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The sound and the fury: Woodbury guitar builder amps it up

Brett Roeller owns and operates Roeller Custom Guitars out of his Woodbury home. Here, he displays the first guitar he ever built - the Demon model. Bulletin photo by Mike Longaecker

Brett Roeller has been quietly building a successful business from the confines of a simple workshop in his Woodbury garage.

What's not so quiet is what he builds: guitars designed to catch the eye and, above all, deliver an unparalleled sonic experience.

He's deadly serious when he says that what he hand crafts is far superior to anything guitar aficionados will find in any music store.

"The sounds would blow them right out of the gate," Roeller said of his guitars, which cater to death metal and blues musicians.

The 36-year-old is the owner of Roeller Custom Guitars, a business he started up about three years ago while living in Inver Grove Heights.

The guitars he produces are likely to draw long looks, with their detailed engraving, signature double-horn body stems and weapon-like design. But Roeller, a lifelong artist, said he's most focused on turning out guitars that sound like none other.

"I build guitars for optimal, high-definition sound," he said.

The rich, distinct tones his guitars produce are due in large part to the wood he uses, Roeller explained.

Those hunks of wood arrive at his Woodbury workshop as raw slabs. Before considering the cuts, Roeller first picks up the slabs and knocks on them with his knuckles, with one ear on the opposite end of the piece. The process allows him to hear the sound travel through the wood, giving him a sense of where the cuts must be in order to deliver the optimal sound quality.

He's after wood that carries the harmonics, tones and deep resonance patterns he desires.

"I have a musician's appreciation" for the craft, Roeller said.

But he doesn't just use any old pieces of wood.

The most local piece he's worked on was a piece of walnut purchased through a Roseville firm. Most everything else spans the globe.

He's used buckeye wood from England, ebony and swamp-ash from northern California and Queensland maple from Australia. A guitar he's working on now comprises wood gathered from California, Nevada, Tennessee and Australia.

Roeller said this labor of love started out after his self-described "obsession" with oil painting had run its course.

"I said, 'I've got to do something different,'" he said.

He decided to fuse his love of guitar playing - a skill he learned from his father, Walter - and his passion for art - specifically, sculpting.

So Roeller decided to sculpt guitars. So he read a book on guitar construction, figured "it wasn't that ... hard," and created his first: the Demon model, which immediately drew interest after he posted photos online.

"It kind of tumbled from there," he said.

Roeller now spends his days in his shop, where he and Walter carefully build each guitar by hand. It generally takes between three and six months to finish one, Roeller said.

"I hand build every single instrument," he said. "I think people really appreciate that level of care."

That includes several professional musicians, including members of the Minneapolis-based band Thira, who recently inked a deal with RCS.

Pif Pyle, guitarist for Thira, said the band was initially turned on by the quality of Roeller's work.

"They're incredible builds," he said. "You can really tell he's taken the proper care and time."

Roeller noted that other heavyweights in the metal scene are now among his client base.

The business is clearly more than a hobby, but how far does Roeller see it going? One thing he knows is he's not interested in mass-producing thousands of cookie-cutter guitars. Ideally, he'd put out five to 10 guitars a month with a small team of employees.

"That would be perfect," he said.

And the wheels are already turning, he said. He's begun getting his garage space in shape to become a formal shop, where it will resemble a mini-factory, complete with a spray booth for painting.

No matter where the business goes from here, Roeller said he always plans to have a hand - literally - in the creative process.

"I sacrifice a lot of profit for the greater good," he said. "My guitars are just another form of artwork for me."

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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