Building custom electric guitars in Boise with musicians in mind
By Ana Lete
Photography by Emma Thompson
Drive down Ellen St. off of Chinden in Garden City, and you’ll find Porter Pickups – a small, local business ran by husband-and-wife team, Brian and Kathleen Porter. Since 2012, they’ve been building and shipping guitar pickups all over the world – from Japan to South Africa to Argentina – and in more recent years, they’ve also began building high-quality, custom electric guitars – by hand, in their shop.
For those unfamiliar with electric guitars, guitar pickups are located on the body of the guitar underneath the strings, and act as a microphone to pick up and amplify soundwaves from the strings. Once the sound is “picked up” by the pickups themselves, it travels through a guitar cable, and finally, out of the amplifier.
“I took apart my first guitar and put it back together, so I sort of had the bug right away,” said Brian Porter. “Years later, building pickups came out of that, and over time, it turned into a real job.”
Today, Porter Pickups has four different types of guitar pickups and several models for each. “We have close to 25-30 different models total, and two models of guitar so far – the Khrosis and Les Bois,” Kathleen Porter said.
The coolest part? Both guitar models can be customized to fit each musician’s unique tastes and preferences. Better yet, the Porters source some of their wood from Eagle, and build each guitar from scratch right in their shop on Ellen street.
“Unlike other guitar companies that buy a neck somewhere and add it to their guitars, we actually make the whole guitar from scratch and do all the fretwork, set up, and even finish most of them here,” said Brian.
Because they build all their guitars in house, their guitar designs themselves are unique, too. “From the beginning, we chose to shape and design our guitars and headstocks differently – We didn’t want to copy Fender or Gibson,” Brian said.
With both their guitars and pickups, though, it’s clear that Porter Pickups has musicians in mind.
“The Khrosis model is a pickguard swappable guitar,” said Brian. “The entire pickguard unplugs and slides out so you can swap it for a different pickguard with completely different pickups and electronics in about five minutes. That way, if you’re a studio musician, or play in a cover band, you can have access to many different sounds, but carry one guitar.”
“We also approach our guitar pickups in a way that caters to each musician,” Brian Porter explained. “If you have a Strat and you want to sound bluesy, or if you want to sound like Hendrix, we have a set for that and try to tailor each pickup or guitar to your need.”
Recently, the Porters created a custom electric guitar for Bish’s RV. “We sponsored a YouTube show called RV Country Roads,” said Brian. “We put guitars on all of their RVs and then the show interviews the artists, and sometimes, the artists will take the guitar for the night and play it when they’re in town.”
So far, country artists, Chase Rice and Aaron Watson, have both taken the guitar and played it at their evening concert while in Boise.
Ultimately, when asked about their favorite aspects of building pickups and guitars, Brian Porter stated, “I love seeing musicians satisfied. I enjoy when someone takes a guitar we made and they write a song with it, or they say, ‘Hey, I played my guitar for three hours last night because I love the way it sounds.’ Inspiring people to play and create is why we do what we do.”
To learn more about Porter Pickups, visit www.porterpickups.com, or visit their showroom at 203 Ellen St. in Garden City!