Chris Jenkins was a practicing veterinarian until he retired a few years ago; a doctor trained to give medical care and treatment to animals.
What you may not know is his skill in treating his patients, whether they barked, mooed or meowed, was made better by the passion he has for building some of the finest guitars in the country.
"I was a guitar player when I was young and a bad one at that," Jenkins said smiling. "I got worse in the late 70's when I put my left hand down on a table saw while in operation."
A great surgeon saved his hand, and there is virtually no sign of his disability.
"But it was enough that if you’re already a poor guitar player and handicap yourself, you become a really bad guitar player,” he added.
Jenkins gave up playing the guitar which he said was probably a good thing.
"I'm a better builder than I was ever a player," he said.
His affinity for building guitars began when his son Jeremy was part of a garage band. Jeremy was playing a Korean-made bass guitar when the neck on it gave out.
"He wanted something new, and I thought ‘let's see if we can build one,'" he said. "So we built a solid-body electric bass guitar. It came out pretty good - he still plays it sometimes."
Chris went on to build a couple more solid bodied guitars, but his love for the acoustic kept his heart. In fact, he even traveled to California where he spent time learning the craft.
"In 1995 I built my first acoustic guitar," he said. "We try to make people's dreams come true."
And he's been succeeding.
Shortly after his first creation, he and Jeremy formed Lame Horse Instruments, a father and son team that's been in operation for more than 20 years.
Chris said their average customer, most above 40 years in age, have gotten to the point where they’ve saved a little money and are ready to make the investment. Many have played the guitar their entire lives and have a good idea what they want.
"It's special for them to buy a custom guitar, so we design them something unique," Jenkins said. "No two instruments are alike. We make three different models. Each model retains the same size, overall shape, internal bracing structure, and quality of sound, but the appointments are all personal.”
Not long ago Chris received a special request for a guitar from a gentleman named Elmo Shropshire.
"Most people don't recognize his name but have listened to his work," Jenkins said. "For 35-years Shropshire has had one of the number #1 songs on the radio every Christmas season worldwide, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Because of that song’s success, Dr. Elmo, who was also once a veterinarian, wanted a guitar with a subtle reindeer design theme. We came up with something and everyone was happy.”
People usually have a theme in mind when they contact Jenkins.
“We recently received a commission from a man living in Georgia who wants cotton as the theme of his guitar. Generations of his family have grown cotton; he was even nicknamed Cotton."
Chris' most famous customer so far has been John Sebastian from the group formerly known as the Lovin' Spoonful and who played at Woodstock.
"We made him a six-stringed banjo," Chris said. "I met him in New York - what a nice man."
Now, as for where his veterinarian skills and guitar building skills meet - Jenkins said it's in the details.
"Being a guitar builder made me a better veterinarian, and a better surgeon," he said. "The tolerances on these guitars are thousandths of an inch. You don’t just get close and trust that it’s going to heal; it’s not growing tissue.”
Be expected to pay somewhere between $7,000 and $10,000 on average for one of his handmade masterpieces. The price can increase depending on the materials requested to build one of his guitars.
Another unique characteristic of his creations is that all the Lame Horse guitars receive a woman’s name.
"I always thought the guitar was shaped like a woman," Jenkins said. “In Spanish, most words are gender specific. The word guitar is female; it’s sweet, gentle and beautiful…it's all those things.”
“Currently Lame Horse Instruments has about an 8-12 month wait time. Jenkins has several orders from individuals, some from a dealer in London, as well as instruments to build for the National Association of Music Merchandising - (NAMM) show in Los Angeles in January.
“We were one of 50 people from around the world invited to bring guitars and display them in a Boutique Guitar showcase at NAMM," Jenkins said. “It’s a huge honor, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.”
Lance Winter: 817-390-7274