Frisco luthier Bevan Frost crafts custom guitars
At 16, a year after learning to play the guitar, Frisco resident Bevan Frost decided he wanted to design and build the instruments for a living.
He was living in Germany in 1997, doing a student exchange year, when he visited the hometown of famous acoustic guitar maker C.F. Martin.
In the town entrenched in centuries of instrument-making tradition, Frost asked a local luthier how he could become a guitar maker.
“He told me, ‘You can’t. You weren’t born the son of a guitar maker,’” Frost said.
The German guitar making trade had been controlled by a guild for generations, Frost said, and a school there only accepted people who had been professionally active for three years.
Frost resolved to follow in the American tradition of independence and teach himself. He made his first guitar at 18 while still in high school.
Now a yellow sign on Frost’s workshop reads “Betreten der Baustelle verboten! Eltern haften für ihre Kinder!”
Roughly translated from German, the sign lets people know they’re entering a construction site and they should mind their children. Frost, 34, has a 2-year-old son, Oliver, and he tries to keep the toddler from causing mayhem in his workshop.
Behind the door lie workbenches, tools, stacks of beautiful wood, and odds and ends destined to form guitars.
VINTAGE STYLE AND JUNIPER ROOTS
Originally from Laramie, Wyoming, Frost is a finger-style player who loves country blues.
The luthier runs his own company, Big Hollow Guitars, and has made roughly 50 guitars over the last 17 years. He specializes in a historic reinterpretation of the parlor guitar, a small-bodied instrument popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
His guitars incorporate components of a classical guitar — the 12-fret neck and slotted headstock — but use X-bracing to support modern steel strings. The instruments’ unique shape features a narrow waist and rounder upper curves.
Frost has been drawn to the style ever since he found a parlor guitar in a mentor’s repair shop; the instrument spoke to him.
Frost builds his parlor guitars with hide glue, a finicky adhesive that must be kept hot, and his wood supplies include mahogany, western red-cedar, Adirondack spruce, Honduran rosewood, Hawaiian koa, Oregon myrtle and Indonesian Makassar ebony.
As a trademark and nod to home, Frost places a coin-sized juniper circle in the headstock of every guitar. He discovered the wood on a Wyoming camping trip not far from Laramie.
Big Hollow, his company’s name, was also inspired by a natural landmark near his hometown.
In arid Colorado, Frost fights the dry air that would destroy his instruments. Every morning, he lugs a 5-gallon bucket of water up the stairs to the workshop he designed and built himself to refill his humidifier.
The water hefting, just one small part of his job’s physical labor, might have been impossible for Frost during times throughout his life when his body hasn’t cooperated with him.
The guitar maker has struggled with an autoimmune disease that causes his body to attack his intestines since he was a kid.
Frost went to technical school for drafting and worked at an engineering firm, but that job didn’t work out because of his chronic health problems, he said.
At 23, he had three surgeries and his entire large intestine removed. Then not longer after moving to Frisco in 2010, he had gall bladder cancer and underwent more surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy.
Most people react to a long-term illness by ensuring they have a steady job with health insurance, Frost said. He turned to art.
His health conditions have pushed him toward becoming the person he wants to be, he said.
“You can’t control what happens to you in this life, and a lot of it is going to be painful,” he said. If you can see the pain as an educator and a motivator, “then you can start to let go of whatever pain you’re having because it’s not just pain.”
That perspective has led him to live a life just as full if not more so than if he didn’t have health challenges, he said. He stays focused on the present and often spends full days skiing and climbing mountains.
Frost’s wife works in Dillon for the Meridian Institute, and working from home gives him more flexibility to care for their son and to manage his own health.
Occasionally, he said, people pick up on this other force behind his work. They say there’s an indescribable quality that draws them to his instruments.
“Handmade things are magical because they communicate in these subconscious ways,” he said.
FRISCO, THE INTERNATIONAL HEADQUARTERS
Ten years after Frost sold his first guitar, business picked up significantly when he was featured in an issue of The Fretboard Journal in 2013.
“Since then I’ve been pedal to the medal just trying to keep up,” he said.
Now he’s sought out by players and guitar collectors around the world who pay $4,500 and more for his guitars.
Still, he said, he’s a relatively new face in the market, and he continues repair work that helps provide more steady income. He enjoys reuniting musicians with their restored instruments, and the practice has influenced his design.
“That’s a way to really understand the guitar — when you watch it self-destruct in all the ways it possibly can,” he said.
Building guitars allows him to exercise different parts of his brain as an engineer, a designer, a musician, an artist.
Lately, he’s been working eight-hour days four days a week, and he completes a batch of four guitars in about six months.
Custom orders allow him to experiment with ideas he wouldn’t otherwise try, like covering a fretboard with mother-of-pearl on a guitar he’ll deliver at a Memphis guitar festival in June.
Frost dreams of working with an exceptional guitar player, perhaps a famous one like Tommy Emmanuel, and tweaking his design to create a guitar that produces the musician’s desired sound.
A LUTHIER’S LEGACY
While the uninitiated may idealize his job crafting instruments in the mountains, Frost said his day-to-day luthier life isn’t romantic.
Guitar making hasn’t always paid the bills, and its repetitive motions strain his body. He spends more than half of his time on each guitar applying at least 10 coats of finish and sanding for hours in between each coat.
The most hair-raising part of the process comes when he’s finished with the finish. With just over a day of work separating him from the instrument’s completion, the slightest mistake could ruin everything.
Despite the stresses, he said, “it’s always been difficult for me to contemplate something besides guitar building.”
He loves the moment after he’s applied the first coat of finish and can see the true beauty of the wood. Then of course there’s the first time he plays the guitar after months of not quite knowing what it will sound like.
“I’m always going to build guitars,” Frost said. “Whether I’m going to build as many as I can as fast as I can remains to be seen.”
Frost said he will teach his son how to build guitars if Oliver shows an interest.
More than any skill, though, Frost hopes to pass on the lessons he has learned from his health conditions and the way they have helped guide his craft.
For more information about Frost and Big Hollow Guitars, visit bighollowguitars.com.
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