- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) - John Brown just may have outdone himself.

The master-level luthier and his three-man crew at Brown's Guitar Factory have a reputation for repairing and restoring high-end guitars and creating from scratch custom guitars and basses that are known worldwide for their quality and playability.

The shop, in an unassuming two-story stucco house in Inver Grove Heights, thrives in part because of a philosophy of, “You dream it, we’ll build it,” Brown says.

But he admits the shop’s latest project seemed like an extreme challenge upon first blush more than a year ago.

“(The customer) got on this kick about creating this ‘Zeus - Guitar of the Gods,’ and it all went from there,” he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1flFWC0).

“A lot of things get talked about, and some of it is over the top and some of it is viable. But I thought, ‘Let’s just really listen up and not pass up an opportunity.’ “

The end result is a one-of-a-kind 23-karat gold-leaf guitar that is visually stunning and equally easy on the ears. The guitar, complete with 24-karat gold strings, cost about $18,000 to build.

“It’s not for everyone. It just depends on the individual and what they like,” Brown said, adding that his customer did not want to go public. “We’re pleased with the tone, and we’re pleased with the playability. This was a fun adventure.”

Brown unveiled the guitar in January at the National Association of Music Merchants annual trade show in Anaheim, Calif., where businesses of all sizes from around the world display their latest innovative musical creations. It created a buzz.

“It did get attention … I think because it has the whole bling effect to it,” he said. “But everyone has their ‘one,’ and some people gravitate to the yellows, some to the organic-oiled finish, and some just freaked on this.

“But trying to get it to express what you want it to express visually was part of the challenge. I knew we’d have a good sound - a good playing instrument - so it was getting everything just right.”

Work began like that on all of Brown’s custom guitars: by selecting a wood type from his private stock. He went with Honduras mahogany for the body core, which features the shop’s well-known dual-chambered design. It was finished with maple.

The guitar began to take shape after hours of routing and sanding the body and carving and sanding the neck and finger board, which was slotted by hand.

As if the gilding process was not complicated enough, the customer wanted a contrast in the look of the gold. But Brown discovered a fourth-generation family-owned business out of Sheboygan, Wis., W&B; Gold Leaf, that sells two shades - 22.5-karat champagne gold and a deeper-toned 23-karat gold.

“I was familiar with a gold-leaf guitar that Fender did, which is gorgeous, but it was not like this,” said Brown, 50. “They gold-leafed it, but it looked as if it was sprayed on. And that’s not what my client wanted.”

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