Story by Dylan Cline, Photos by Amanda Antilla
At 4pm on a Friday afternoon, I picked up the phone to buzz Jake Bolin for a quick interview. Jake texted me back to let me know that he had been called to work and just landed in Orlando with less than 24 hours notice. Steve Miller needed his main guitar luthier/technician for a weekend run of shows in Florida.
This is common occurrence for this family man of two girls. Whether it be sanding guitar bodies, or coaching snow sports instructors around the region, time is a precious commodity especially this time of year. Jake wakes at 4:00 am most days, and is at the gym by 5:00 am. When I ask him why he wakes so early he simply replies, “No one can take time away from you if they’re all sleeping. That time sets me up to do my best the rest of the day.” I figured I might catch up with John Bolin, the patriarch and founder of Bolin Guitars, however he and his wonderful wife Cristi had already checked out for the weekend.
Bolin Guitars began in John Bolin’s small shop in the 1978. Motorcycle parts were as common as band saws and wood scraps. As a young father, John encouraged artistic expression in his children, his daughter Celeste taking up dance and Jake learning the family craft. “I always encouraged my children to follow their hearts and pursue what brought them joy, then work wouldn’t be a mundane chore, but a passionate journey.” In the early years, John focused primarily on acoustics, which is a passion he still says is like a first love. One of John’s first breaks came during a ZZ Top concert in Boise when John slipped past security and showed Billy F. Gibbons a custom-made guitar, built just for him. Billy played that Bolin guitar and hasn’t put it down since. The two began collaborating on what would soon become an obsessive quest to break the traditional guitar norms, including sleek designs like the sexy “Billy-Bo” and the iconic Furr guitars.
Over the years, the Bolins’ reputation as bad boy boutique guitar luthiers parlayed into commissioned builds from the likes of Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Lou Reed, Joe Walsh, Jeff Beck, Steve Miller, and many more. Growing up in the guitar shop, Jake learned the tricks of the trade and decided to join his father in the ranks of Master Luthiers. Jake puts it in perspective, “My father is a world-renowned guitar maker, his passion is apparent. I had no visions of grandeur this would be my path, however, I knew I must learn the craft.”
In his next installment in a series of good decisions Jake would eventually find himself working with many famous artists, setting out on the road for months as a touring technician for numerous bands. Just recently he shared with me a story much like that of his fathers. He had showed up to a Mastodon concert bearing his goods, and left with an order for the guitar player Brent Hinds, which can be found in the most recent Guitar World magazine.
John and Jake’s guitars can be seen in numerous videos and publications, from coffee table books to guitar magazines. Jake and his handiwork can be seen with Steve Miller in the 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Bolins’ work was featured as part of an exclusive collection in the Neiman Marcus Winter Holiday Catalog 2016. Their presence in a niche market is well known, however their demeanor doesn’t show it. Both John and Jake Bolin choose to operate under humility and grace. John sums it up quite eloquently, “Jake and I have something unique, something special. It isn’t the 50 years of combined experience, it isn’t the five generations of woodworkers in our lineage, it is the ability for my son and I to work alongside each other. Jake has his own unique techniques that were originated by my guidance, but are now his own. We can approach our builds from completely different aspects, however, reach the same, consistent, and beautiful results that we both stand proudly by. It is truly a bond only a father and son can have.”