating on projects. One notable was a recreation of Eddie Van Halen’s #1 guitar, his “Frankenstrat.” They’ve also experimented with hemp wood.
Woodland began playing guitar at 13 and was invited to play bass guitar in his middle school jazz band. He spent most of that summer applying the knowledge gained from earlier piano lessons and was inspired by icons Jimi Hendrix, Chet Atkins and Jimmy Page.
Then, waiting for a lesson one day, a chance incident changed his life forever.
“My teacher had the guitar’s inner workings flayed out on the bench like it’d just exploded. My fascination for the music quickly diverted to how everything worked in the guitar.
“I started modifying my friends’ guitars, buying, repairing and flipping guitars, reading every book and watching every video I could on luthiers—before finally feeling comfortable enough to take an apprenticeship with a local builder and eventually starting my own company.”
Woodland says collaboration is key and will help drive the VGS, as young luthiers learn from older masters, and as musicians and the public interact with talented local builders.
He’s been inspired by YouTube hit Ben Crowe, of Crimson Guitars, and Leo Fender, of global powerhouse Fender Guitars—a combined template for success.
Forsland’s unique work at JOI Guitars, the firm he’s run since 2014, has earned major recognition and he’s feature in a pair of recent Smithsonian Magazine articles.
Among his most notable creations are a set of tributes to Hendrix, one of his heroes. Forsland negotiated a licensing agreement with the legendary musician’s estate to make 10 guitars in his honour. Most notable is his Black Gold piece, a salute to Hendrix’s one remaining unreleased album of the same name.
“The Black Gold guitar has unique gold detailing and pays tribute to Jimi’s album,” said Forsland, who’s made four of the 10 so far. “I’ll be bringing it to the VGS for people to experience in-person.”
Forsland, previously a carpenter, also saluted John Mayer, Keith Richards and Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist Slash, when it came to those who’ve inspired him and highlighted the power of personal story in a guitar’s creation.
“I make six guitars a year and they tend to be story pieces, reflecting the clients’ lives—since instruments are more than just played for sound. There’s a real connection between a player and his guitar.”
He hopes the VGS will bring long overdue attention and recognition to boutique and hand-crafted guitar makers.
“Perhaps 90 per cent of people don’t know we’re here, so it will draw welcome attention and show there are other options to Long & McQuade or Tom Lee. Everything we do is 100 per cent custom-made for a client and that personal touch is a difference-maker.”
For more information on the VGS visit victoriaguitarshow.com, and to learn more about Woodland and Forsland, check out vigilantguitars.com and joiguitars.com.