Tuned up 

Dealing finger pickin’ good guitars with Greg Boyd

Greg Boyd is, as usual, on the phone. He paces the front room of his house, stepping over various instrument cases and around his two dogs, and he greets his visitor with a nod and a quick handshake. He politely points to his ear and continues talking into a headset that appears to be permanently fastened to his head, connected to the cordless phone that rests in the front pocket of his shirt.

“Come on in,” he says, “and take a look.”

Greg Boyd’s House of Fine Instruments is exactly that: The front room of Boyd’s residence doubles as a showroom for vintage, custom-made and otherwise rare instruments that he ships to clientele from New York to Japan. On the back wall hang a half-dozen Roy Noble guitars (listed at between $3,000 and $7,800) next to a half-dozen Bourgeois six-strings ($2,000–$5,000), all above a line of Weber mandolins ($1,500–$4,500). Another wall displays vintage Gibson guitars ($1,500–$8,500) hanging over Prucha banjos made in Prague (high-end versions priced over $6,000) and Dobro metal body resophonic guitars (from $1,900 to $4,200). And what’s on the walls is only a portion of Boyd’s fluctuating inventory of roughly 200 instruments—the cases huddled on the floor hold some of his most valuable pieces, and a separate work area also stores part of his collection.

“I’ll just be a minute,” says Boyd, still on the phone. “It’s like this every day, you understand? I have to be on the phone.”

After a long tenure working at the Stringed Instrument Division, Boyd decided to branch out into the high end of the business and, since 1997, he’s operated out of his residence on Knowles Street in Missoula. Despite the local showroom, most of his customers contact him via his website (www.gregboyd.com), which maintains a daily update of his stock, or over the phone. Boyd is also well known on the bluegrass festival circuit, including this weekend’s annual Bitterroot Valley Bluegrass Festival in Hamilton, where he’ll arrive with a truck full of inventory for sale and trade. Festivals are also an opportunity for Boyd to seek out new purchases of his own, find gems that can be restored and re-sold (he works with people such as Kevin Kopp, a Bozeman-based former builder in the Gibson Handmade Custom Shop), and network with collectors and musicians.

“You’ll notice there’s not a sign out front of the house,” says Fred Kellner, who’s worked for Boyd for two years and also plays locally with Wild by Nature. “We don’t exactly broadcast that we’re here. Our customers are serious and they search us out. People interested in what we have know how to find us.”

On a recent Thursday afternoon, two customers are in the store—local jazz singer Donna Smith stops in briefly, and Mike Delaney sits quietly on a stool in the corner playing a few different guitars. Delaney is a rancher from Grass Range, 30 miles east of Lewistown, and he made the five-hour drive to Boyd’s house to close the deal on the purchase of a custom Roy Noble guitar made of Brazilian rosewood.

“I had good friends that lived here for 15 years and had no idea this was even here,” says Delaney, holding a different Noble guitar across his lap. “I found him on the Internet and figured it was worth the drive. There’s not really anything else like this around here.”

Boyd would argue he has few peers at all, let alone in Montana. He compares his job to that of talent scout, and takes pride in the selectiveness of his inventory.

“You sound like you’re pompous saying it, but we’re really one of the top five acoustic dealerships in the land,” he says, momentarily off the phone. “We operate at a whole different level. We’re at Bela Fleck’s house. [David] Grisman hangs out here at the house. I go straight to the luthiers—just today I was on the phone with Collings…We’re giving direct, immediate input to Roy Noble, Collings, Bourgeois, Weber, Prucha…”

A good example of his meticulous practice is the story of how he started carrying Prucha mandolins and banjos. Boyd, who played banjo for 25 years before problems with his hands slowed him down, met with Gibson’s national sales manager eight years ago at a convention. The manager wanted to introduce him to Jaroslav Prucha, an accomplished luthier in Europe looking for dealers in the United States.

“The last thing I want to push is a foreign-made bluegrass instrument because it just didn’t make sense,” says Boyd. “The sales rep leans in close to my ear and tells me, ‘No, no. It’s the real thing. It’s better than ours.’ So, we went and took a banjo back to our hotel room and dismantled it right then and there, right on our bed—and it was put together better than anything being made.”

Boyd has been a North American dealer for Prucha ever since.

“It’s the kind of thing where you know it’s something you don’t want to miss,” he says. “You just act on it instead of thinking: I don’t know, no other stores have this right now, maybe I better not…What I’m looking for are collectibles—the instruments that already are and the ones that will be in the future.”

When the phone rings again, Boyd gives a sheepish look and politely excuses himself; he has to answer. Delaney is still sitting in the store, strumming yet another Noble guitar. Kellner explains that it’s rare when customers drop by the store, but when they do they typically stay for a long time. He rattles off names of local regulars, including John Rossett from Cash for Junkers and young flat-picking talent Ian Fleming, who was in so often he now works for Boyd. As for notable clientele from outside the area, Fleck and Grisman top a list that also includes Bitterroot Valley Bluegrass Festival bands like Special Consensus.

“We think John Fogerty also came in here last summer when he played, but he wouldn’t admit who he was,” laughs Kellner.

At the end of the day, Delaney and Boyd finally get together to talk about the purchase. The store’s empty except for the two of them, Kellner, and Boyd’s dogs curled in two corners. For the first time all afternoon it sounds quiet—no guitars being played and, more surprisingly, the phone hasn’t rung. But even as he focuses on the deal, Boyd’s earpiece is still fastened tight.

The 16th annual Bitterroot Valley Bluegrass Festival begins Friday, July 8, and continues through Sunday, July 10, at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds. Tickets are $20 for day passes, $30 for the weekend and $40 for all three days. For more information call Mark Dickerson at 381-0135 or visit www.bluegrassfestival.org.

arts@missoulanews.com

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